As you may already know, the word cosplay hasn’t been around for terribly long. Nobuyuki Takahashi helped invent the word, and he discusses the origins in a new book called Cosplay World by Brian Ashcraft and Luke Plunkett (review coming soon). The book explains that the term came about in an article Takahaski wrote in the June 1983 issue of My Anime. An excerpt from the book:
In the 1970s, Japanese college students began dressing up as manga and anime characters. These young people had grown up on a steady diet of comics and cartoons, and when they attended manga and anime conventions (as well as school and university festivals), going in character was, as in the West, a way to express fandom.
Sci-fi conventions had existed in Japan since the 1960s, but in 1975 Comic Market (aka Comiket) launched, creating a venue for self-published comics. It was a fan convention and, in this environment, what would become cosplay in Japan started to flourish. There was already a Japanese term to express the concept of dressing up: kasou (仮想).
However, the word carried a nuance of disguise and didn’t quite capture the spirit of what cosplay had become. In the West the word ‘masquerade’ could be used to refer to costuming, but when Takahashi and some university friends tried to translate ‘masquerade’ into Japanese for a magazine article they were writing, it sounded ‘too noble and old fashioned’. According to Takahashi, ‘We needed to find another way to express the concept.’
Various terms were floating around. ‘We had heard the English word “costume” and seen events with names like “Costume Show”, “Kasou Show”, “Hero Play” and whanot,’ says Takahashi. In Japanese, English and other foreign words are often combined and/or shortened, for brevity’s sake. For example, the Japanese for ‘remote control’ – rimooto kontorooru – is shortened to rimokon. ‘So we started to think of different combinations,’ Takahashi says. ‘Finally, we came up with “cosplay”.’ The term was a portmanteau of ‘costume’ and ‘play’. It was perfect.
Takahashi says the term cosplay was in heavy use just a year or two later at Japan’s comic conventions. It didn’t take hold across Japan and beyond until the ’90s.