Wandering Dolls: Cosplay Journey Across East Asia

So my new book just came out and was published by the Hong Kong publisher Roundtable Synergy Books. The book is in both English and Chinese (left page vs. right page) and was translated entirely by Yang Jing. It is a book of travels to four different cities in “East Asia” (the big land mass covering Japan, China, HK, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore…. and what not), where I search for animation fans who dress up as “characters”, and adult fans of Japanese or Korean dolls.

It became a first-person travelogue essay with many photos, interspersed with interviews with Cosplayers and queer or queer-ish personalities. I say queer-ish because people develop deep attractions for animation and games culture through funky alter egos, yet they often have very “normal” aspirations in their actual lives. Especially so since it is not easy to be alt, kinky, or extravagant in the East Asian region.

It was a real pleasure to work together with Gary Wong, Miu Chan and Peter Kong of Roundtable Synergy books, who are at the young and visionary vanguard of Hong Kong critical writing and independent political thought. Peter Kong also did a marvelous design job and came up with the idea of the costumed girl with (my) wandering doll. It is always a strange and special feeling when the book is out. I like its experimental nature and aesthetic pretensions. It shows who I am trying to be–as indicated by Prof. Eric Ma and Prof. Travis Kong–“palpable,” “infectuous,””on the edge of academia’ and yes  “queer.”  The queer-ish mosquito that zaps by and stings into unsuspecting flesh.


Earthy and Dirty

I just arrived in Beijing at Renmin University where I will give a talk about animation fans and how they use alter egos and virtual siblings, or even entire imagined clans and families. I want to find out how and why they fantasize about alternative families and how they deal with pressures of the bio-family.

But what are the first impressions of Beijing coming from Hong Kong? Beijing is earthy and dirty. Hong Kong seems to have lost its sweat glands and body odors. Maybe it is just a cliche that in Beijing one smells wafts of urine everywhere (comparable to those in Paris and Brussels.) But certainly it is true and brings relief to see that people look more relaxed and “healthy”, grubby and chubby, moist and tanned.

Then I also brought with me my pale Hermina, who is is named after the sister of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.  She came with an electric guitar and I also got her a skate board. The doll brand is named Pullip and is made in South Korea as a competitor to the much bigger Japanese companyVolks or SD (Superdollfie) The CEO of Volks  (A Japanese man taking on German features) launched the fad of ball-jointed dolls as virtual siblings about a decade ago. When assembling and buying a “daughter” from Volks, one can go pick her up in Kyoto and she will be handed over to you in a Christian-like ritual of baptism. Yes, these strange fashions are the spiritual and chaste version of the sex doll. Actually, one can see that many of those daughters live  out the fetish dreams of their owners but the adult here is supposed to shut up and play.

So here she she is … my mean little Hermina. Yes, she does have an esoteric personality and those piercing blue eyes–that would a swift Korean business ideal.

Urban Nomad Film Fest (Taipei) Goes Cos

My Japanese doll complex movie is playing in a film program about ‘Cosplay,’ (costume play or animation and J-rock fans who dress like their favorite characters) organized by the Urban Nomad Festival

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Let me confess right here that my movie would have been a flop without the support of Sean Hsiao, who introduced me to the Kigurumi cosplayers and the mask-maker King Fabulous; who helped me get the rights to a song by the Taiwanese band Won Fu; who provided priceless info about Taipei’s sex zones; and who spotted “hidden” online student gossip when times were rough.

And thanks to Mia Chen also for being a partner in crime in the cos zone. Check out Mia Chen’s movies as well & don’t forget that we have a big related event coming up in Hong Kong in December 09 entitled

Extraordinary Dresscode: Costuming and the second Skin in Asia

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Hong Kong Cosplayer Mizuki as ‘Marie Antoinette’ from

the Japanese shojo-manga ‘Rose of Versailles.’

Reunion with Friends, Maids, Dolls in Japan

I just returned from Tokyo and Kyoto where I took hundreds of photographs and shot about 5 hours of video.  You can access the photo galleries by clicking on the links in the text. First of all the trip was a reunion with my friends from Boston, Shujen Wang and Chris Fujiwara–and their super cute kids, Maya and Ken-Ken, whom I had not seen before (Maya was born right before I moved to Hong Kong and Ken-Ken was born in Tokyo. They are not brother and sister but like to hang out with each other).

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Despite the Japanese government warnings about the swine flu pandemic, we all decided to take a tiny risk and meet in Tokyo. Chris actually lives in Tokyo now and had recommended a great inn called Ryokan Sawanyao (near Ueno Station) where we stayed to catch up and explore the city. Chris, Shujen and myself also had to give a talk at the Society for Cinema and Media and were all asked to signs a variety of forms and wear surgical masks anywhere inside the university buildings.

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Then a few days into the trip, I met up with Anne Peirson-Smith and Andrew Guthrie (yes the one) and we visited one of the maids cafes near Akihabara. (even though the maids suck in Fujiwara’s opinion). Those cafes have a very strict “no photography” policy as they try to sell their own polaroid photographs to customers. The girls are dressed in very beautiful and elaborate uniforms–taking on submissive positions and whimpering with high-pitched voices–but they totally rule the scene and concoct many rules and games for their patrons. These maid cafes are totally non-sexual  and patrons are not allowed to even touch them, though they make great efforts to chat and stimulate their clients by serving food and playing games. The central concept of experiencing this kind of fantasy zone would be expressed by the Japanese word ‘moe’ –which is a word derived from the ‘otaku’ culture (geek or nerd culture) and means that one is passionately and happily-deeply involved in activities or hobbies.

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One Sunday afternoon we visited the district of Harajuku whare several Cosplayers and fans of Visual Kei had gathered to pay tribute to one of the rock bands and to show off their fantastic alter egos and costumes. We were lucky because it was the birthday of a famous rock star (darn…I forgot his name) and hordes of Cosplayers and rockstar impersonators showed up on the Harajuku bridge. (and here are the photos by Andrew Guthrie)

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Then Anne and myself took the bullet train to Kyoto and headed towards the  Superdollfie museum, owned by the company Volks, where we managed to interview two of the curators and took lots of photographs of the famous (and super expensive) ball-jointed dolls and the doll owners. When entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a Madonna statue carrying a doll and surrounded by angels. According  to the curators, the Madonna with child is not a Christian symbol. She is to be seen as a universally benign source of love and power to all people who wish to have a child in the guise of a Superdollfie doll.  (He he… maybe my very last option) . The angels who surround the Madonna are gender-neutral  beings and will later turn into males or females. The doll museum also performs ceremonies in front of the Madonna, in which customers gather and formally receive their brand-new dolls. The dolls can be ordered online or inside the Kyoto “laboratory” store and they are carefully assembles and customized according to a “full choice system.”  There are a variety of head molds, limbs, hands, feet, eyeballs and hairstyles for people to choose from so that each customer can create (and endlessly recreate) a perfect doll as “fantasy offspring.”

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We ended our  visit in the museum garden, where we unpacked our Korean ball-jointed dolls Zaphy and Delphine, , made by the rival company Pullip. We shot a few cosy scenes celebrating the love between Zaphy (male) and Delphine (female). We ended out trip to Kyoto with a visit to the Inari Fox Shrine, which is a must-see for every Japan traveler, normal or otaku alike. We took a few hours climbing the hill and saw hundreds of historical fox statues and wandered through thousands of orange poles forming a unique gate. Moe!

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Kyoto Doll Museum: Tenshi No Sato

We are planning a visit to Kyoto in May to visit the museum of SD (Superdolfie) dolls that belongs to the company Volks.  Those dolls are a high-class brand and made for adults, though meanwhile there are other and more affordable ball-jointed dolls made in China and Korea.  But Japan and Volks seem to have ultimate power over designing this type of doll and its fandom. One has to make a reservation to visit the museum and no photography is allowed. It is assumed that people will bring along their SD dolls, but I am not sure how they would react if I bring my Korean doll. To get an understanding of how Chinese people use and photograph those dolls, you can watch my shortfilm On the Japanese Doll Complex.