Playing dress up, Japanese style

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Japan isn’t weird. Spending hundreds of thousands of yen transforming yourself into the human equivalent of a computer-game character, a manga villain or pink kitten bent on world domination isn’t really so different from tying bells to your legs, putting on a straw boater and irritating drinkers in pubs.

Cosplayers – the name is a contraction of “costume” and “play” – aim to live the life of their chosen character, which can be complicated if you fancy yourself as a 60ft robot. It’s far easier to be a sweet and frilly Lolita, like these girls. Some people even tend to get anime cosplay costumes to dress up as their favourite anime characters. Advanced cosplayers will have a repertoire of characters, with intricately detailed, handmade costumes, ranging from sword-swinging superheroes to wide-eyed manga waifs. They sometimes use contact lenses, tattoos or even saline injections to achieve the look. Visit Tokyo’s Harajuku or Shinjuku districts on any night and you’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland, as real life Moshi Monsters sit in the maid cafes (where the waitresses are dressed as saucy Victorian maids) sipping shakes and pointing out the fashion errors made by the Mortal Kombat crew.

To blend in you need a costume of your own, so head for shops such as Bodyline, on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, or Akihabara, the setting for the manga thriller Akihabara@Deep, where you can hire a cosplay outfit and have your photo taken at the Uni Studio, near the station.

Alternatively, join the J-Pop & Go! tour from Inside Japan (0117 370 9751, You’ll visit the manga theme park J-World, the high-tech arcades of Namja Town, hang out in Harajuku and visit anime central, Studio Ghibli. Then you’ll do conventional things like temples, hot springs and bullet trains, but you probably won’t remember that bit. The 10-night tour costs from 1,575pp, B&B. Flights to Tokyo start at about 550 with Air China or Emirates.