Silver wig, blue contact lenses, a mock sword and a (kind of) knight’s costume.

These are the means by which “Otoha” (her cosplay name), a student at a vocational school, transforms herself into her favorite character from the PlayStation game “Tales of Innocence.”

She is one of the 400 kosupure (“cosplay,” or “costume players”) who created a world of fantasy in a hall at Tokyo’s Harumi Passenger Terminal on Feb. 24.

But don’t think of them as just a bunch of otaku (geeks) obsessed with manga, animation or video games. In fact, they are part of what is a burgeoning industry that now embraces specialist Web sites, professional event organizers, costume shops, courses teaching cosplay techniques and a cosplay English-language school.

All subsist on, and contribute to, a population of cosplayers in Japan that is growing with astounding speed. Cure, the nation’s largest specialist cosplay social-networking Web site currently attracts up to 200 new members per day, according to Tatsumi Inui, a staff member at the site, which was established by Livedoor Co. in 2001.

Of the site’s 270,000 members, 70,000 are active cosplayers, who proudly post photos of their costumed selves on their personalized pages set up inside Cure. The other 200,000 members, it would seem, are there to watch.

Now you may wonder, “What is cosplay, really?” and “Why it is so popular?” As the word’s “costume play” origin suggests, cosplay generally refers to the practice of dressing up like a character from a manga, animation or video game.

Some cosplayers, though, prefer to wear the costumes of particular professions, such as nurses or maids — while in recent years, the term cosplay has also come to refer to almost any sort of dressing up that is outside the ordinary.

The practice quickly expanded to fans of manga, anime and games, and — lo and behold — a culture was born.

These days an increasing number of people enjoy cosplay privately and at special events. For example, 14,000 cosplayers joined the three-day Comic Market at Tokyo Big Sight in December 2007, according to the organizers.

However, the types of cosplay events are almost as varied as the characters themselves.

Some are like the Comic Market, where sales of amateur comics and cosplay occur side-by-side. Others, like the one in Harumi last month, are exclusively for cosplay.

Among events where the main focus is cosplay, some welcome cosplayers of all kinds, while others limit participants to those mimicking characters from particular works.

At some events, called danpa (dance parties), there are dance floors where participants in costume can get down too.

Of course, if you’re not into dressing up yourself, there is always the option of just watching, and non-cosplayers can also sometimes take photographs — though admission for them costs about twice the typical ¥1,000 that cosplayers must hand over.

Welcome to a fantasy world that’s for real!

For more information on the world of cosplay, try starting with a visit to the Web site of Cure at cure.livedoor.com

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