I bet you’ve seen the pictures on social media. Heck, I bet you’ve seen it in real life. Everything from animals to cartoon characters, it’s in the form of a onesie. This trend has been catching on even more worldwide, but did you know that it originated in Japan?
Yup, that’s right. These pyjama onesies started in Japan and now it’s a worldwide phenomenon, some say. And they’re called “kigurumi”. Now, I bet you have more questions than answers. But you’ve come to the right place. We have all the answers you have about kigurumi here. All you have to do is read on!
What is Kigurumi?
The word kigurumi (着ぐるみ) comes from combining two words. The first word is kiru (着る) which means “to wear”. The other word is nuigurumi (ぬいぐるみ) which means “stuffed toy”. Kigurumi refers to costumed characters, like mascots. They’re a huge part of Japanese culture, similar to how cosplay is.
Kigurumi is originally used for promotional purposes and by cosplayers. Most of the time, you get an oversized headgear in the chibi (チビ) style. Basically, you’re going to look like an anime character. You’re dressed from head to toe in a full bodysuit.
Nowadays, especially outside of Japan, it’s more widely known as animal onesies. They look and feel way more comfier than the former. If you’re invited to a kigurumi party, you’re expected to look like an animal, not an anime character.
Kigurumi, whichever type it is, is everywhere on the streets of Japan nowadays. It’s so common that it’s normal. It could be a green dinosaur onesie or a schoolgirl anime character. No one would really bat an eye at the sight.
Types of Kigurumi
So we briefly mentioned the two common variations of kigurumi. Kigurumi comes in various types: kigurumi cosplay, kigurumi masks and kigurumi pyjamas.
Kigurumi cosplay, or kigurumi kosupure (着ぐるみコスプレ) in Japanese, focuses on Japanese pop culture. People dress up in kigurumi-style costumes in the character they like. This includes anime characters as well as some American fictional characters. Common kigurumi cosplay includes Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Pokemon and anime characters.
Sometimes, kigurumi cosplay can revolve around sex appeal, especially when it comes to anime characters. Not all the time, though. This type of kigurumi is also used for stage shows of anime both in Japan and overseas.
Another type of kigurumi is kigurumi masks. In Japanese, this type of kigurumi is called animegao (アニメ顔) to mean “anime face”. It’s similar to the previous type we mentioned. The only difference is that this kigurumi involves only the face. The body is then dressed up in normal clothes.
Kigurumi masks started off as masquerade masks, but now has evolved to be anime characters. Now, kigurumi masks have included other types of cartoon characters like Frozen and other Disney shows.
The last type of kigurumi is kigurumi pyjamas. It involves pyjamas usually in the style of a onesie. Most of the time, the kigurumi pyjamas are in the shape of animals. This type of kigurumi is the one we see often on social media. It has become a hit in countries outside of Japan. Europe and America have embraced kigurumi pyjamas with open arms.
Kigurumi began in the mid-1990s. It’s said that a company called SAZAC started it all in the fashionable streets of Harajuku and Shibuya, where most Japanese subcultures are born. It was used as a simple way out of cosplay. All you had to do was wear the mascot-like outfit and you’re a walking anime character!
Some say that kigurumi could be traced back to the 1600s when kabuki (歌舞伎) and bunraku (文楽) were formed. Kabuki is a traditional and theatrical dance-drama that is still performed today. Performers wore masks and elaborate makeup to look like creatures and ghosts. Bunraku is a traditional puppet theatre performance. Puppeteers would be in black clothes with hand-made masks on.
When kigurumi took off in the 90s, so did the manufacturing of masks. Japanese entertainers like musicians and celebrities started following this trend. By the time the mid-2000s rolled around, kigurumi was the norm.
Despite the media reporting on kigurumi, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that the Western countries caught onto the trend. Now, even though kigurumi isn’t interpreted as it was originally, it’s a hyped-up Japanese trend worldwide!
The Boom of Kigurumi Outside of Japan
Before the late 2000s, kigurumi was merely an underground trend. The hype of the kigurumi trend in America and Europe boomed when anime and manga started to spread in these countries. People started loving Japanese media. People wanted to dress up as their favourite anime characters.
Comic and anime conventions started becoming a regular occurrence in the West. Cosplay, the act of dressing up, started to grow. And what better way to dress up as anime characters than embracing the original kigurumi type of animegao?
Around the same time, popular shops in Japan like Don Quixote started selling “hot” and “must-have” souvenir items that include kigurumi onesies. Travellers from the West brought them back home to share with friends and family. Bloggers and influencers wrote about and posted them all over the web.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Kigurumi seems to have undergone a couple of changes throughout time. And it seems like it’s going to undergo a few more changes. Now they’re Halloween costumes, toddler sleepwear and even kigurumi accessories. What can’t this hot Japanese trend do?