LOS ANGELES — “My name is Kimura U, and I am the most pink creator of the world.”
Walking the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center last weekend during the Anime Expo, Kimura U looks the part — chunky pink platform heels, a pink leather jacket, pink tights, a pink frilly dress and ombre hair that fades from light purple to light pink — among the estimated 200,000 attendees, many of them eager to stand out through their apparel.
But unlike the thousands of cosplayers — people who dress as anime or manga characters — it’s U’s job to dress this way: She’s the Japanese ambassador of Kawaii, aka the ambassador of cute.
Appointed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the position in 2009, U travels the world to promote her country’s culture abroad, specifically Harajuku fashion, a type based on trends in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, known for its youth culture and fashion. U is one of three Kawaii ambassadors, an unpaid position, although the ministry pays for her travel.
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“My job is to go to various countries and introduce the real Harajuku fashion to those countries and have the people in those countries love Japanese fashion, Harajuku fashion, and to bridge the understanding between the two countries,” U said through a translator, her big, blue eyes flashing animatedly as she spoke.
U began making and selling clothes for extra money while she was in a band, which got her noticed by NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting service. The Japanese Foreign Ministry then discovered her growing influence in fashion and selected her as an ambassador.
U said her clothing line, KOKOkim, fuses Harajuku with anime fashion in styles designed to be worn every day. The Anime Expo over the weekend hosted the first KOKOkim fashion show outside Japan.
“She wanted to create something not cosplay but something that people can wear every day and still relate to the anime culture,” said Yuko Ishikawa, U’s interpreter.
For attendees, heading to the four-day expo in cosplay was a welcome break from the everyday.
Aaron Silva, 23, a contractor from Claremont, Calif., held an umbrella with a dark cloud “floating” above it when walking from hall to hall on Thursday; it was his 10th year attending the expo. He said he dressed as Cecil Gershwin Palmer from “Welcome to Night Vale,” a fictional American podcast.
“I like my picture getting taken by people,” Silva said. “I like anime, but I like to cosplay and get attention. I don’t buy the games because I can get it online, it’s cheaper. Most of the panel stuff I’ve already seen, so I just come to hang out in cosplay and meet people.”
Cosplayers filled Entertainment Hall, where a series of 10 sets offered chances for attendees to take photos in such places as a forest, a rooftop, a classroom and a bedroom.
Martin Ly, 25, from Alberta, Canada, worked diligently in the tea room set to capture a photo of his costumed girlfriend, Sara Biggs, 20, of Murrieta, Calif. “The reason that we dress up is we love to be in photos. It’s all about pose, style, integrity and organization,” Ly said.
Ly and Biggs agreed that they take more photos dressed in cosplay than in everyday life.
“When you take pictures of everyday life, it’s fun and all, but in this setting it’s more fantastical,” Ly said. “It’s something you don’t see every day, so taking pictures is a fun experience, because there’s so much vibrancy compared to everyday life.”
U posed for photos with fans, who eagerly posted their moments with the ambassador to their Instagram accounts. U has traveled to three expos this year, including the East Coast’s AnimeNEXT last month.
Her position doesn’t have a term limit, and she says she keeps her age a secret to maintain a youthful appearance.
“Anime characters are always young and cute,” U said.