August 29th, 2012
11:28 AM ET

Costuming at Dragon*Con: Why I’ll be a Japanese fox this year

If there's one thing any self-respecting Dragon*Con attendee does not want to do, it's "Halloween it."

Dragon*Con, the Southeast's largest fantasy and sci-fi fan convention, has long been a venue for impressive costuming. But as cosplayers, costumers and artists continue to develop sophisticated fabrication techniques, the bar for an awesome costume is set higher at Dragon*Con than at any other fan convention in the country.

Dragon*Con attendees don't just put on a costume: they sculpt gravity-defying wigs, they vacuum-mold armor, they airbrush their entire bodies.

The costumes of Dragon*Con send a complicated message of commiseration, appreciation and imagination.

Costuming, in the nerd community, can be a deeply soulful thing. The choice to display a persona, well-known or mystifyingly niche, at once communicates what media you consume, (video games? anime? comic books?), what attributes you value (are villains more interesting?), your artistic ability and aesthetic, as well as the fact that you are part of the tribe of fans that admire a particular franchise or idea.

In essence, costumes are a nerd calling card.

So those wearing only store-bought  fright wigs and fairy wings will likely not win over the crowds when more than 50,000 people descend on Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend to attend Dragon*Con

If you could bare your soul with a costume, what would you say? This year, I've chosen to broadcast my interest in Japanese mythology.

I've been drawn to Eastern mythology since I was a child. There's so much magic in those stories - and not just wizards and miracles.

Chinese and Japanese myths are filled with dragons and phoenixes, totemic animal demons, amazing weapons and spirit-soaked nature. These ideas are irresistibly manifested in Hayao Miyazaki's films, anime series like "Mushi-Shi," "InuYasha" and "Bleach" and kung fu movies like cult favorite "Zu Warriors" or more recently "The Sorcerer and the White Snake," starring Jet Li.

My interest was more firmly cemented by my first trip to Japan in 2010. When you travel to forested parts of Japan, like the Nakasendo Trail or Okuno-in, the vibrant hues of the moss and the  seemingly impossible height of cypress trees, towering above, bring those myths to life. These are indeed enchanted forests.

Despite the fact that the locales are halfway around the planet from my home, they seemed so familiar to me. I'd seen them before - in ancient wood-block prints illustrating encyclopedic entries about talking animals, and in glimpses of forest spirits in "Princess Mononoke” or "Spirited Away." Even the clouds in Japan look like the pictures I'd seen.

After years of filing away facts about ancient Japan from so many PBS documentaries and childhood library forays, at some point I stumbled upon the story of Tamamo no Mae.

This mysterious and captivating figure in Japanese mythology so intrigued me that I set off to learn everything about her. She's a fox spirit, but not just any fox spirit: a nine-tailed fox spirit. According to Japanese lore that means this demon has lived for 900 years, growing all the more powerful each century.

The fox spirit holds a fascinating place in Japanese folklore. As in Western fables, foxes are wily and cunning. They can be chaotic trouble-makers. Known as "kitsune," (pronounced "kit-soo-ney") they often transform into women and marry human men; their dedicated and happy married life hides their demon nature, which they never willingly reveal. Kitsune are still celebrated in Japan today, through festivals across the nation.

Foxes are familiar iconography of the Shinto religion; they are seen as messengers to Inari, the deity of rice. One of my favorite shrines to visit in Japan is Fushimi Inari Taisha, a mountainside snaked with Torii gates erected so close together that they form vermillion-colored tunnels. Dotted along this Torii gate trail  are shrines guarded by statues of fox demons. Worshipers tie red bibs on the stone foxes to protect them from the elements.

The legend goes, Tamamo no Mae, the nine-tailed fox spirit transformed into a woman and found a place in a prince's court. She was beautiful and beguiling. It was said she was exceedingly intelligent and well-read for her age, and she always smelled sweetly. She quickly won the prince's adoration, along with the rest of his court.

But soon enough, the prince fell ill. His soothsayers and magicians struggled to solve the ailment, until one day Tamamo no Mae's supernatural nature was found out (and the fact that she was working for a rival lord who wanted the prince's throne.)

She transformed back into a fox and escaped to a nearby mountain. The prince ordered his strongest warriors to hunt and kill the fox. They did so with a magic arrow, and the fox's body turned into a cursed stone that killed anyone who touched it. Tamamo no Mae's spirit was said to haunt the stone. This story lives in books and dramas (including Noh and Kabuki).

Aside from the fact that Tamamo no Mae is the cultural ancestor to countless fox demons (like the one in "Naruto") and wolf demons (as with the "Spice and Wolf" series) in manga and anime, she's a powerful female character born of a society that is staunchly patriarchal. She threatens the men who hold power. It takes the two strongest warriors and a magic arrow to stop her. She can be pretty and smart. And as depicted in Heian Era/period prints, she gets to wear elegant robes, striking a regal silhouette as they trail the ground behind her.

This chick is so cool!

She's a character that speaks to my interest in the Japanese aesthetic, mythological creatures and Eastern pop culture. By wearing a Tamamo no Mae costume to Dragon*Con, I hope to find my people. They don't have to know who Tamamo no Mae is - it's a fairly esoteric story to the average American - and they don't have to know the cultural history of fox spirits within the Shinto religion.

They just have to find the idea of this Japanese myth as beautiful and alluring as I do.

Having a fun costume idea is one thing - bringing it to fruition is an entirely different endeavor. Check Geek Out! for tales of my journey to becoming Tamamo no Mae for Dragon*Con 2012. I'll speak with costuming experts and narrowly avoid tetanus shots as I sew ancient Japanese robes.

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Filed under: Dragon*Con • Fandom • Otaku
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Rajesh

    just would like to see some lllt only results. gnituaz is offering propecia+minoxidil as well, so we will never know if the lllt has any benefits on hair growth

    October 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  2. Nerds, All of You!

    Get a life...better yet, get a girlfriend/boyfriend and get laid...all of you!

    My guess is that none of you have seen the light of day in years, all cramped up in your parent's basement playing on your computer and eating hot pockets 20 hours a day. Stop playing dress-up and get a life!

    September 4, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Loki of Asgard


      September 4, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  3. Allie

    Just got back from the parade. Believe I spotted you. Awesome costume! A real standout!

    September 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  4. Michiko


    August 31, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      I thought I heard somebody say "Weeaboo!"

      August 31, 2012 at 11:50 am |
      • Perry

        We're never going to get anything done now . . .

        August 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  5. JB

    A great deal can be inferred about a culture by its mythology, quite fascinating.
    Speaking of kitsune, I'm especially fond of the hakuzosu (fox spirit disguised as a priest).

    I envy you guys who are going. All of my buddies bailed at the last minute, and now I can't
    afford to go...

    August 31, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      I can't go this year either. But in the not too distant future . . .

      August 31, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  6. M.E.

    I love designing and creating clothes, but cosplay just blows my mind. Give me a few yards of fabric and I can do some nifty things, but costumers can do mind boggling things with such a wide range of materials, it's stunning. I have more respect for the people who create cosplay apparel than can accurately be described using English. Good luck with your Kitsune, I wanna see pics!

    August 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  7. THX1953

    Well, now there will be one hundred and one of you.

    August 30, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  8. sakura

    It will be a cool costume, but don't surprised if many people ask you if you are dressed as Ahri the nine tailed fox from league of legends; esp if you go for all nine tails.

    August 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Hogan's Goat

      Don't be surprised if you are mobbed by Sonic the Hedgehog fans, either.

      August 30, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  9. Hogan's Goat

    Ann, I think there's a Neil Gaiman graphic story about the kitsune legend of the Fox Wife.

    August 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • sakura

      Sure is. Called the "The Dream Hunters"

      August 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  10. Sean

    LOL You're sooo cool and authentic. Just poke arm and leg holes in a garbage can, put on a bike helmet and say you're R2-D2.

    August 30, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      LOL. You're so jaded and cynical. Hang on, high school isn't forever.

      August 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  11. Mike

    I think someone needs to play some Legend of the Five Rings... specifically the Kitsune Family of the Mantis Clan (who are priests who summon forest spirits into batle) or the Scorpion Clan (who have Foxwives that are the "traditional" Kitsune).

    August 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  12. asefasfde

    Dont bother bringing any condoms.

    August 30, 2012 at 5:01 am |
    • razedeyebrow

      None of those people will ever get laid. (Which is a win-win for the gene pool.)

      August 30, 2012 at 7:04 am |
      • hawkechik

        I can tell you've been to dozens of cons. Oh, yeah (many would make a frat house party look tame.)

        August 30, 2012 at 8:17 am |
      • AndriconBoy

        Gee, none of us figured that out. We're so glad you caught up to the rest of the class so you could explain it.

        August 30, 2012 at 9:15 am |
      • Wrenn_NYC

        I stopped counting the number of cons I've been to, its been 20+ years. (been to, staffed, and run).

        hawkechik is correct.

        asafasde is so far off the mark...Humans are humans. Geeks just need their minds stimulated as well as other things. If you don't have a brain, you don't get anything else.

        There was on convention on the east coast that used to take place a week after a fetish fleadh, in the same hotel. A number of the businesses that came to sell things for the fleadh, stayed through for the convention. Now, some of the parties there... would make a pron star blush.

        August 30, 2012 at 10:15 am |
      • Mike

        Yeah, how horrible for the gene pool! Heaven forbid two intelligent people have offspring... it would be the end of the Idiocracy as we know it! Maybe razed should spend less time burning his eyebrows and more time applying critical thought before speaking... but, then again, I may be expecting something he's incapable of doing.

        August 30, 2012 at 11:39 am |
      • Hogan's Goat

        May I suggest that you find John Ringo at DragonCon and explain that "can't get laid" theory to him and whoever is nearby?

        August 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • M.E.

        Funny, I married a nerd, safe to say he gets some. I'm a bit of a nerd too, so the street runs both ways. Your children may beat our some day in sports, but ours will probably end up being more productive members of society.

        August 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Hogan's Goat

      You have obviously never been anywhere near Hot 'Lanta. Or a hot girl, probably . . . .

      August 30, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  13. tk4670

    Already here at Dcon checked in and ready to go. We just came from CVI so the wife and I only brought 6 costumes this year. Hope to see you this weekend

    August 29, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Sigh. I'm not really bringing anything this year. Except one of my brocade jackets. Checked bags cost now, so the weight in the luggage is getting filled with the SOs books and comic books. Hopefully he'll sell some. He usually does.

      August 30, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  14. Joel

    This explains why I got so many evil looks while wearing my half-assed Robin Hood/Peter Pan costume last year. It was my first *Con so I'm going to plead ignorance and try harder this weekend.

    August 29, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  15. geekmom

    Love seeing all the costumes.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  16. AndriconBoy

    I'm just waiting for some closed-minded dbag to leave a comment about how dressing up for these events somehow makes them a bad person, even though he is probably in favor of painting ones face and wearing similar clothing to a professional sporting event.

    "Dressing up like a fox spirit is for faygs, but painting your skin yellow and purple, wearing a blond wig and horned hat, and carrying a plastic axe to see the Vikings is perfectly understandable and cool."

    August 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  17. wrenthefaceless

    I expect to be credited for the term 'Halloweening it' from one of my previous posts.

    Good luck with your costume, me and my girl plan on making it out to Dragon*Con one of these days.

    August 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  18. Wrenn_NYC

    A few years ago when I was on staff for Anime Boston, I spent Friday dressed as a Kitsune. A traditional one, not an anime one. Furisode, formal obi, tabi.. Made up my face, with my hair pulled back and twigs and leaves tied in it trailinig down my back. (Many myths state that the fox throws twigs and leaves over it's head and becomes a woman). It was a lot of fun.

    August 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |