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Special Interview Series: Vol.3 Daisuke Yokosawa and Erika Suzuki

Becoming an International City of Arts & Culture That Fuses the Real and Virtual

Toshima City has adopted the International City of Arts & Culture Toshima Vision, and seeks to become a “city of theater where the community is one big stage and anyone can be a star.” Ikebukuro in particular is expected to play an increasingly major role as the center of this endeavor.

In this interview, we asked Daisuke Yokosawa of Dwango Co., Ltd.—who is also a producer for the Toshima City International City of Arts & Culture project—and Erika Suzuki of the advertising department of Animate Ltd., whose main store is in Ikebukuro, about the appeal of Ikebukuro.

Communicate to the World, Connect with the World

In 2020, the former site of the Toshima City Office is expected to be reborn as an international center of cultural activity. What are your expectations for the future of Ikebukuro, which is expected to experience accelerating diversity?

Yokosawa: There will be eight theaters, ten screens, and even a plaza. There will be kabuki and subculture-related performances, while the screens will show works with various philosophies, and people coming to view all these different things. This will be a dynamic space rarely seen in the world.

Moreover, there will be a virtual aspect to the entertainment available here, such as online streaming of local events as well as public viewings of overseas performances. Reality and the virtual world will be blended, and there will be new ways to combine cosplay with the spaces provided by the new theaters that get fans involved and open up endless possibilities.

Suzuki: The Animate Girls Festival has been part of the city’s Ikebukuro Autumn Culture Festival since 2015, and drew about seventy thousand people last year. In addition to shopping, the festival has performances by voice actors and other attractions. I believe the festival has begun to establish itself as an event for enjoying Ikebukuro, and we’ve also seen a big increase in the number of foreign guests visiting Ikebukuro.

We hold a cosplay event every month known as “acosta!” I think Ikebukuro is one of the only places in the world where you can see cosplay around town at any time.

Yokosawa: Cosplaying isn’t just about dressing up; it readily connects to a variety of other forms of expression. By combining cosplay with what you’re good at—such as singing, dancing or acting—you can use the culture of cosplay to expand your range of expression.

Suzuki: Now that there are events cosplayers can enjoy, I would like to see a foundation created in Ikebukuro so people watching can join in the fun. If we can broadcast these events globally, I think the participants will feel a sense of pride. For example, people come from all over the world to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City to see giant balloons of popular characters, and hundreds of thousands more watch the broadcast of the parade. I want to create a similar event here that the world watches.

Three years after it started, the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival has grown into an event with ninety thousand participants.

Yokosawa: For quite some time I’d wanted to do an open-air cosplay event in town rather than in a closed-off space. I feel that some cosplayers are too shy to be a part of the Halloween festivities in Shibuya and Roppongi. Then I thought, what about Ikebukuro? So I talked to the mayor about it and he expressed his enthusiasm, which led to the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival. It wasn’t about business. I just wanted to create a place where cosplayers can feel at home. I want to make a theater for cosplayers in the city. My motivations are summed up by the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival’s slogan: “Gather together for an undeniably fun time!” I’m also a serious cosplayer!

Suzuki: The people who gather in Ikebukuro love cosplay from the bottom of their hearts. It’s significant that we were able to come up with rules and create a space where we can have fun safely. We’re also encouraged by the acceptance we’ve received from area businesses.

Yokosawa: It’s amazing that there’s no litter after the event! It gives me a sense of the cosplayer spirit. Cosplayers know that if something happens, people will question the entire culture.

Suzuki: The cosplayers aren’t just thinking about having fun themselves, they are also trying to protect the cosplay culture.

Ikebukuro Is a Place for Internet Culture and Reality to Merge

The International City of Arts & Culture Toshima Vision promotes the fusion of the real and virtual. What are your thoughts on our accelerating Internet society and the creation of spaces for real-life encounters?

Yokosawa: Until now, I think cities have evolved into distinctly divided communities and business and industrial districts. Information was primarily obtained from television and magazines. But as people have started discovering what they like through the Internet, senses of value have diversified, and young people in particular no longer fit completely into these distinctly divided communities. In that respect, Ikebukuro has subcultures, high cultures, commerce and craftspeople. It even has places like Zoshigaya. One of Ikebukuro’s attractions is that everyone can create their own story here.

Dwango’s Niconico video service is similar to Ikebukuro in that our sixty million members belong to a variety of categories but form a single community. I think if we can apply this aspect of the Internet to a real location, it will be possible to make the whole city a stage.

What we have to ask ourselves is how do we make a platform that transcends the boundaries of the analog and digital and of the virtual and real? What parts need to be virtual? What kind of community should this be for each generation? I don’t think anyone has approached community development from this kind of perspective yet.

Suzuki: The Animate Ikebukuro flagship store differs from other stores because about 90 percent of our customers are women. I think this is thanks to the efforts Ikebukuro has made to attract women to the city. They are feeling conspicuous now, so they can enjoy their hobbies openly, and more of them are seeking out others to share their interests with. Coming to Ikebukuro and expressing themselves helps people enjoy their regular lives, too.

Yokosawa: A trend is developing where people feel that expressing themselves in Ikebukuro is safe. As these people gather here, I believe businesses in the city will change as well. More of them offering an additional service—such as cafés and restaurants that specialize in cosplay—will pop up. As mobility increases, this will become a place where people can spend hours enjoying together. To that end, I want to create more places in which people can express what they like and are good at.

Profiles

Daisuke Yokosawa
CCO of Dwango Co., Ltd., and the general producer of the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival. Started an official live program for video-sharing site Niconico. He is also the general producer of Niconico Chokaigi—an event with around a hundred thousand participants—and a producer for the Toshima City International City of Arts & Culture project. 

Erika Suzuki
Works in the advertising department at Animate Ltd. Manages the Animate Ikebukuro Flagship Store—which averages ten thousand guests per day—and other stores, and is the advertising producer for the Animate Girls Festival, which provides a collection of content for women.