To Suzhou, China, where the slow clamber back to post-Covid tourism suffered an embarrassing knock this August, when a woman was arrested for wearing a kimono. She had been cosplaying as Ushio Kofune from Summertime Rendering, and was berated by a police officer for dressing up as a Japanese person.
Apparently, everything would have been fine if she had been wearing Hanfu, or traditional Chinese dress.
“If you came here wearing Hanfu, I wouldn’t say this,” he can be heard yelling on snatched phone footage. “But you are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are a Chinese! Are you Chinese?”
The woman’s social media handle was Shi yingzi bushi benren, “This is a shadow, not my real self,” which seems like an aptly self-aware comment on the nature of costuming. Such subtleties, however, were lost on the authorities, who questioned her for five hours until 1am, searched her phone and took away her costume.
One wonders about the context of such an arrest, in a city that, until now, has been famed for its laid-back quality and friendly attitude. My sole encounter with the authorities in Suzhou’s shopping precincts was when I was photo-bombed by a security guard who then pranced off, giggling. But that was in 2017, and a lot has changed over the last five years. Attitudes towards Japan have certainly frosted over, particularly when it comes to cosplaying, which has come to be seen in some quarters as some sort of badge of sedition.
Clearly, clampdowns on Japanese media in China can’t have been that draconian, as otherwise how would she even know what Summertime Rendering was? Yasuki Tanaka’s manga first appeared five years ago, but one assumes the sudden interest in Suzhou was occasioned by Ayumu Watanabe’s anime adaptation, which only ran on TV Tokyo in April this year – both manga and anime versions are accessible in China through the online service BiliBili.
If anything, Summertime Rendering is a cultural ambassador for China, since one of its episodes is essentially a history lesson about how sushi originated there, and is not a Japanese creation by any means. You would think that the Chinese would be super-excited about such as assertion, but instead social media is awhirl with people asking if even dressing up is now off the table.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #224, 2022.