Fukuoka: Cosplayers use suburban forest for dynamic photo shoots

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cosplayers take photos of each other on a scenic bridge at Aburayama Citizen’s Forest in Fukuoka on Nov. 21.

FUKUOKA — A citizen’s forest in the suburbs of Fukuoka has become a hotspot among cosplayers thanks to the picturesque diversity of the surrounding woods and a service to rent changing rooms that began five years ago.

About 30 people gathered in late November in Aburayama Citizen’s Forest for a cosplay photography event. There had been a drop in visitors to the forest, but recently the area is receiving glowing praise for being well-suited to the hobby.

“The maple trees are so beautiful and I could get a picture that shows off my kimono,” said a local high school girl, dressed as the main character of the popular manga “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.”

The forest was established in 1969 on 597-meter-high Mt. Abura. About 100,000 trees of more than 20 species, as well as water features, can be found across the 94-hectare site.

At its peak in 1979, the forest saw 420,000 visitors, but that has more than halved in recent years. Cosplayers took notice of the forest, and began to seek permission to hold photo shoots there, about eight years ago.

The forest’s managing association, commissioned by the Fukuoka city government, decided to allow the photo shoots as long as the cosplayers followed rules such as “refraining from wearing revealing or frightening costumes.”

The ability to rent changing rooms was especially welcomed among cosplayers as changing in and out of elaborate costumes takes time. About five years ago, the association began renting out about 15 bungalows to cosplayers that were originally set up for campers. The move brought in a surge of visitors.

“It’s rare for a public facility to not only allow photo shoots, but to also have changing rooms for rent,” said a 31-year-old visitor who has been cosplaying for 15 years. “Usually, when I’m shooting outdoors I have to change in my car, so it’s nice to be able to prepare in a spacious room.”

The rental fee is ¥1,500 to ¥2,000 per day. Even cosplayers who don’t know each other sometimes share a bungalow and split the cost, the visitor said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A cosplayer poses for photos with autumn leaves in the background on Nov. 21.

There were 166 bungalow rentals in fiscal 2019 — April 2019 to March 2020 — triple the amount seen a year before, according to the association. Cosplayers accounted for more than half of those renting. In fiscal 2020, the number of bungalow rentals dropped to 67 amid the pandemic, but the percentage of use for cosplaying reached 80%.

The parking lot was closed intermittently in 2021 until October to restrict visits by car, but after that, requests for permission to have photo shoots have been coming in.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

“The forest is appreciated for its proximity to an urban area and for its environment, where one can shoot against seasonal backdrops, such as cherry blossoms in spring, by the water in summer, the leaves in autumn, and camellias in winter,” said an association official.

Akiko Sugawa, a professor specializing in pop culture at Yokohama National University, said, “As social media spreads, more and more cosplayers are looking for places that make their costumes look good. Cosplay events are likely to increase interpersonal exchange and create an economic windfall for local governments.”