The Power of 100 Yen – Larp in Japan

Presentation on larp and the power of 100 yen in Japan, at the 2nd EAJS Japan Conference, Kobe, September 24, 2016, 17:15.

The history of live-action role-playing (larp) in Japan, a mixture of improv-theatre and role-playing game, is rather short. The practice awoke broader interest mostly since 2012 through the abridged and commented Japanese translation of DragonSys, a German larp rule system.

As young as fantasy and sci-fi larp is in Japan, it faces a number of material constraints, one of which is the actual or perceived limited accessibility of space – Japan’s largest larp group meets in a community centre instead of in the woods, on camping grounds, or in a castle. Also limited is the availability of larp paraphernalia common in Europe.

Japan’s larpers do have access to an extraordinary source for equipment, though: 100-Yen-Shops, hyakkin. These shops offer a broad variety of products for just 100 Yen, useful for larping as outlined by Japan’s first “how-to-larp” publications. This paper discusses the development and current state of larp in Japan: How did “European-style” fantasy larp come to Japan? How was this practice adapted to local circumstances? How is it related to sibling practices, such as cosplay (masquerading) and pen & paper role-playing? The paper analyses the ways of appropriation including the discursive and material constraints practitioners are entangled with.

Conceptualizing larp as a network of heterogeneous human and non-human elements, the practice in Japan is hardly defined by a somewhat special “Japaneseness” but produced through the tracing of connections between these various elements. “Japanese-style” fantasy larp combines “global” elements of larping with “local” materials so that the practice is (continuously) reassembled.

Keywords: 100-yen-shop, appropriation, heterogeneous networks, Japan, larp, material constraints, role-playing

Based on: Kamm, Björn-Ole. 2015. “Die Kraft von nur 100 Yen – Larp in Japan” [The Power of Just 100 Yen – Larp in Japan]. In LARP: Zeug. Aufsatzsammlung Zum Mittelpunkt 2015, edited by Rafael Bienia and Gerke Schlickmann, 17–36. Braunschweig: Zauberfeder Verlag.

English Draft Version (with comments): The Power of Just 100 Yen.