Japanese ambassador of cute joins cosplayers at AX

July 06, 2014 | 1:37 p.m.
Kimura U, the Ambassador of Kawaii and the Ambassador of Cute. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Kimura U, the ambassador of kawaii, or ambassador of cute. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“My name is Kimura U, and I am the most pink creator of the world.”

Walking the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center on Thursday during Anime Expo, Kimura U — wearing chunky pink platform heels, a pink leather jacket, pink tights, a pink frilly dress and ombre hair that faded from light purple to light pink — surprisingly fit in among a group of 200,000 attendees often eager to stand out through their apparel.

But unlike the thousands of cosplayers dressed as characters, it’s Kimura U’s job to dress this way: She’s the Japanese ambassador of kawaii, a.k.a. the ambassador of cute.

Appointed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the position in 2009, U travels the world to promote Japanese culture abroad, specifically Harajuku fashion, a type of fashion based on trends in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. U is one of three Kawaii ambassadors, an unpaid position.

“My job is to go to various countries and introduce the real Harajuku fashion to those countries and have the people in those countries love Japanese fashion, Harajuku fashion, and to bridge the understanding between the two countries,” U said through a translator, her big, blue eyes flashing animatedly.

Kimura U, right, the Ambassador of Cute, makes her way inside the Los Angeles Convention Center during the opening day of the Anime Expo. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Kimura U, right, the ambassador of cute, makes her way inside the Los Angeles Convention Center during the opening day of the Anime Expo. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

U began hand-making and selling clothes to make extra money while in a music band, a feat noticed by NHK, Japan’s national public broadcasting station. The Japanese Foreign Ministry then discovered her growing influence in fashion and selected her as an ambassador of kawaii.

U says her original fashion line, KOKOkim, fuses Harajuku fashion with anime fashion in a form of everyday clothing. The Anime Expo hosted the first KOKOkim fashion show outside of Japan this weekend.

“She wanted to create something not cosplay, but something that people can wear everyday and still relate to the anime culture,” Yuko Ishikawa, U’s interpreter, said.

For expo attendees, heading to the convention center in cosplay each year serves as a welcome break from the everyday.

Aaron Silva, 23, a contractor from Claremont, held an umbrella with a dark cloud “floating” above it when walking from hall to hall on Thursday, his 10th year attending the expo. He said he’ was dressed as Cecil Gershwin Palmer from “Welcome to Night Vale,” a fictional American podcast.

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People dressed up as anime characters attend opening day of the Anime Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center on July 3, 2014. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Twenty-one-month-old Aria Chan, from San Francisco, dressed up as Chun-Li from the video game "Street Fighter," and Jonathan Hernandez, 21, of North Hollywood, dressed up as Peter Pan. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Derek Fu, 20, of Diamond Bar, dressed up as Fujitora from the anime show "One Piece." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Artist Sylvia Shi, of Baltimore, displays her art that is for sale at her booth during the opening day of Anime Expo. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Hope Donovan, left, of San Francisco, dressed up as Rin from the anime show "Free!," adjusts the scarf of friend Cyrene Cruz, of Los Angeles, dressed up us as Haru, a character from the same show. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Kim Zak, left, of Los Angeles, dressed up as Elsa from Disney's "Frozen," gets help with her gown from friend Tyler Amano-Smerling, of Los Angeles, dressed up as Ursula from Disney's "Little Mermaid." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Kimura U, right, the Ambassador of Cute, makes her way inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. She was appointed by the Foreign Ministry of Japan to promote Japanese culture abroad. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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A fan is dressed up as the male version of Ahri from the video game "League of Legends." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Kevin Nakashima, left, of Whittier, dressed up as Colossal Titan from "Attack on Titan." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Justin Boaz, right, of Vista, dresses up as Tuxedo Mask. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Klaura McKelvey, 15, dressed up as Aradia, a character from the web comic series, 'Homestuck." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans gather inside the Los Angeles Convention Center during Anime Expo. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Mikaylee Collins, left, dressed up as Grell Sutcliff, and Jenny Joboyan dressed up as Angelina Dalles, both characters from the anime series "Black Butler." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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From left: Renee Wallin, Danielle Smith, Lily Kim, Emily Tran, and Alex Tanguay, all from Arizona, pose for pictures. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Emily Moreno, 6, dressed up as Satoko from the anime show "Higurashi When They Cry," shows her new stuffed animal to Katie Ehrlich, 18, left, dressed up as Raven, and her friend Liza Woythaler, dressed up as Starfire, both characters from "Teen Titans." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Elyse Campos, 25, of Glendora, wears an original character she designed and named Allen, a white German shepherd. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Dakota Dennis of Woodland Hills, wearing the titular mask from the "Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" video game. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Johnny Yang, of Corona, portraying Gray Fullbuster from the anime show "Fairy Tail," walks around with his ice cannon. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Joshua Gainey, left, of Chino, dressed up as Kurloz Makara from the web comic series "Homestuck." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Tiana Jellum, of Los Angeles, dressed up as Stocking from the anime series "Panty &Stocking with Garterbelt." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Avery Perez, of Ventura, holds his bed foam and cardboard creation that he made in the likeness of Bad Batter, a character from the "Off" game. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Nathalie Urrutia, left, and Joseph Escobar, both of Burbank, dress up as characters from the puppet video series "Don't Hug Me I'm Scared." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Devin Izmirian, of Colorado, dressed up as Rem from the anime show "Death Note." (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“I like my picture getting taken by people,” Silva says. “I like anime, but I like to cosplay and get attention. I don’t buy the games because I can get it online, it’s cheaper. Most of the panel stuff I’ve already seen, so I just come to hang out in cosplay and meet people.”

Cosplayers filled Entertainment Hall, where a series of 10 cosplay sets offered a chance for attendees to take photos in places like a forest, a rooftop, in a classroom and in a bedroom.

Martin Ly, 25 from Alberta, Canada, worked diligently in the tea room set to capture a photo of his girlfriend, Sara Biggs, 20, of Murrieta, in her cosplay costume. “The reason that we dress up is we love to be in photos. It’s all about pose, style, integrity and organization,” Ly said.

Both Ly and Biggs agreed that they take more photos dressed in cosplay than in everyday life.

“When you take pictures of everyday life, it’s fun and all, but in this setting it’s more fantastical,” Ly said. “It’s something you don’t see everyday, so taking pictures is a fun experience because there’s so much vibrancy compared to everyday life.”

U posed for photos with attendees at the expo, and fans eagerly posted their moment with the ambassador to their Instagram accounts. U has traveled to three expos this year, including the East Coast’s AnimeNEXT last month. Her position as ambassador doesn’t have a term limit, and she says she keeps her age a secret to maintain a youthful appearance.

“Anime characters are always young and cute,” U said.

– Haley Goldberg | @haleyslone | @LATHeroComplex

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