Onna no ko Kurabu (Girls’ Club) is where the action’s at if you want an easy way to sample Japanese cross-dressing subculture .

Man or woman, you can go to the club — currently one in Tokyo, with a new club in Osaka’s down-and-dirty Dotonbori district from December 1st — to try on girls’ clothing. The club keeps a wardrobe of rental clothes and wigs for joso (or josou) cosplay, dressing up as a girl.

Tokyo and Osaka cross-dressers go to Onna no ko Kurabu (Girls’ Club)

As we know, otoko no ko cross-dressing cosplay is big in Japan, though it is a hard-to-define point somewhere between “transvestite” and “cosplayer”. Joso is the more conventional label, though the emphasis is again clearly on looking cute and feminine, rather than overtly adopting the opposite sex’s look. (To make a simple, hopefully uncontroversial, distinction, otoko no ko seems to be a more recent trendy word with the focus more on cosplay-like “cute” and young guys becoming young girls, while joso is more generally applicable to all male cross-dressers.)

There are make-up services too, so Onna no ko Kurabu (Girls’ Club) is perfect for novices. Other facilities include showers and lockers. Ideal for a full transformation. It costs ¥2,000 for girls (including cross-dressers) and ¥3,000 for men, while the cosplay clothes and changing room can be used for free. Drinks start at ¥500. It’s also fine just to go and have a drink, without putting on any clothes.

Tokyo and Osaka cross-dressers go to Onna no ko Kurabu (Girls’ Club)

The Tokyo club opened in 2012 in Shinjuku’s gay district, Nichome. Naturally, the staff are also cross-dressers. These clubs are clearly for beginners rather than the hard-core or established, though that needn’t mean they are not the genuine article.

Tokyo and Osaka cross-dressers go to Onna no ko Kurabu (Girls’ Club)

To be honest, the exact meanings of otoko no ko, joso, okama, and so on, and their differences compared to Western cross-dressing would occupy at least several Ph.D. dissertations. After all, how do you categorize all-female cabaret like Takarazuka, public transgender personalities like Matsuko Deluxe and Akihiro Miwa, regular drag queens in Nichome, and semi-underground cosplay movements like otoko no ko and joso?

As with so much about Japanese sexuality, ambiguity rules supreme here. For example, Propaganda , the major monthly cross-dressing event, describes itself as a “joso New Half” event, mixing cross-dressing with full shemale. But Propaganda also called itself “otoko no ko idol” event. Well, either way, it’s a place for having fun and throwing those pesky definitions of gender to the wind!

Authors: Tadashi Anahori

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