Fandom DIY: how to make and use an ita bag

Signal your fan status loud and proud with a customised ita bag!

You’ve gotta know about the legendary ‘itasha’ cars already. Cars covered in amazing designs and decals to worship an anime character. Well, anime girls, idols and J-Pop stars, or Vocaloids – we’ve seen a few Miku-themed cars in our time.

There were loads of plushies inside the car too.

Ita bags serve the same purpose, on a smaller scale that doesn’t need insurance every year.

The stereotype is that itasha are mostly owned by guys, and women carry ita bags instead. The ‘ita’ bit comes from ‘itai’ – ‘ow’, or ‘it hurts’ in Japanese. No pain, no gain! Itasha owners pay big money to get their cars customised from bumper to bumper. That’s a direct hit to the wallet. Does that mean female otaku spend less on fangirling? Hell, no!

The other thing is… ita bags can physically hurt! The weight of your anime obsessions could put a real-world strain on your shoulders and back. Be a fan, support your fave shows and your oshi, and be careful.

All that fanservice adds up eventually.

A finished bag is hard on the eyes, too. Some ‘normal’ people say they’re too painful to look at, let alone wear.

But to the many proud car, bag, and ita-whatever owners across the world, the pain is 100% worth it. And it’s only temporary. Ita bags tend to make appearances when otaku head to special places and events (maybe in their itasha). The rest of the time, the bags are kept lovingly stored away.

Ita bags done right become portable shrines to the anime and manga that you love. They’re easy to make, if you’ve got the right equipment and some free time. Plus, they don’t have to cost (or weigh) loads if you’re just starting out.

Step 1: the bag

Your choice of bag is really important.

It needs enough surface area to fit all your accessories, with strong material to keep them fixed and secure. The handles and/or straps should be as sturdy and comfortable on your shoulder(s) as possible. A plastic/vinyl outer layer’s always a good idea, to protect your decorations and still show them off.

There are 2 key styles that otaku usually go for: ‘ita’ tote bags and ‘ita’ backpacks. To reinforce the (misguided?) gender stereotype, it’s kinda hard to find ita bags in ‘male’ or even ‘unisex’ styles. There are pros and cons for each type of bag.

A tote bag gives you loads of empty fabric space to work with. Accessories fit on the outside, with space for all your stuff inside. They’re carried on one arm, which puts all the bag’s weight on one hand, elbow or shoulder.

Looks cute as it is - but we know what it's made for.

Backpacks have less surface area, but they’re comfier to wear. A strap over each shoulder balances out the bag’s total weight. Depending on the design, accessories might take up all the inside space. In that case, you’ll need another bag for personal stuff.

Zakka style kawaii backpacks from WEGO and similar shops.

Once you’ve decided on a bag style, check out the colour options. The base shade of the fabric should match the series or character you’re devoting the bag to. For example, you’d want a pink Card Captor Sakura bag, or orange if you’re more of a Dragonball fan. If you’re making a bag that’s more general or multi-fandom, black and white are both good bases.

Most purpose-made ita bags are available in at least 10 colours. Usually more.

"...but it's not the precise shade of red I need..."

There’s even an official ita bag for the Uta no Prince-sama anime. Made in both tote and backpack styles, and in exactly the right image colours for every character. Like Aijima Cecil’s funky shade of lime green that we haven’t quite seen anywhere else.

How far you take your devotion is up to you. Many fans eventually ‘upgrade’ to bigger bags as their accessory collection grows. Smaller ita pouches can either be starter bags or an addition to a full ita bag.

Step 2: the decorations

The easiest way to secure decorations is to pin them on – so you’ll see a lot of badges on ita bags. Put it this way, we’ve never seen anyone use glue or tape.

For anime lovers and idol fans, finding relevant badges is pretty simple. It’s always easier to find accessories that rep newer and more popular shows. Right now, Yuri on Ice, Kemono Friends, Attack on Titan, and Osomatsu-san rule. Some are always going to be popular: Sailor Moon’s a great example of that.

No idea which badges to get? Make your own! This mini badge maker comes with parts for 50 badges.

Other popular items: keychains, and phone charms and phone straps. If it clips on, it’s an option.

Step 3: the arrangement

Don’t attach anything just yet. Play around with positioning the decorations before pinning them on.

A huge badge or accessory will be the main focus. Even if you weren’t planning on it – people will naturally spot something like that first. So try placing larger bits and pieces, and then add smaller ones around them.

Clever asymmetric arrangement, or poor space planning?

If you’re an ita bag beginner, you may not have so many badges and pins to work with. That’s totally fine. On the other end of the scale, use enough decorations and the bag itself could be completely invisible when you’re done. That’s also fine.

Something to think about is whether you want the look to be symmetrical or random. For true symmetry, you’ll need an identical number of each decoration. It’s not unheard of for fans to buy 10, 20, or even more of the same badge, just to get the look right.

Step 4: not dislocating your shoulder

Ita bags get heavy. Did we say that enough times already? The weight of all those accessories adds up quickly. They’re heavy before you even put your stuff inside.

Not Sailor Moon? Sorry, no space.

As you decorate, pick the bag up every so often to make sure you can still lift it. Add things you’ll carry all the time: your phone, keys, purse, the essentials. Doing this could help you cut down on what’s usually in your bag. Pack of gum? Nah, too heavy.

Once you’re happy with the design and the final weight, you can relax. You know you’ll never pick up someone else’s bag by accident – and depending on the weight, you wouldn’t want to anyway.

Step 5: proper ita bag maintenance

Remember we said most of these feature vinyl windows or covers? The idea of having a plastic outer is so your accessories don’t get dirty or damaged. And if you’re in a crowded place, the cover protects other people from getting scratched by your bag. Sure, you’re an enthusiastic fan, but you’re not mean.

A3 sized tote bag, for important anime-related documents.

Guys, you might not have this luxury. If you’re intent on owning an ita bag, your choices are limited. Chances are you’ll end up using a ‘normal’ backpack or a messenger bag without a cover. That makes anything you pin to it a little harder to look after.

After a day out with other otaku, give your ita bag a good look over. Check nothing’s broken, cracked, or fallen off. Wipe the cover, to keep all your accessories visible. A little maintenance goes a long way.

Repeat from the top

‘Fukusuu’ is Japanese for ‘plural’ – the name for otaku who carry 2 or more ita bags. You can make as many as you want, in theory. We just don’t think you should take them all with you at once.

When Osomatsu fans run out of bag space...

Use all of these handy links to create the ita bag of your anime dreams:

  1. Loads and loads of ita bags online
  2. Ita pouches and purses to match
  3. Anime pins and badges
  4. Badge makers and extra badge kits
  5. Anime keychains
  6. Nesoberi KCM keychain mascots

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