“Dakimakura,” translated as “hugging pillow” are long pillows designed to be hugged in bed. While the term is used to refer to normal plain hug pillows as well, it’s most often used to refer to hug pillows with anime characters printed on the pillowcase.
Relatively unknown outside of Japan until the late 2000s, anime dakimakura have seen quite a growth in popularity. There’s an interesting story about the dakimakura industry that illustrates this perfectly. Generally-speaking, dakimakura come in one of two sizes: 150cm by 50cm and 160cm by 50cm. It’d normally be weird to have size options so close to one another, but this choice was caused by the emerging international market for dakimakura.
Before the late 2000s, dakimakura only came in 160cm by 50cm. This became problematic for retailers hoping to sell to international customers and for international otaku trying to get their dakimakura fix, chiefly because the weight of a 160cm by 50cm pillow puts it in a more expensive weight class for airmail.
Shaving 10cm off of the pillow put it just under the threshold, making it less expensive to ship, while keeping customers happy with the quality.
Why, indeed. Dakimakura have a reputation, both outside and inside the fandom, for being domain of creepy losers with no social skills, and this is only reinforced by various pictures of otaku carrying theirs in public.
In reality, however, hug pillows are extremely comfortable to sleep with, and the character printed pillowcase is a very nice aesthetic bonus.
Dakimakura generally come in two parts: The inner pillow, and the pillowcase that goes around it.
Inner pillows range in price depending on their size, material, and what retailer is selling them. Generally-speaking, a regular rectangular body pillow, easily obtainable at many major retailers, will fit inside a dakimakura cover and almost fill it out. To fully fill out a dakimakura cover, however, a Japanese inner pillow, measuring 150cm by 50cm or 160cm by 50cm, is necessary.
The sheer number of dakimakura pillowcases out there is hard to fathom. There are a lot, and they range all over the place in terms of visual quality, art style, and other aesthetic factors, as well as physical factors like material. In addition, some are official, some are unofficial, some are fan-made and sold at events like Comic Market, and all of this will factor into the price. Be prepared to pay $80+ and pre-order months in advance for a really nice official dakimakura pillowcase if you go that route. Otherwise, a number of online retailers have a wide selection for your perusal.
When your pillow and your pillowcase are all set, it’s time to combine! We made a video back in August of 2015 showing exactly how to do that.
The best part about the pillow and pillowcase being separate is that one pillow can serve an infinite number of pillowcases (Provided they’re the same size). You can switch them out at will, and as a bonus, you can easily use the others as wall hangings.
If you’re unsure about whether sleeping with a dakimakura is for you and you don’t want to drop what can easily end up being over $100 on something you might not thoroughly enjoy, there are dakimakura out there that are a good deal smaller than normal dakimakura pillows, and come with the pillowcase stitched directly to the pillow, usually with the same image on both sides. They’re the product of US merchandisers, so they’re cheaper than imports, retailing for $20-$40, and are a good way to start into the hobby.