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Proof positive that Japan is a sick, sick place.
December 23, 2007 2:34 AM   Subscribe

After I posted this article, many people asked me who listens to that berserk music. Well, it's most popular with Japanese girls lumped under the general term "gyaru". It is not really a fashion movement per se, as it has fractured into scores of rapidly-evolving subgroups--usually hostile to each other, even though many appear the same to the uninitiated. In fact, the book Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno, published in 2007, is already said to be out of date. This website is a bit more current. What do "gyaru" look like? There are now quite a few slideshows of gyaru on the streets of Tokyo on YouTube. Examples: here, here, and here. And for those who need to buy these "fashions", the primary bibles are FRUiTS and Egg. There is something wrong with that country.......
posted by metasonix (78 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't get it. Youth fashion in any country is strange and occasionally painful to see, particularly for those of us who recall our own bizarre teenage fashion styles. Why does that mean that something is wrong with Japan?
posted by cmonkey at 2:44 AM on December 23, 2007


There are 127 million Japanese. I'm sure they don't all look like the handful of amateur circus clowns linked here.
posted by pracowity at 2:53 AM on December 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Your editorializing ("sick, sick place"; "something wrong with that country") is probably meant humorously, but it's played too straight, metasonix. It's going to derail the whole post, and you might want to email the admins to see if they can change "sick, sick" to crazy or something, and yank the final sentence altogether. Good luck.
posted by cgc373 at 2:53 AM on December 23, 2007 [5 favorites]


Yes, it was joking. No, I don't really agree with the comment about youth fashion being strange and painful. Really now....does one ever see crowds of thousands of girls dressed like this wandering the streets of New York, Los Angeles, London etc? It's just so over-the-top, and there are so many of them, even the craziest punks or goths elsewhere don't really compare. My interest in this is mostly being amused by the maniacal nature of Japanese street fashion. Nowhere else in the world does youth culture change as fast, or become as chaotic.
posted by metasonix at 3:01 AM on December 23, 2007


You know who else likes Eurobeat?

Neds. thats who.
posted by Olli at 3:33 AM on December 23, 2007


I have been obsessed with Japanese fashion forever. Thanks for the links, I never get tired of looking at that stuff. So sad I can't subscribe to Kera magazine any more...
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:40 AM on December 23, 2007


The styles which involve tanning take it to a new level. Are these girls getting tan as part of a fashion/lifestyle or using make up?
posted by shothotbot at 3:51 AM on December 23, 2007


Who could have imagined that Japanese kids would get so into Al Jolson?
posted by felix betachat at 4:11 AM on December 23, 2007


Zip Coon
posted by pracowity at 4:20 AM on December 23, 2007


Proof positive that Japan is an awesome, awesome place.
posted by Drexen at 4:33 AM on December 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


This OWNS punk. Thank you, Japan.
posted by roygbv at 4:45 AM on December 23, 2007


We've crammed 128 million people onto an island the size of California ... Let's see what happens!
posted by Dave Faris at 5:00 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's a few of these gals around Shibuya, sure. They are a minority, though, you understand... Very visible, and oddly photogenic, but still, a minority.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:19 AM on December 23, 2007


i think it looks like fun. don't get me wrong--the music sucks, but the costuming reminds me of the old punk days. over the top, for sure, but that's a large part of why i did anything when i was younger.
posted by msconduct at 5:29 AM on December 23, 2007


And although I don't disagree that there's something wrong with this country that I've decided to call, er, home, I'd like to say that it's just a very different kind of *wrong* than the country I was born in and used to call *home*. And sometimes I think it might be, somehow, a healthier kind of wrong than the US kind of wrong.

Well, anyway, here in Japan they don't have the big guns...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:31 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


As it happens, I walked through Harajuku/Yoyogi/Shibuya this afternoon/evening, and I tell you, the radiant energy that those kids put out has to be felt to be believed. When I first came here, people that age pretty much had to keep quiet, 'keep in line', and generally knuckle under, getting ready to become 'adults'.

I certainly don't 'like' a lot of what they are doing, as - of course - those things seem completely ridiculous to somebody of my age (I'm 56), but it's not my place to decide for them what's good and bad. And the idea that these fashion and behaviour experiments are symptoms of 'something wrong' with this country is - I think - exactly 180 degrees wrong.
posted by woodblock100 at 5:43 AM on December 23, 2007 [11 favorites]


oh ... and i happen to agree that this isn't the sign of any kind of sickness except in the minds of the cheneys and rumsfelds of the world. and you'd think they'd have more important things to think about.
posted by msconduct at 6:03 AM on December 23, 2007


Creepiest thing about this phenom is the foriegn Milton Waddams-alikes on the Internet who fixate on it. There's something very very wrong with Japan? Check yo self
posted by dydecker at 6:09 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


They should make gyaru-themed military uniforms. Imagine how terrifying that would be.
posted by fermezporte at 6:10 AM on December 23, 2007


Quite weird and way interesting. Some of it looks like straight-up blackface, though, especially one of the examples on the more 'up-to-date' site. It seems subcultures take a stronger stance there and spread and mutate much quicker. For the people who live there: have these styles been canned and marketed yet? Subcultures are big business in America, so I'm wondering if it's the same there....
posted by defenestration at 6:16 AM on December 23, 2007


This isn't so much punk as it is glam, and while glam followed punk in North America the Japanese seem to have skipped that prerequisite step...
posted by clevershark at 6:55 AM on December 23, 2007


I'm sure noone went wtf when they saw GG.
posted by ersatz at 7:01 AM on December 23, 2007


Olli -- What are Neds? They look like a bunch of guys with short hair who like to drink MD 2020 and give the finger. Are they a subculture? Or an argument for bringing back the draft?
posted by Faze at 7:05 AM on December 23, 2007


I'm sure the Shibuya Girl cultural sub-type gets to punch way above it's weight because they all hang around in one very small area right next to the entrance to one of the main shrines in Tokyo... so that just about every tourist gets to see them. And the rock and roll dancing blokes are just down the road.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:13 AM on December 23, 2007


Fuck, is this going to be another thread of "Oh Noes, we are oppressing someone"? Because that would be very tiresome.
posted by Artw at 7:17 AM on December 23, 2007


Neds are the Scottish version of Chavs...
And they do play shite Eurobeat, at least they do on my bus.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:17 AM on December 23, 2007


I'm sure noone went wtf when they saw GG.

In the end, its not so much wtf as much as whf.
posted by hal9k at 7:19 AM on December 23, 2007


But how does the Ned/Chav differ from the Townie?
posted by Artw at 7:19 AM on December 23, 2007


Oh and sorry for the double post but this just about explains it...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:21 AM on December 23, 2007


But how does the Ned/Chav differ from the Townie?
Scum is scum, not matter how you label 'em.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:22 AM on December 23, 2007


According to Julie Burchill everyone in that video is great and you are some snooty class oppressor wanker. And she's a middle class journalist from Brighton, so she knows what she's talking about.

Back to the question of "is Japan fucked in the head", well, quite clearly the answer is yes. Yet at the same time I can't help having a bit of an affinity for a densely populated island nation known for tea, politness, vibrant subcultures and occasionally invading a bunch of countries and murdering lots of people...
posted by Artw at 7:31 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


There is a term for this phenomenon: ganguro. Well, there's "yamanba" for the more extreme cases, article is on the same page.
posted by kureshii at 7:59 AM on December 23, 2007


Is that supposed to be blackface, or ultra-tan?

I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that that look doesn't carry the same racist connotation as it does here. At the same time, though, I think one of them in the random video slideshow that I clicked on had a non-tan area on her cheek in the shape of a swastika. That's a little harder to dismiss. Do Japanese kids not know about Nazis?
posted by Flunkie at 8:41 AM on December 23, 2007


As I understand it the average Japanese understanding of WWII is that that the rest of the world ganged up on them for no reason at all, and is a bit sketchy on the whole outside-of-the-pacific area.
posted by Artw at 8:45 AM on December 23, 2007


I suffered through the horrible music again, and found that Swastika Girl is at about 1:23 or so in the first "here" link.
posted by Flunkie at 8:48 AM on December 23, 2007


Do Japanese kids not know about Nazis?

Does the rest of the world not know that the swastika has been a prominent Buddhist symbol for at least a couple of thousand years before some German asshole decide to appropriate it for himself?
posted by clevershark at 8:48 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


clevershark - I suspect it's more of a 1970s punk reference.

Fuck knows where the whole blackface thing comes from though.
posted by Artw at 8:50 AM on December 23, 2007


Yes, thank you, I know that the swastika has been around a lot longer than Nazis have.

Does that mean you're going to start wearing one to show how enlightened a Buddhist you are?

Whether you like it or not, it currently carries an extremely negative connotation, at least in the US. I was essentially asking if the same thing is true or not in Japan.
posted by Flunkie at 8:52 AM on December 23, 2007


I was essentially asking if the same thing is true or not in Japan.

Lots of Buddhist temples in China, Taiwan and Japan display the swastika prominently. In China it's also used in some window decorations (like on the pavilions at those elaborate gardens that got built up in the 1600s). That may be true of other Buddhist countries as well but I don't know, not having been there.

There was a bit of controversy a couple of years ago as an apartment went up for sale that had swastikas as floor decorations (wood inlays); the place had been built in the 1880s and it was in New York (or somewhere around that area). Unfortunately the only link I found to that is on Stormfront, so no link.
posted by clevershark at 9:05 AM on December 23, 2007


One of the many weird things I saw in Japan was a shop selling Nazi tank models, no Japanese, no US or other allies, just the Germans.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:07 AM on December 23, 2007


Well, the King Tiger WAS the best WWII tank.

With Japan winning the award for crappest tank.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on December 23, 2007


It kind of amazes me how little projection or enhancement of sexuality seems to be going on in all of this; neither are they at all physically threatening in any way that comes through to me-- two things I've come to expect from young peoples fashions in the West.
posted by jamjam at 9:16 AM on December 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


jamjam, can you please give an example of a Western youth fashion that you find physically threatening? Thanks.
posted by Flunkie at 9:27 AM on December 23, 2007


I'd go with the whole punks and swastikas/nazis thing - in the west that was a genuine attempt to upset. In Japan, minus a whole load of context, it's "cute".
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2007


clevershark, I vaguely remember that... I believe it was a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn. IIRC, the new owners began to renovate, and as they pulled up the carpet they noticed the swastika inlays. And yeah, the building predated Nazis by many, many decades. I didn't realize that their (completely unwarranted) fuss was enough to make the news outside of the area.
posted by incomple at 9:40 AM on December 23, 2007


Hmmm, I guess I'm not up on my punk fashion. I didn't realize swastikas had been popular with them.

I just went and looked up "punk fashion" to educate myself. The Wikipedia article includes a statement about "anti-fashion", which it describes as "raw, angry, and intimidating". It then shows a picture of Henry Rollins, labelling it as "hardcore anti-fashion".

He looks like a guy in a tee shirt to me.
posted by Flunkie at 9:46 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Henry... Rollins?

Man, Sid Vicious really did die for nothing.
posted by Artw at 9:54 AM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Japan is undoubtedly a little fucked-up, but hey... at least they're not so fucked-up as to be shooting up churches, overthrowing Latin American democracies, and locking up a third of their population.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:55 AM on December 23, 2007


From the subtitles of the somewhat condescending interview on the 'go go gal' youtube link:

"Don't you think white lips look contrasting with brown face?"
"It's a hell of a lot harder to do natural make-up like yours."
"That's not true."
"Your eyeline is thin. " "I was told that there's nothing more awful than natural makeup."
"It took me 2 hours to make up my face."

"You're the slowest."

Well, they had a point there.
posted by eye of newt at 10:26 AM on December 23, 2007


This is a bit much, I have a little gothic lolita hello kitty cell phone strap but that is as far as I will go.
posted by Iron Rat at 10:59 AM on December 23, 2007


I expected to be shocked and dismayed. I'm not. These chicks are basically Japanese hipsters with dramatic makeup (a la Kabuki, almost).

As an example of Japanese counterculture, I'm mildly intrigued.
posted by ryanhealy at 11:14 AM on December 23, 2007


I was essentially asking if the same thing is true or not in Japan.

Between the Japanese general repression of WWII history (at least as we see it) and the prevalence of these symbols in Asia still, I'm guessing no.

If you go to India, you'll see swastikas everywhere (and no, they're not facing the other direction or anything, they look pretty much exactly like Nazi swatikas).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:27 AM on December 23, 2007


Even as a silly youth, I couldn't be bothered to spend that much time and money on makeup and clothes.
posted by JanetLand at 11:28 AM on December 23, 2007


can you please give an example of a Western youth fashion that you find physically threatening?

I'm not jamjam, but in the past few years, there have been lots of youth fashions that contained prints of say, brass knuckles or razor blades. There's even corresponding jewelry.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:31 AM on December 23, 2007


Examples: http://www.dcmacollective.com/

http://search.hottopic.com/search?p=Q&ts=custom&lbc=hottopic&w=razor
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:34 AM on December 23, 2007


Oh and there's always the abundance of chains, piercing, studs, collars, and those pointy spikes and such.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:36 AM on December 23, 2007


I'm sure noone went wtf when they saw GG.

Probably not a good idea to bring Gary Glitter into the conversation as a comparison here... in hindsight, more people really should've gone WTF about that guy.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:49 AM on December 23, 2007


Speaking as someone who explored the rave scene in my younger days (which had its own set of costumes, subcultures, and subculture rivalries), the costumes don't seem that odd to me. I'm sure it stands out in a conservative country like Japan, but that would obviously be the point. Pointing at costumed youth and saying that this is evidence of a screwed up country is like pointing at goths and punks in the US or Europe and saying that this is evidence of how we are screwed up. Quite the opposite, I think.

I admit that I don't mind an occasional dose of Eurobeat, and it's older, European cousin happy hardcore. These genres are cheesy as hell, but they don't take themselves too seriously, so they can be fun in their own way. And that's cool, that's the Japan way. Japanese alternative music always seems to embrace a bit of cuteness or a bit of fun cheese to me. With the exception of KK Null and Merzbow of course.
posted by soundwave106 at 12:21 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wierdly enough, I bumped into the very rare (at least in this part of the US) white-girl-who-has-a-thing-for-Japanese-guys at a club here the other week and she was dressed in the ganguro style. It made her look really out of place to me.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on December 23, 2007


Japanese alternative music always seems to embrace a bit of cuteness or a bit of fun cheese to me. With the exception of KK Null and Merzbow of course.

I've enjoyed wine and cheeses of several varieties in the company of KK, who is something of a gourmet, actually. And while I haven't yet had the pleasure of dining with Merzbow, I have a feeling he might be a cheese lover as well. Or, perhaps someone who eats only raw meat and sprouts.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:01 PM on December 23, 2007


They seem like drag queens with vaginas. Maybe there is a Japanese subculture built around Liza Minelli.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:11 PM on December 23, 2007


I have to say that I find a lot of the look to be really cute. I'm especially fond of the Himegyaru. Liz Lisa is creating some really cute clothes.

I mean, I'm waaaaaay to old to wear any variety of the of gyaru, but I don't find it any more radical than what everyone wore during the Pat Benatar stage (leg warmers as fashion statements...yeah, that's real attractive), the punk stage (because punk was all about being pretty *snark*), the new wave stage (gods help us all), and the goth stage (hey, I look fabulous in black). Over the years I have made some questionable fashion decisions, so to be honest, I love seeing what the Japanese school girl subculture does. Their rebellion is pretty.
posted by dejah420 at 7:29 PM on December 23, 2007


Their rebellion is pretty.

And funny as hell.

But then so were Punk, bell bottoms, Metal and Goth.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:59 PM on December 23, 2007


Oh, Gary Glitter! That link wouldn't load for me, but I'd assumed it was a reference to GG Allin (and if that doesn't date me, nothing does.)
posted by davejay at 10:11 PM on December 23, 2007


If you're talking about my Gary Glitter link, no it was a link to a BBC article discussing his current jail sentence for pedophilia. He's incarcerated in Vietnam until August 2008.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:54 PM on December 23, 2007


FWIW Masami Akita / Merzbow is a vegan who raises chickens. He's into animal rights too.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:33 PM on December 23, 2007


Oh and there's always the abundance of chains, piercing, studs, collars, and those pointy spikes and such.


I occasionally encounter this idea that goths are somehow scary, and unless the proponent is under seven or over 70, it always seems remarkable. I mean, goths? Really? You find them scary? This surely relies on no exposure to actual goths beyond, possibly, a viewing of The Crow.

Generally, I'd react to goths as I would to gyaru - they make a lot of effort to present a look, and one can probably assume are more interested in maintaining that look than getting their fishnets laddered through acts of violence.

(On a related subcultural note, there isn't really much of a difference between the terms ned, townie, chav - they are regional variants for what in Victorian times was known as the undeserving poor. Chav is a particulary interesting term, since as far as one can tell - the usual acronymic explanations aside - it is derived either directly from Roma, or from the Newcastle term "charver", which is itself derived from the Roma chavvo. I'm not sure what conclusion you draw from that, except that the undeserving poor might look a bit foreign to the discerning eye.)
posted by tannhauser at 3:01 AM on December 24, 2007


Thanks for those Merzbow links, stinkycheese. And now it's coming back to me that I at least half-knew that about him: his animal-rights politics and all. I wasn't aware he had written a book.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:26 AM on December 24, 2007


I guess it's wrong that I found that kind of hawt.

One thing I'll say for the Japanese slaves of fashion: they are almost Zen in their dedication to detail. You rarely see a half-executed idea--it's never "Well, I got the part of the outfit that most people see; that should be good enough". No, when they do it up, everything is perfect. The hair, makeup, clothes, accessories... it's all so meticulously thought out.

Me, I grab the nearest shirt that doesn't smell funny and throw on my Jeans For the Week™ and I'm ready to go. I would never fit in.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:04 AM on December 24, 2007


Me, I grab the nearest shirt that doesn't smell funny and throw on my Jeans For the Week™ and I'm ready to go. I would never fit in.

Hey, no worries. You probably wouldn't "fit in" even if you spent every waking moment devouring the fashion magazines and looking like a different page outta one of 'em every single day. And anyway, fitting in is overrated.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:55 AM on December 24, 2007


davejay, my link was Gary Glitter's Leader of the Gang. GG are de facto the initials of Allin but I was too lazy to write Glitter's whole name. The meh thread in MeTa left its mark on me.

Probably not a good idea to bring Gary Glitter into the conversation as a comparison here... in hindsight, more people really should've gone WTF about that guy.

But what would we discuss if there weren't videos of Gary? gyaru?
posted by ersatz at 7:49 AM on December 24, 2007


Aaaarrrrrgggh!! Remember when 'grunge' went Gap? The basement/thriftstore 'fashion statement' of poor, pissed off punks became high chic flannel.

So ... now I can understand my students' strange 'child-hooker' fashions: gyaru-gone-chic in Honolulu. That is, gyaru ... MINUS all the creativity, glitter, fun, punk, rage. The commercial version is a neatly packaged 'child-hooker' fashion via the mall.

BTW -- coming soon to your local high school.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:10 AM on December 24, 2007


Pre-torn jeans at triple-digit prices. That's the one that always makes me laugh out loud. Turns out my discards pile is actually an investment strategy!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 AM on December 24, 2007


And anyway, fitting in is overrated.

Hey, Flapjax... somebody once told me that Japan was the best place in the world for short-statured folks... who could that have been? But didn't the radically wierd gyaru-gal fashion jump the shark a few years ago?
posted by zaelic at 10:52 PM on December 24, 2007


somebody once told me that Japan was the best place in the world for short-statured folks...

Well, there's no doubt that it can be inconvenient for tall folks. Low ceilings are the norm for older (and many newer) buildings. The subway system can be very treacherous for tall people: lots of very low passageways over staircases and all that.

...didn't the radically wierd gyaru-gal fashion jump the shark a few years ago?

The gyaru legions are down, I'd say, from a few years back. The die-hards ain't giving it up though, and I've been kinda surprised about that. Still seeing them in Shibuya. Definitely less of a thing now, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:11 AM on December 25, 2007


Julie Burchill ... knows what she's talking about

Does ... not ... compute...
posted by Grangousier at 2:54 AM on January 7, 2008


Sarcasm may have been involved there.
posted by Artw at 9:01 AM on January 7, 2008


Ah. I'm usually good at parsing sarcasm.

It's still kind of a weird thing to see written down.
posted by Grangousier at 9:30 AM on January 7, 2008


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