The fashion medley of Japanese subcultures
The great financial crisis of the 1990s was a turning point for the young Japanese, who started using their clothes to express their dissatisfaction with the situation and general alienation in the society. Some parts of Tokyo, like Shibuya where the famous train station Harajuku is located, have become synonymous with gatherings of young subculture groups whose styles are inspired by the gothic period, anime heroes, or various ‘Lolitas’. The novel Lolita was written in 1955 by the Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov and is nowadays considered to be one of the greatest pieces of literature of the 20th century.
The term Lolita is important because of the controversial theme of a sexual relationship between the 12-year-old Lolita and her stepfather Humbert. The term ‘Lolita’ denoting a Japanese subculture was used for the first time in the September issue of the Japanese fashion magazine Ryuko Tsushin.
There are various fashion styles inspired by Lolitas without clear delineations between them. For instance, one Lolita style simultaneously reflects both punk and the child-like. Some of the most popular styles on the streets of Tokyo are definitely the ‘sweet’ Lolitas inspired by children’s fairytales, popular characters like Hello Kitty, Victorian clothes, plush accessories and pastel colours.
There is also a prevalent obsession with the gothic period and punk among the young Japanese, and a strong influence of the Victorian style visible. Dark colours, various crosses and brooches, opulent voluminous dresses and lace parasols are the mainstay of their picturesque clothes.
Kodona or boy-style is the name of the men’s style inspired by Victorian clothes. Cropped pants that Prince used to wear with large lace cuffs or exuberant shirts with jabots are common for some districts such as Shibuya, Ginza, Shinjuku and, of course, Harajuku.
The 1990s saw the rise of brands such as Princess Princess, and this was partly also the result of the success of earlier visual kei bands all over Japan. Visual kei is a movement among Japanese musicians, characterized by lots of make-up, tousled hair and glittering costumes, promoting androgynous esthetics and reminiscent of western glam rock bands.
Gyaru style, also known as Ganguro, is a subculture appearing in the 1990s, focused on western fashion extoling artificial beauty. The style is based on a fake tan, hair and nails, and girls who wear provocative clothes. The most popular fashion accessories are high heels, fake eyelashes and big hoop earrings.
There are many street styles in Japan created from various Japanese and foreign brands. Some of those styles are extreme and avant-garde, similar to the haute couture seen on European runways. The rise and fall of many of those trends were described by Shoichi Aoki in 1997 in the fashion magazine Fruits, an important magazine promoting street fashion in Japan.
Although styles change over the years, various subculture groups can still be found on the streets of Tokyo. One of them is also Bōsōzoku, a popular style among young men and women also seen in different Japanese media like comics and anime films. A typical member of Bōsōzoku is often shown in a uniform consisting of a suit like the one ninja warriors used to wear or members of a biker gang. The leather jacket is usually worn unbuttoned, with no shirt underneath, showing chiseled bodies and tattoos.
There are many other variations of subculture styles inspired by punk culture or children’s fairytales that can be seen on the streets of Japan.
The young deny any rules and use their clothes to dismantle all of the limitations of a stiff and boring life. In the west, the Harajuku culture is not that popular, although it has been greatly popularized by the American singer Gwen Stefani, who was inspired by, among other things, Harajuku style. The zany ‘Lolita’ dolls gather in popular places to show off and fascinate others with their appearance. The streets of Tokyo look like something from the most beautiful fairytales.
However, present day Japanese fashion is also influenced by historical culture. You can still see people wearing kimonos on the street, especially in Ginza. Besides, they still preserve the culture of wearing kimonos for special and important events, like celebrations or funerals. The young generation in Japan also accepts the kimono and mixes it with the modern style.
Young fashionable Japanese women like to wear kimonos with high heels, and with a good designer bag instead of the traditional basket.