Japanese Shibuya and Harujuku fashion styles, the teenage culture and equal rights for women
As you emerge out of the Shibuya subway station in Tokyo, you will find yourself on the edge of the busiest crossing intersection in the world.
Famously known as the “Shibuya Crossing,” eight different street corners allow passengers to cross diagonally across the long and wide roads.
The visual effect of almost a thousand people crossing the streets simultaneously every few minutes, was amazing.
I think my experience was somewhat enhanced by the fact that almost everybody was also carrying a colorful umbrella.
While Jules was taking pictures, I stood there and admired the funky clothing and playful accessories that people wore.
Shibuya is the shopping Mecca for teenage girls and boys who dress in one of the many popular styles that have flooded the Japanese culture in the past decade.
We entered the famous building of “Shibuya 109,” which is a multi fashion complex, all geared towards teenage or young women’s fashion trends.
The complex was filled with busy boutiques spread over ten floors.
But the real eye-popping experience was walking around and admiring the shop attendants and the fully made-up girls who came to shop there.
As I was circulating the floors and looking at all the amazingly and elaborately made-up girls, I could not avoid getting philosophical,,,, so many questions circulated in my mind….
Why do they do it….
How would I have felt if I were a mother and my own child was so infatuated with fashion and style that required so much focus, money, time and effort…..
Is it worth all the effort that it takes to put on all that makeup,…… synthetic hair, outfits, jewelry, accessories… Just to go out for a stroll, or just to be seen….
And then I reflected about why they dress in such specific categories, and instead do not try to make their styles individualized and personal, as teenagers so often do…….usually teenagers are desperately trying to define who they are as they grow into adults….
The Shibuya – Harujuku styles are indeed divided into very specific categories.
There is the “Lolita look,” which involves a specific makeup that enlarges the eyes, long flat hair or with some curly waves in it, short mini-skirts or shorts with very long boots that go all the way to the thigh, or platform shoes that match the skirts.
There is the “Gothic Lolita look,” which is similar to the Lolita look, but has more leather, dark black makeup around the eyes, white faces and much more black clothing.
There is the “Japanese Maid look,” and the “Schoolgirl look,” which both involve a lot of leg warmers and different short uniforms.
There is the famous “Decora” and “Kawaii” (cute) styles, which include a lot of colorful, child-colored fashion, cute tops and short fun skirts, and all sorts of fun and funky accessories.
There are also the “Visual Kei” look, which involves dressing up like rock, goth rock, heavy metal or punk musicians and groupies.
The Kei (music) style, includes the use of elaborate costumes, eccentric looks and hairstyles and a LOT of striking make-up.
There is the “Cosplay Look,” which involves dressing like characters from comics, Manga, Anime, and video games.
And of course, there is the “Kogal” or the “Ganguro style”, which loosely translated means “A Mountain Hag,” which is based on a Japanese fairytale story.
A mountain hag, or an old mountain witch, is said to live in the mountains and eat young children.
But not all of the mountain hags were considered bad.
One very famous and very old Japanese story tells of a young orphan boy named Kitaro, who was adopted by such a Ganguro who raised him as her own son.
She had raised him to be strong and brave, and ultimately he became one of Japan’s most famous Samurai.
The other day when we visited a museum dedicated to old Japanese fans, one of the painted fans that struck me as the most beautiful, depicted baby Kitaro holding the droopy breasts of his adopted mother Ganguro.
The Ganguro style is the opposite of the girly cute looks.
In fact, the girls who adopt this style are protesting against the traditional male idea of what constitutes feminine beauty,
The girls usually put on very dark makeup, to make their skin very dark brown, to imitate the sunburnt skin one might get if she lived in the mountains.
They paint their lips and the area around their eyes in white color.
Their hair is often dyed in multicolors or they put on long synthetic wigs.
The Ganguro look also involves mis-matching clothing of all styles, colors and fabrics.
A short colorful shirt may be worn over a sweater, and the accessories used are also wild.
We were walking around with eyes wide open.
Jules was walking very close to me.
He was just as amazed as I was, but he made sure to stay close to me, feeling distinctly aware that an older man walking alone with eyes wide open, may appear a bit pervy….
In fact, the only other men around were either fathers who were there to pay the shopping bill, or boyfriends who stood there very self conscious, playing with their smart phones, trying not to look around should their eyes accidentally get stuck on a pretty girl, and they would later encounter the wrath of their jealous and insecure girlfriends.
But not looking around and not being totally amazed, was simply not an option…
This place was absolutely amazing and the sheer concentration of those fully made up girls, almost felt like we were visiting an art space, or a show, and that they were actresses, or walking, talking art projects.
I LOVE diversity and enjoyed the day tremendously.
If I were a teenager or a very young woman….. Would I have bothered to dress in such an elaborate way, and to take the time to put on all that makeup……
I do not think so…
But who knows…..
All I can say, from my vantage point today, is that I was glad not to be a young woman today….. rebelling against invisible concepts, trying to find my identity through my looks……
I also have to mention, that outside of the Shibuya and the Harajuku areas, you almost do not see any girls and boys this elaborately dressed.
Now, I would like to add that this is BIG, BIG business.
The streets of Shibuya are a maze of stores selling those fashions.
There are more fashion designers than you can imagine, and many more are only selling online.
There are a lot of bars and places to eat in Shibuya also, and many department stores, but without a doubt the majority of the fascination is with fashion.
With their relentless attempts to break the old establishment and its old traditional concepts of beauty and femininity, they have succeeded in creating a new establishment that is now eagerly profiting on their new devotion and focus on fashion.
But one must not expect teenagers to change the world…
They are young and engaged in the process of finding out who they are, experimenting and figuring out what works and what does not….
I could tell you that I gazed into the eyes of some of the older girls who worked in those shops, standing all day on high platform shoes in heavy makeup…
They looked tired and worn…..
One day they will find that there is nothing to protest against…
Like women’s liberation in the West, when women burned their bras to break old concepts of femininity and to demand equality……
But I believe that true power comes from YOU….
If you do not believe it, simply let it drop… And never look back again….
Let those old wolf-men find and connect with women who adhere to their version of beauty and femininity….
Be yourself and walk tall and proud…
You WILL find the right partner who will adore you for your ideas… For your inner beauty… For who you are…..
You do NOT need dozens of men gawking as you walk….
If you WANT a partner…..You need only one….
Besides… REAL Change in society does not come from protesting in the streets… It comes from HOME…
It comes from the way we raise our kids… From the values we instill in them….
There is a heart warming TRUE story that I wish to share in closing this piece.
It tells the TRUE story of how women got equal rights to vote in the United States.
The women’s right to vote was the 19th Amendment to the constitution, and it was NOT an easy one to pass, in a male-dominated era.
The Nineteenth Amendment was proposed by Congress on June 14, 1919.
The amendment could not become law without the ratification (signed consent) of a minimum of thirty-six of the forty-eight states.
By the summer of 1920, thirty-five of the forty-eight states had ratified the amendment, with a further four states called upon to hold legislative voting sessions on the issue.
Three of the states refused to call special sessions, but the state of Tennessee agreed to do so.
It all simmered down to the vote of Harry T. Burn, who was the youngest member of the Tennessee state legislature.
He had originally made clear his intentions to vote “nay” on the matter.
On the day of the vote, Harry T. Burn got a hand-written letter from his mother asking him…. No… DEMANDING that he be a GOOD FUCKING BOY and hurry up and vote YES….. in favor of the amendment.
ONE smart and good-hearted mother reminded her son NOT TO BE AN ASSHOLE……..on August 18, 1920.
Luckily….. that young man in Tennessee, LISTENED to his mother… And voted YES………..
And as they say……. The rest is history…..