Japan’s youth culture isn’t a stereotype


It’s time to move on. The real fashion in Japan doesn’t come from the tired, played-out subcultures but from the kids on the street.

GyarusLolitasCosplay…yadda yadda yadda. Like a lot of other subjects, fashion articles on Japan can often be rather reductive. These subcultures do exist but not in the numbers international media would have you believe. Harajuku on Sunday is nothing like what it was even four years ago – and more often than not, fashion journalism from outside Japan is nothing more than sensationalist crap that only goes to reinforce the stereotype that ‘Japan is oh so weird.’ As a result, people seem to come to this country expecting vending machines that sell worn panties, and everyone to be dressed like something out of Blade Runner mixed with Pikachu.

Gwen Stefani and GaGa may have introduced a whole new generation of kids to the eccentricities of Tokyo – but the truth is that the majority of young people here dress just like young hipsters everywhere else. Walk down Shoreditch in London or Haight in San Francisco and the vibe will be the same. The one thing that makes Tokyo different though is that the kids here make it seem effortless. See a moustached hipster wheeling his fixie bike down Brick Lane in London and chances are you’ll want to hit him. Over here, it feels different. I guess it’s that it doesn’t seem like people are ‘trying’ to be cool. They’re not following trends – they’re making them up as they go along.

So many fashion articles I read about Japan are the same. None of the writers seem to have interacted at all with youth culture on ground level. It’s almost as if they’ve typed ‘Tokyo fashion’ into wikipedia and churned out the same generic spiel. As one comment I read online stated, “Tokyo may have a lot of neon, but it’s not really futuristic or modern once you’ve entered a building. A few kids wear outlandish looking clothes, but probably drink green tea and go to bed by 11.30 after doing their homework.” The same can be said for the numbers of people who wear these ‘outlandish’ clothes. The Rockabillies in Yoyogi Park only amount to about a dozen people. The same can be said for the Lady GaGa wannabes in Koenji.

These perceptions are ten years out of date, so it’s a shame that so many high-profile newspapers and guidebooks still insist on painting Tokyo as a city full of weirdos wearing neon bin bags. When all is said and done though, I guess it’s no different than Japan’s own cliched view of London – Sherlock Holmes, afternoon tea, the royal family strolling down the street.

If you want to get a realistic feel for the cross section of current Japanese fashion, head to Shimokitazawa on the first Sunday of every month. The New York Joe Exchange has a 50% sale and attracts kids from all over the city. You’ll not see any of the stereotypical gothic-lolita uniforms that have invaded the mainstream media for too long. Instead you’ll see what youth culture in Tokyo is really like.



  1. Sarah

    This is exactly what I said when I was in Japan a couple of months ago. People dress similar to Melbourne hipsters, but they don’t look like they’re trying too hard, they just look effortlessly cool. Shimokitazawa was like a hipster paradise, except I didn’t want to punch anyone, it just felt genuinely cool.

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  4. Blank

    Their style of dress is really similar to that of South African hipsters. Its not forced in any way and nobody trying to look cool. Its really refreshing to see what people in japan are actually wearing outside of what the mainstream media is and has been projecting to the world. I truly look forward to experiencing the life of the average Japanese hipster when i finally do come to Japan.

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