Oh yes, Henry Tudor actually slept here.

I’d like to present some thoughts on Japanese street fashion, and more specifically the differing impetus behind fashion in western cultures and fashion as I experienced it in Japan, and through talking to various Japanese people about clothing styles and whatnot.

It seems to be that in western cultures, fashion is of course decorative, but (especially amongst the young) is also highly totemic for whatever tribe the wearer associates themselves with, or wishes to associate themselves with. As such, there’s some depth to it, it’s not JUST a stylistic or decorative choice of clothing … someone dressed goth is pretty likely to listen to goth music and maybe think sad thoughts and generally be a bit angstful and darque. Someone wearing a hip-hop outfit will very likely listen to hip-hop music, and identify with a hip-hop lifestyle. The beardy guy in the Cardboard Tube Samurai t-shirt very likely has a favourite Linux distribution. You can make assumptions about people, based on their mode of dress.

This does not, generally, seem to be the case in Japan. In Japan, there’s less psycological depth to your choice of outfit, less lifestyle texture to it.

It really is just a pretty outfit.

In a western country, you might cross the street to avoid a group of punks. In Japan, you wouldn’t bother because they’re not going to behave any differently to someone wearing a suit, or shorts and a t-shirt, or an cardigan and slacks ensemble.

Related to this, or possibly because of it, there’s little regard for authenticity as a prized quality in clothing. Going back to punk as example, we saw a store selling pre-ripped t-shirts printed with (in english) “I love punk! I love life! I am happy!” and the rips had been hemmed, so as not fray.

To your average westerner with an interest in semiotics and a copy of Catcher in the Rye, that sort of phoneyness makes you want to simultaneously laugh, wince, and run quickly away from the store before your own belief structure is compromised via association.[1] It’s awful. It’s Hot Topic to the power of ten. It’s like meeting someone who’s painted half-timbering on the outside of their leaky 90’s house and is now declaring it to be a Tudor Mansion. To the Japanese person buying the Punk Life Happy outfit .. it looks the part, and that’s all that matters.

It hurts you, in your soul. But it’s also part of the different culture that makes Japan so damn awesome.[2]

[1] Luckily Shibuya has a Apple store. Get there as fast as you can, and stay until you feel better.

[2] An interesting reversal of this applies to tattoos. In western nations, having a tattoo means .. nothing, nowadays. Maybe once it meant that you were a sailor or a carny[3] but now it pretty much seems to mean that you were in your twenties, in the 1990s. In Japan, however, tattooing was only legalised in the 1940s, and is still strongly associated with the Yakuza. Lots of public places ban anyone with a tattoo from entering, even today.

[3] Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.

One thought on “Oh yes, Henry Tudor actually slept here.

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