Blog Post: Japanese subcultures: Rebellion vs. Cool; Lifestyle vs. Fashion
Currently, Japan remains one of the most homogenous countries in the world with almost ninety nine percent of its population being ethnically Japanese; however, the homogenous quality often attributed to Japan underestimates the growing importance and presence youth subcultures within Japan. Two of the most prevalent and identifiable youth subcultures are the Kogyaru (young gals) or Kogals and Gothic Lolitas. The two groups use fashion or appearance to distance themselves from mainstream society. Clothing within Japanese society seems to be one of the few ways to differentiate a person from the mainstream; however, the “rebelling” individual tends to join a group that shares similar taste in clothing and behavior lessening the rebellion effect. The young person still wishes to belong to a group, just not the mainstream group. In addition, a person wearing the fashion of a certain subculture may not necessarily embrace its principles or behave according to the rules imposed by the subculture; however, for other young people, the subculture is a lifestyle choice and not simply a cute or cool fashion. The Kogyaru culture seems to emphasize outrageous, scandalous and shocking appearance and behavior while the Gothic Lolita culture stresses modesty, politeness and proper manners. Both groups possess rebellion elements. The Kogals seem to be rebelling against the meek, quiet school girl image of the typical Japanese girl. The Lolitas on the other hand appear to be rebelling against the “repugnant”, unladylike and garish behavior of the Kogals. In addition, the Lolitas possibly are trying to escape the pressures of adulthood and becoming the ideal Japanese housewife.
Both subcultures gear toward the importation aspect rather than the exportation aspect of Japanese cool; however, the Lolita subculture appears to be gaining permanence through the opening of Lolita fashion stores internationally. The Kogals import and imitate various American personas and groups such as the American valley girl, African Americans, etc. In addition, some of the Kogal subgroups import African elements. The Lolitas import Victorian European and Rococo influences regarding manners and clothing. The Kogals imitate the Californian valley girl by getting super tan and bleaching their hair blonde or honey brown a stark contrast to the pale or “white” skin tone and dark hair color of the mainstream Japanese person. In addition, some Kogals wear the platform shoes usually associated with Clueless Beverly Hills characters, Cher and Stacey. The subgroup Gonguro seems to imitate African Americans due to the extremely darker tan than the average Kogal tan. In addition, the Gonguro style shares similar aspects with the practice of blackface since only the Kogal’s face is normally darkened to extreme levels either by tanning or makeup or a combination of both. The Yamanba and Manba Kogal style incorporate African elements through the use of makeup and animal patterns. In addition, the Yamanba style harks to the image of the mountain witch within Japanese folklore, hence the wild and unkempt hair. The Yamanba and Manba Kogyaru style mimic African aspects by applying their makeup in tribal patterns or animal patterns such as gazelles, lions, etc. They also wear animal prints only or things trimmed with animal print such as zebra, lion, cheetah etc. The Lolitas on the hand only seem to sample from 18th century or Victorian European influences and Rococo art. Like the Kogals, different types of Lolitas do exist; however, each group possesses a standard way of dressing. For Kogals, the standard outfit is a modified Japanese school girl outfit with a shortened skirt and loose socks. In addition, Kogals possess their own slang which incorporates a lot of English words. Kogals are extremely materialistic and devote much of their income supplied by their parents and date service jobs to buy makeup, clothes, and entertainment. Their main stomping ground like most subcultures in Japan is Harajuku and Shibuya. The standard Lolita outfit consists of headwear normally an Alice bow, blouse, bell-shaped skirt or dress, undergarments, bloomers, petticoats, knee-length socks or stockings and Mary Janes or some kind of closed, round toe heel or platform. Unlike the Kogals, Lolitas try to show as little skin as possible. While the Lolitas do not possess a special language like the Kogal, the subculture does stress the need to always be polite and display good manners which some call princess speech.
The Kogals and Lolitas seem to be engaging in some form of Occidental discourse. The Kogals are copying certain elements of the United States while the Lolitas are ascribing fixed principles to Europe. The Gonguro Kogals are manifestations of black people within America or the blonde valley girl while the Sweet Lolita is the manifestation of the perfect Victorian or Edwardian porcelain doll. The United States is not full of valley girls and fixing such a trait on the United States is quite similar to the West believing Japan to be only a land of sword carrying samurai. Also, the Lolitas are creating an imagined world, the Europe they are copying is not the Europe of today and the Lolitas are trying to create a timeless European ascetic or image, a technique used often in Orientalist discourse concerning Japan. The Kogal or Lolita dressing up as the blonde valley girl or Victorian beauty parallels with the American or English tourist dressing up in kimonos and samurai attire showing some agency on behalf of the Orientalized East to form some authority over the West. Overall, the threat of rebellion from the subcultures appears ambiguous. Some of the Kogals and Lolitas are making legitimate protests while others are simply following a fashion trend.
Kawamura, Yuniya. “Japanese Teens as Producers of.” Current Sociology 54.784 (2006): n. pag.
Web. 23 Mar 2010.
Miller, Laura. “Those Naughty Teenage Girls: Japanese Kogals, Slang, and Media Assessment.”
Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 14.2 (2004) : 225-247. Web.
Neko, Nessa. “Lolita and Japanese Society.”
Entry Contributed by Jessica Hollimon