A Sip Of Matcha

Published: Monday June 13, 2011 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday August 22, 2013 MYT 3:53:35 PM

Japan's street fashion: Chic or bizarre?

Wild, funky, outrageous – Japan’s fascinating street fashion has it all.

WHEN I first set eyes on a group of deeply tanned girls with white lipstick and eyeshadow back in 1990, I thought they were some kind of entertainers parodying the Black And White Minstrel Show (a popular British variety show during the 1960s and 70s).

Rika, a Japanese who had been living in Singapore, also experienced this culture shock when she returned home. “Those yamanba girls are spoiling their natural looks with thick, gaudy make-up,” she lamented.

“I heard they don’t wash them off,” I added.

“Beats me!” Rika shrugged.

The yamanba style is thought to resemble a mythological mountain witch, Yama-uba. The yamanba and manba craze is an offshoot of the ganguro (literally “black face”) style which was the vogue in the Shibuya and Ikebukuro districts of Tokyo at one time. This trend has since become passe.

Ganguro girls sported a suntan or coated themselves in skin bronzer, bleached their hair blonde or silver grey, wore false eyelashes, black eyeliner, white eyeshadow with pearl powder, white lipstick, and donned platform shoes, matched with vibrant-coloured clothes and accessories like tie-dyed sarungs, necklaces and bracelets.

Yamanba and manba girls displayed more brazen looks. They applied thick pastel eye make-up and tiny glittery adhesives, wore brightly-coloured contact lenses, dyed their hair in garish shades, and donned dayglo-coloured clothes decorated with artificial Hawaiian leis, hibiscus, costume jewellery and stuffed toys.

What differentiated yamanba from manba was that yamanba girls wore white eyeshadow only above their eyes. Extremists of the yamanba style spotted multi-coloured synthetic hair.

Guys sporting this offbeat fashion were monikered “centre guy” – a pun on Sentagai, the name of a pedestrian shopping street near Shibuya Station in Tokyo.

Trends change fast in urban cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo are hotspots for Japanese street fashion. You’ll be amused, amazed and intrigued by Tokyo’s latest fashion posted on tokyo fashion.com.

Colourful, layered and outlandish looks are popular in Harajuku. Takeshita Street in Harajuku is lined with shops that offer an array of cute styles, vintage clothing and accessories. The hub of Shibuya street fashion caters to teens and gyaru (gals) in their early twenties.

Youngsters dress up and hang out around these fashion districts during the weekends and holidays, hoping to be scouted by fashion magazine photographers. But they fight shy of cameras when curious onlookers try to photograph them.

Several years ago, I came across a young lady garbed in pink from head to toe: hair ribbon, handbag, long socks, shoes and lacy, frilly frock. When she entered a psychiatric community clinic (the doctor also sees physically ill patients), I thought she was cuckoo. I had no idea that she was dressed in Lolita fashion modelled on Victorian porcelain dolls.

Among the sub-categories of the Lolita style, Gothic Lolita appears spooky to me.

Lolita fashion? I wondered, as my eyes followed a lady browsing around a store. I only managed to take a snapshot of her back. She looked stylish in a pink coat over a laced petticoat-like dress, a pink hat, a white handbag and a pair of white boots.

There are chic fashionistas whose ages range from mid-twenties to forties, and trendy ladies in their mid-twenties and mid-thirties, with a fetish for unique fashion brands, designers and concepts.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, there seems to be a shift in fashion demand in Tokyo’s department stores which have seen an increase in the sales of pants, flat-soled and lightweight shoes, fashionable backpacks, and clothes in subdued colours of white, beige and greyish blue.

In anticipation of a power shortage this summer, the government has launched a “Super Cool Biz” campaign to encourage workers to dress lightly to reduce power consumption of air-conditioners.

Japan is widely known as a trendsetter for cutting edge styles. I often admire the fashion coordination of my friend’s daughter who is a university student and part-time model. She obliged me by posing for some pictures. Ah, to be young again!

Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, A Sip of Matcha, Sarah Mori, fashion, Japan, Japanese

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