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Japanese Women’s Wild Fashion

By Asian American in Tokyo | September 30, 2006

Here’s a topic that will be discovered by search engines and drive traffic to the site, no doubt. It’s no secret that Japan is home to some wild fashion trends and fads, particularly when it comes to girls/women. Here are some examples of common species to be found in Tokyo.


First, the famous (and sometimes notorious) Japanese schoolgirl. In the photo below, you’ll see 2 types. On the left, you see the standard Japanese schoolgirls wearing their school’s uniform. On the right, you see high school girls who have deep tans, blonde-ish hair, loose socks secured in place with adhesive, with skirts pulled up at their waist. These fashion-conscious high school girls are known as “kogals” and frequently travel in packs around the Shibuya district shopping for clothing and brand-name goods. The most notorious of these girls practice “enjo kosai” which is translated as “compensated dating”, but is really just prostitution to fund their materialistic shopping habit.

From Wikipedia:

Kogal (コギャル kogyaru in romaji (romanised Japanese), lit. “kōkōsei ” (a high school student) plus “gal” from English) is a subculture of girls and young women in urban Japan, one of several types of so-called gals. They are characterized by conspicuously displaying their disposable income through distinctive tastes in fashion, music, and social activity. In general, the kogal “look” roughly approximates a sun-tanned California Valley girl, and indeed, the similarities between the two extend to the linguistic, for both subcultures have derived entire sets of slang terms (コギャル語 “ko-gyaru-go”). Kogals are not to be confused with the ganguro subculture, although they are similar.

Kogals are known for wearing platform boots, a miniskirt, copious amounts of makeup, hair coloring (usually yellow or brown), artificial suntans, and designer accessories. If in school uniform, the look typically includes skirts pinned very high and loose socks (large baggy socks that go up to the knee). Kogals’ busy social lives and desire for new material goods leads them to be among the first consumers of Japanese cell phone technology, and their taste in clothes tends toward names such as Burberry scarves and Louis Vuitton handbags. Kogals spend much of their free time (and their parents’ income) shopping, and their culture centers on the Shibuya district of Tokyo, in particular the 109 building, although any major Japanese city is sure to have at least a small population. During the summer, kogals may sometimes be seen at the beach. They are generally not seen in high-end department stores.

Critics of the Kogal subculture decry its materialism as reflecting a larger psychological or spiritual emptiness in modern Japanese life. Some kogals support their lifestyle with allowances from wealthy parents, living a “freeter” or “parasite single” existence that grates against traditional principles of duty and industry. A small minority appear in pornography to finance their habits. More may engage in the practice of “compensated dating”, or enjo kōsai, which may at times border on quasi-legal prostitution. Internet-based usage of this term has led some Western observers to the mistake of believing that “kogal” means “prostitute”.

The kogal phenomenon emerged in the mid-1990s and its effects can still be seen today in its numerous off-shoots of sub-categories, although conservative tastes in dress and hair color seem to be on the upswing. Interestingly enough, the Gothic Lolita aesthetic has been described as a reaction to the kogal look, though the other side is that GLs merely model after Jrock cosplay.

The term’s etymology is disputed: the most common theory is that it was derived from the Japanese word for “high school”, kōkō (高校), although others claim that it comes from ko (子), the Japanese word for “girl” or “child”. The “gal” originates from English. See gyaru.


Next, we have the “70′s California surfer girl” look species commonly known as “Ganguro”, or “black face”, so named for their dark artificial tans. Here’s more info from Wikipedia:

Ganguro (ガングロ, Ganguro?) is a fashion trend among many Japanese girls which peaked in popularity from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, an outgrowth of chapatsu hair dyeing. The Shibuya and Ikebukuro districts of Tokyo are the center of ganguro fashion.

The basic look consists of bleached hair, a deep tan, both black and white eyeliners, false eyelashes, platform shoes (usually sandals or boots), and brightly colored outfits. Also typical of the “Ganguro Gal” look are cell phones covered with purikura stickers, tie-dyed sarongs, mini-skirts, hibiscus flower hairpins, and lots of bracelets, rings and necklaces.

Extreme trend followers further bleach their hair up to a platinum blond shade, get even deeper tans, wear white lipstick, multicolored pastel eyeshadows and tiny metallic or glittery adhesives around the bottom rim of the eye sockets (See Yamanba). Popular Ganguro magazines include Egg, Popteen, and Ego System.

In an interview with Tony Barrell, Shoichi Aoki, the creator of FRUiTS magazine, stated: “Ganguro was a phenomenon that was specific to Shibuya, about 1km away from Harajuku—which we have been talking about—and they were totally different so FRUiTS as a rule didn’t really take them up. Only a few times we’ve covered ganguro in our magazine. Where they came from is actually a mystery, no one really knows but there is some speculation that they were girls who were infatuated or fascinated with Janet Jackson or black American musicians or perhaps Naomi Campbell, the supermodel, but it’s still a mystery what their origins were.”

Some foreign observers speculate as to ‘who’ these ganguro are “meant” to look like. Some say that because of the blonde hair, hibiscus flowers, and extremely tan skin, they want to look like America’s west coast girls. A handful of others believe it is an obsession with being black. A more nuanced explanation is that the Ganguro girl is a unique style evolved from Japan’s own original culture in response to the media/entertainment pop culture of the West. It is worth noting that these girls generally do not study hard in school or pursue athletics or traditional artistic goals. Like certain subcultures in the West, the style may be a form of self-expression in opposition to conservative mores. The heavy tans pose a significant health risk, most notably non-specific lifelong skin damage and cancer, thereby conspicuously showing a disregard for the future.

There is some dispute surrounding the etymology of the word “ganguro”. Some academics claim that the name derives from “顔黒” (black face), but (past) ganguro practitioners themselves invariably say it derives from “ガンガン黒” (exceptionally dark). Some people see it as racist and compare it to the blackface of early 1900s culture in America.


Next, we have a close relative of the Ganguro, called “Yamanba”, named after a mythical mountain witch. From Wikipedia:

Yamanba (ヤマンバ, Yamanba?) sometimes written as “yamamba”, is a fashion trend among young Japanese women. Starting with the bleached white hair and heavy tan of the ganguro girl, the yamanba adds white lipstick, white eye makeup, and sometimes brightly colored contacts, plastic clothing, and inappropriate accessories. Some yamanba wear stuffed animals as decorations, talk with a slurred speech, and enjoy shiny neon or dayglo colors. The male equivalent is called a “center guy,” this being a pun on the Center-gai (センター街, Center-gai?) pedestrian shopping area near Shibuya station in Tokyo where yamanba and center guys can often be seen.

The term yamanba comes from a mountain hag, known as Yama-uba, whom the fashion is thought to resemble.

The contrast in that last photo is striking. I guess this is one way to express your individuality in a homogenous society.


From Wikipedia:

Lolita fashion is part of the fashion style and subculture Gothic & Lolita, which originated in Japan, largely inspired by Victorian children’s clothing and the elaborate costumes of the Rococo period. Other influences include the western goth subculture, punk subculture and french maid outfits. Skirts are typically knee length and are worn with a pannier or petticoat to add volume. Over-knee socks, knee socks or stockings are extremely popular, especially printed with roses or crowns or topped with lace. Footwear is typically cute, child-like shoes such as Mary Janes, though Vivienne Westwood Rocking horse shoes, and replicas of them are also very popular. Skirts are typically paired with either a Frilly, ruffled, or lace-trimmed Victorian blouse or a lacey ‘cut sew’ which stands for a shirt (usually tee-shirt material) that has been ‘cut and sewn’. Other garments are either dresses in one or more pieces, which are labeled one-piece, two-piece etc or a pinafore jumper skirt worn over a blouse. These blouses often have Peter-Pan collars or sailor collars. Lace-trimmed headdresses, mini-top hats worn to one side, and intricate old-fashioned jewelry are some favored accessories of Lolitas.

Though not the founder of the style, the Lolita fashion is often considered to have been made popular by Mana, of the band Malice Mizer. The fashion started in the 70s, though it did not gain popularity and media presence until the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Although “Lolita” is a reference to Vladimir Nabokov‘s famous novel, and Lolita is often worn by teens, most followers of the style do not consider it overtly sexual. Adherents present themselves as Victorian children or baby dolls and prefer to look cute, beautiful or elegant rather than sexy.

Yes, they do exist. Check out the scene at a McDonald’s in Tokyo (below).

Gothic Lolita

From Wikipedia:

Gothic Lolita or “GothLoli” (ゴスロリ, gosurori; sometimes alternatively “Loli-Goth“) is a subcategory of the Lolita fashion, a street fashion among Japanese female teenagers and, to a lesser extent, men and young women.

Lolita fashion emphasizes Victorian-style and Edwardian fashion girl’s clothing and often aims to imitate the look of Victorian porcelain dolls. The Roccoco period has also been defined as an influence of Gothic lolita. Gothic Lolita applies the aesthetics of Gothic fashion to the childlike, pretty Lolita fashion. GothLoli’s name and origin is a combination of Lolita and Gothic fashion.

The term “EGL” is commonly mistaken as the blanket term for Lolita fashion and Gothic Lolita in Western Lolita culture. The name “EGL” applies only to that specific line of clothing’s style in Moi-même-Moitié, which is in the Gothic Lolita style.

Gothic Lolita is the best-known of the various “Lolita” looks. Other categories include “Classic Lolita“, which is often more mature-looking and contains more muted colours and floral prints and “Sweet Lolita” which is identified by childish pastel colours and cute prints.


From Wikipedia:

Cosplay restaurants (コスプレ系飲食店), are theme restaurants and pubs that originated in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan around the year 2000. They include maid cafés (メイドカフェ) and butler cafés, where the service staff dresses in cosplay, elegant maids, or butlers. Such restaurants and cafes have become the staple of Japanese otaku culture. Compared to “normal” cafés‘ service, maid cafés provide a slightly different atmosphere. The maids treat the customers as their master in a home. The popularity of the cosplay restaurants and maid cafes has spread to other regions in Japan such as Osaka‘s Den Den Town as well as other Asian countries, such as South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

The maids are often dressed in cute lolita fashion or french maid-styled uniforms to look and act “kawaii” for the customers. Sometimes the maid outfit is augmented with cat or bunny ears to increase their cuteness. At maid cafes most service staff members are female and male jobs are typically limited to bar-backing and janitorial duties.

Some homepages of maid cafés have pictures and profiles of the maids.

When a customer enters the café, the maids typically give a flattering greeting such as “Welcome home, Master“(おかえりなさい、御主人様!) in order to play the role of a house servant. Unlike “ordinary” cafés, maids serve customers as if they were their masters. For example, staff sometimes kneel on the ground to mix sugar or milk in teas or other drinks. The purpose of the maid cafés and their service is to make customers feel at home and relaxed. Although exemplary customer service is typical of Japan, maid cafés take special care to pamper their patrons.

Image is Everything.

Do you believe in the stereotype that Japanese women are conservative? You may change your mind after you see the next few photos. The scenes below are common throughout the city at all times of the day. (Note that I’m not a creepy guy who goes around taking photos of unsuspecting women.I found these on Flickr, and you can too.)

Notice the exposed garter on this young lady’s right leg (below).

And it doesn’t stop even after you become a parent, apparently.

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Topics: Culture | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Japanese Women’s Wild Fashion”

  1. morgan Says:
    June 16th, 2007 at 2:23 am

    the original school girls look kinda boring i like kogals much better!! ganguro rocks too!!

  2. Kisa Says:
    October 23rd, 2008 at 8:01 am


  3. veggen Says:
    March 3rd, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I don’t know… It feels like Japan has become very superficial…

  4. Kage Says:
    April 19th, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Yamanba owns. Especially the last photo.

    I’m joking.

  5. jungny Says:
    August 6th, 2009 at 2:45 am

    i like the last one,,nice bottom

  6. autumn Says:
    February 23rd, 2010 at 4:52 am

    ahhh, those loli girls are soooo cute! but the yamanba girls kinda scare me a little o.o

  7. Meh Says:
    August 8th, 2010 at 9:39 am

    The thing is, Japanese women are only show-y with what they have. Most Japanese women are thin, so needless to say they tend to have pretty nice legs. (Whoever commented on the girl’s butt–WTF? She doesn’t even have an ass.) Thus, they show their legs. On the other hand, most Japanese girls are very small in the breast department, so why would they show off what they don’t have? Even bra sizes here are much different than Western counterparts (cup sizes are a size off compared to America–a B in Japan would be an A or AA), so there isn’t really much to show off.

    Of course there are exceptions, but in my experience Japanese women don’t mind showing their bodies as long as there is something to show. Short skirts are MUCH more common than revealing shirts, so it’s selective conservatism.

    And Japan has become superficial, depending on how you look at it. Women and men are much more fashion conscious, at least compared to Americans. Even in the countryside where I work, it’s rare to see people wearing old clothes or pajamas outside, even though it was common back home when going grocery shopping or walking around the neighborhood. Even cars must be thrown out every 10 years or something (though they are shipped to other countries), so there are a lot of aspects of Japanese culture that seem to demand novelty to a fault.


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