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Graveyard Chic

Asahi Shimbun published an article about gothic fashion. I feel that the article does not give a fully accurate view, but that makes the article all the more interesting…

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To slip into the world of dark fashion is, for the uninitiated, like tumbling headfirst down a rabbit hole.

Polite applause follows the matching pair of nuns as they curtsy and exit stage right. Next comes the swish of pinafores against petticoats, as the audience-a troop of young women dressed as milkmaids and Alices in Wonderland-leans forward for a better view of the evening’s main act: Mistress Ren, a doe-eyed woman who looks barely past her teens, will be teaching her uncooperative Bunny who’s boss when it comes to cake.

Giggles fill the room as the two women get into a tickling match. But soon the tickles bring on pinches, slaps, dripping candlewax and-in what Ren calls her trademark-a finale with the Mistress eating her cake as a beaten Bunny looks on.

Such were the goings-on at the most recent gathering of Lolitas held at Shibuya’s basement Blue Room club.

Even if you don’t exactly know what a Lolita is, chances are you’ve seen them. Dressed in dollhouse and death chic, these young women are a common sight in touristy Harajuku, where their main pastime, it seems, is posing for cameras.

Yet the Lolitas come as multi-layered as the skirts they wear. There are standard Lolitas-like Ren’s audience-and more macabre Gothic Lolitas, as compared to EGLs, (Elegant Gothic Lolitas), EGAs (Elegant Gothic Aristocrats) and plain and simple Goths, with whom they often associate.

“I don’t think you can say we’re this or that, we’re all different people inside,’’ say Ren, who describes herself as a standard Lolita on the dress scale. “If there’s a common point, I guess you could say we’re all into spending money on clothes. I don’t know if we’re that different from most other people; there are probably a lot more people like us who want to dress this way.’’

No matter the flavor, these dressers are that rare thing in Japan: a fashion statement that actually draws a reaction. “Freaky,’’ “strange’’ and “uncomfortable’’ are regular adjectives that appear in stories of depression, escapism and wrist-cutting among these women. Attention heated up last autumn, after a teenager attempted to kill his parents in Osaka. Much of the media focused on his accomplice, a top student in her school but a Gothic Lolita.

“Japan is still a male-dominated society, and it expects its young women to be cute and well-behaved,’’ says Licca Kayama, a popular psychologist and author on Japan’s subculture. Fashion is simply fashion, she says, but the black veils and funeral imagery appeals to certain troubled souls.

“These women are saying women aren’t just flowers, that they also have a cruel part in them. It’s a protest against the male status quo.’’

Kayama seems to have a morbid fascination with Lolitas herself. Mounted in her office is a drawing of a corseted girl carrying a rifle and a clutch of dead rabbits. Three of her books, one called “Kyo no Fukenko’’ (Today’s unhealthiness) feature drawings of Lolita on their covers.

There is, Kayama goes on, a clear message in the fashion. Women who dress like little girls, for example, are refusing to enter the adult world, which they see as “male’’ and “dirty.’’ (For clarity’s sake, think of Lolita fashion and the Lolita rack in the porno section of the video shop as absolutely unrelated: Lolita, in the language of porn, refers to adult women dressed in bloomers and other kindergarten togs). What’s more, says the psychologist, bodices and corsets are an attempt to “disguise the curves of adulthood that these young women don’t want to see in themselves-the motive behind it is the same motive behind anorexia.’’

It seems a strange turn from what originally started as an early 1990s pop music phenomenon. Back then feminized boy bands with Rimbaud-inspired names-Dir en Grey and Malice Mizer to name a few, brought a touch of the night to the idol stage. Critics branded them bijuaru-kei (visual type), but the androgynous looks and lyrics on platonic love touched a chord among young women.

“I’ve always been fascinated by vampires, and that’s the way I dressed when we performed,’’ says Mana, the former guitarist for Malice Mizer (the band broke up two years ago) who now runs a Gothic Lolita clothing brand. “Fans started dressing the same way we did because, for them, it was a way to get closer to us.’’

The visual bands are mostly gone, but the style that swirled around them lives on. Moi-meme-Moitie is a major label in the genre, offering both an Elegant Gothic Lolita line for women and an Elegant Gothic Aristocrat line for those who are “boys or girls, or neither boys or girls.’’ More than a score of other brands are featured in the glossy bimonthly Gothic & Lolita Bible, which serves as the unabridged styleguide to the set.

“This is another fascinating aspect of Japan,’’ says Kayama. “No matter how minor a genre starts, there’s always an industry ready to support it. It adds the appearance of normalcy.’’

To be sure, Lolitas have gone mainstream-there’s an entire Gothic Lolita floor in the Marui department store in Shinjuku-and the great majority are not weirdos. Yet the look continues to exert its pull on the alienated.

“There’s a lot of young women who’ve undergone some sort of trauma among us,’’ says Ren. “But I’m not one. I dress this way because I think it’s pretty and because I feel that women should be the weaker sex. Girls should be the children and the men should be the adults.’’

Ren may be an extreme case, but she’s not alone within the Lolita underground.

She started dressing as a Lolita as a teenager and began making the Gothic and Lolita scene as soon as she moved to Tokyo from Tochigi Prefecture. About five years ago she found herself volunteering for an S&M demonstration and, eventually, in a professional relationship with torturer and magician Mirakurumi.

Cake shows, it turns out, are just part of her repertoire. Their shows together involve ropes, pulleys, surgical needles, a chainsaw and screams. Mirakurumi, says Ren, is a ladykiller in Lolita circles.

“There’s no problem getting assistants,’’ says Mirakurumi, who eight years ago was involved in a bijuaru-kei band before finding his calling. Ren, he estimates, is his 50th stage partner. “These women may look innocent, but deep down they’re extremely interested in this stuff. They’re attracted to the unreality of it all. Instead of real sex they want simulation on stage. They’re looking for a dream world, even if it’s a nightmare.’’

To be sure, horror shows have been around for a while. What’s newer, though, is how much of what once was underground-from tattoo and body piercing events to bondage and fetish nights-has become standard on the Tokyo club menu. Pain, to judge by the works of young writers like Karin Amemiya, the Gothic Lolita who’s written a cost-comparison guide to suicide, and Hitomi Kanehara, who recently won the Akutagawa Prize for “Hebi ni Piasu’’ (Pierce earrings for a snake-but actually referring to a split tongue pierced with a stud), is one way members of a desensitized generation confirm their existence.

“I guess you can say I’m in the service profession,’’ says Genet, leader of the band Auto-mod and organizer of one of Tokyo’s largest gatherings of the dark tribes, Tokyo Dark Castle. It’s not really his bag, says Genet-Auto-mod has been around for 20 years playing Industrial-inspired “Positive Punk’’-but it’s what draws the kids these days.

On the surface the scene now resembles the underground of the the 1970s, when avant-gardists such as Shuji Terayama and Juro Kara attempted to harness all forms of expression to create something new. Now, Genet says, “The impulse among Goths, Gothic Lolitas or hip-hoppers, what have you, is to close themselves off in their categories.

“Tokyo Dark Castle and other events are really a kind of Darkside Disneyland,’’ says Genet. “It’s the world of the macabre as imagined by little girls. None of it-the stage torture, the eroticism-is real. It’s presented on stage to stoke the imagination. If they can’t get their fantasy fix here, they might look for it in the real world.’’

But for Ren, though, that sort of unreality is enough.

“Escaping into fantasy,’’ reasons Ren, “is reality too.’’

The next Tokyo Dark Castle event will be held from 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 3 at Shibuya DeSeo and Club Kinoto (03-5457-0303), a 5-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station. Admission is 3,500 yen in advance, 4,000 yen at the door. See < www3.to/gothdarkwave >.

In the Kansai area, the Kobe Underground Festival Vol. 1 will be held June 5 at Kobe Uwaya Gekijo. Call 078-371-0132.

(Because this article is no longer available at the Asahi site, we decided to publish it here in full.)

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

woooah… never knew gothic lolitas were so dark… it thought it was just a fad…
jamieann
Sep 23, 2005 (5078 days ago)
it is. it’s really just a choice of costume for weekends. this article just exaggerates parts of it to make it sound dark and mysterious. most lolitas are in it just for the cosplay and attention.
shishishu
Jan 2, 2006 (4977 days ago)
NO ITS NOT JUST A FORM OF COSTUME FOR THE WEEKEND!

did u not read the article?!

ur obviosly not a loli so how would u know?
Le
Feb 23, 2006 (4926 days ago)
For some it might be just something you put on during the weekends, but for many it’s also a lifestyle, a way for people to embrace their ideals and ideas of what is beautiful.

Lolita is not cosplay.

It is fashion.

I know plenty of people who dress Lolita every day, so please don’t say what you don’t know.

It’s not just for attention for everyone, many Lolitas wear it to wear it and just because they spend a long time dolling themselves up does not mean it’s not heartfelt. Many Lolitas get a lot of nasty feedback for dressing the way they do and it can be very difficult for them to keep their posture and stay sweet the way they do. They are not discriminating against you, they do not hate you for what you wear because those certain Lolitas respect that it’s what’s comfortable for you. Please try to understand and do the same until they do you wrong.
Ayame
Feb 23, 2006 (4926 days ago)
Sounds the same as the goths, rockers, and emos in america, for some it’s just cloths, for some it’s an outlet. All n’ all it shouldn’t matter anyway what people wear, wearing black doesn’t make you evil, and wearing frills doesn’t make you girly.

I have to say the remark made about how they dress that way because they believe women are SUPPOSED to be the weaker sex, is nonsense.

Girls arn’t any weaker, and they arn’t SUPPOSED to be that way. What a load of deluded shit.
Em
Feb 23, 2006 (4926 days ago)
@ Ayame

coulnt have said it better myself
Le
Feb 23, 2006 (4926 days ago)
@ Em

weman ARE the weakest sex in japan.
and wearing frills does make me girly and pretty.

and guess what? i am a girl and i am “that way” deal with it!
Le
Feb 23, 2006 (4926 days ago)
@em.

Sometimes i think i shouldn’t think this way, but i believe that others should take the lead over girls, even if you don’t get much say it what’s happening. it gives girls like me comfort to think that as girls we’re weaker. sometimes it feels nice when even other girls are stronger than me. it gives me comfort. i agree with that bit of the article.
shannon
Feb 23, 2006 (4926 days ago)
This doesn’t sound like any Loli I’ve ever known, and I know many. The people mentioned in this article sound like S&M types who want to dress like a Lolita because they view feminity, for whatever reason, as instant grounds for submission and punishment. This article doesn’t represent the Lolita lifestyle one bit. They may as well write an article about strippers dressing up as nurses or cops and saying that nurses and cops are, by definition, perverse exhibitionists and sex-maniacs.
J.
Feb 23, 2006 (4925 days ago)
Hmm you all have good points and opinions..Trith is, your all sort of right and wrong, to some it’s fashion, to some it’s cosplay and yes to others its their very way of life, I aggre mosth with the intelligent one above that said that “All n’ all it shouldn’t matter anyway what people wear, wearing black doesn’t make you evil, and wearing frills doesn’t make you girly.” Bravo I aggree completley, see I like lolita, emo, goth, punk, and raver clothes, music and everything else to go with it, call me a pouser if you want I just know what I like w00t..-Mas
Mas
Feb 25, 2006 (4924 days ago)
To J.:
I definately agree. I myself am a Lolita, self styled but not in Japan. It is ridiculous to say that Lolita are as such portrayed in this article. True Lolita – even Gothic Lolitas are not this way. We are proper, elegant, and beautiful. That sort of thing is just…distasteful. Though popular in Japan, the point of Lolita is to be a young lady – to not grow older! Those are people that find the style having to do with being submissive in a sexual sense, and that is not Lolita.
It is true that to many people, it is only a fashion; but it is not a cosplay. It may not be a way of life for all, but it is certainly not on the same level as cosplay! As a Lolita I am offended by this sordid article.
Princessa
Feb 26, 2006 (4923 days ago)
I am also lolita, and not in japan I compleatly agree with Princessa. Lolita is not so much as a fashion but a way of life. True lolita will tell you this. I mayself am a sweet lolita, Many people they we only wear light pinks and blues but in fact a sweet lolita may wear black and white if she wishes. As long as the dress is very cute and full of lace and bows then it can still be considered sweet. It also depends on make up. Many males are turned of by lolita because of all the layers so its not a way of dressing to get sexual attention unless its erololi.
Amaryllis
Apr 6, 2006 (4884 days ago)
i am a lolita and it is really more of a way of life and looking at things. fashion and style are a big part of it, but it, in it’s essence represents a bold statement of freedom. a statement of denial of traditional ways of being, taking the best essence of the past and combining to make new ground. a new way of being.
Andie
Jul 3, 2006 (4795 days ago)

I’m a lifestyle lolita who wears loli clothing every day at school and I don’t agree with this post. I think lolita is a reaction to the hypersexualisation of our society. Tired of all these boobs exhibed, these asses shaked, that horrid hormone smell and all that violence era encouraged with the mainstream (video games, TV shows, G-Unit and all that crap), I wanted to reach an ideal of respect, beauty and culture, like a Quest of Perfection or at least decency in my point of view. Lolita is the opposite of drugs (eventhough the link with Alice in Wonderland), violence (it depends), hypersexualisation, alcohol (we want to be proper, not to be drunk and show ourselves in a vulgar way), well, mediocrity. Yes, lolita are afraid of mediocrity. But again, it’s my opinion.

Porcelain Princess
Feb 9, 2007 (4575 days ago)

Oh dear, the media again. Pathetic, i dress Lolita goth alot and i don’t want to kill my parents… I wear it because i like it and i love Japan and the Victorian era and it appeals to me. That’s it. People are so scared of anything different these days. Let people dress how they like and stop trying to find a reason why and make them out to be bad people because of it. Everyones reason is different! We get enough crap off people in the streets for our clothing of choice, the meida just help fire up the abuse.

Necro Dolly
Jun 20, 2008 (4078 days ago)

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