Fashion as a Way of Life


To a large number of Japanese, fashion is not about clothes, it is a way of life

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Seeing how thoroughly Western fashion has permeated Japanese society, it is sobering to realize how brief its history actually is in this country. Western fashion entered Japan some 150 years ago, but the majority of Japanese women continued to wear kimono well into the first half of the 20th century. It took until the sixties before Western fashion truly took off. Which means that it reaches back only about half a century.

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, fashion plays an incredibly important role in the lives of many Japanese. A surprisingly large number of people in their late teens and early twenties spend as much as 50 to 90 percent of their disposable income on clothing.

Fashion to them is a way of life. Instead of watching TV, doing sports, exploring the outdoors, or taking a trip in their free time, they prefer to go shopping for clothes.

This becomes immediately obvious when you visit areas like Tokyo’s famous Ginza boulevard, or the city’s youth culture areas of Harajuku and Shibuya. Both are crowded all day long, every single day of the week. On the week-end, they are so busy you can often only shuffle.

Ginza Boulevard

The number of fashion related businesses in these areas is mind boggling. In Shibuya’s famous Shibuya 109 fashion building there are over a hundred shops on 10 floors. In nearby Harajuku, the even more famous Laforet Harajuku building features more than 140 shops on 12 floors. Nearby Omotesando Hills, an upscale shopping mall, houses about a hundred retail outlets. These are just three of countless buildings like this, spread out all over this mega-city.

Shibuya 109

Omotesando Hills

Surrounded by this enormous wealth of fashion, Japanese have begun to explore and experiment. Unfettered by hundreds of years of fashion convention, they mix and match, and freely combine styles, materials and influences.

This first got the West’s attention in the 1980s when designers Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto took to the catwalks of Paris. Their unconventional designs both shocked and inspired. Western fashion had never seen anything like it. They introduced concepts like simplicity, asymmetry and deconstruction, and they showed that black could be beautiful. Their eventual recognition and success captured the nation they hailed from.

These days, new fashion ideas are more likely to come from the streets than from the catwalk. Especially Osaka’s Amerika Mura and Tokyo’s Harajuku, both youth culture centers, have become famous for giving birth to a seemingly endless chain of new fashion trends. Some of these have taken new paths, like lolita fashion and Dolly Kei. Others have been more subtle.

60625-2129-101016-7864: Harajuku street fashion
Harajuku fashion

100809-4018-100920-6356: Harajuku street fashion
Harajuku fashion

All of these trends have one thing in common, the deep love of layering, unbelievable attention to detail, and an astonishing creativity in combining colors and materials. Undoubtedly a leftover from a time, not so long ago, when everybody wore kimono.

Kimono and modern dresses in the 1920s

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)

I wish that in Mexico , people would be like that , here the society is so close minded that there are few styles to choose from and if you try to innovate , people just look at you like a weird thing :(

Alejandro Trebyrinth
May 29, 2011 (4502 days ago)

@Alejandro: Come and visit Tokyo. I think you will feel at home right away. ^^

Kjeld Duits (author)
May 29, 2011 (4502 days ago)

That pic used for the dolly kei example is the very first one to pique my curiosity about the style. Ah, the budding of a new love… <3

Leah B.
May 30, 2011 (4501 days ago)

I`m living in Osaka City now for 6 years and run a t-shirt print shop there. As a matter of fact we are not far from Amerika Mura and to be honest I can`t think of any credible fashion trend that has originated there. The whole area of Amerika Mura is just a complete nightmare and does my head in.

Aug 5, 2011 (4433 days ago)

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