Yuniya Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures

By Bardsley, Jan | Southeast Review of Asian Studies, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Yuniya Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures


Bardsley, Jan, Southeast Review of Asian Studies


Yuniya Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures. London: Berg, 2012. xiv + 175 pages.

Youthful street styles, along with anime, manga, and video games, have attracted global attention to "Cool Japan." Girls in white, lacy Lolita outfits, their macabre counterparts in Goth Lolita style, and super-tanned surfer-girls turn heads in popular Tokyo shopping areas such as Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. Young men in skirts represent the latest eye-catching trend. Drawn to the playful, subversive quality of this fashion, students in Japan-related classes in the U.S. often want to know more about it and seek the analytical tools to do research on their own. Sociologist and fashion scholar Yuniya Kawamura offers sound guidance, making sophisticated research methods accessible and interesting. Her concise book, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures, interprets youth styles in the socioeconomic context of contemporary Japan and the politics of its fashion industry. In her view, these trends are evidence of subcultures taking shape on the margins of a society in which all too many young people despair of obtaining stable incomes or bright futures.

The book's thirty glossy color plates provide an overview of these developments. Many feature young people in their own ensembles. The layers of pattern and color are striking, and one notes the intricacy of these ensembles. Some photos speak to the transnational popularity of these fashion trends, including shots of an Italian and an American, each posing in Japanese-inspired Lolita garb. Kawamura considers "cosplay" (short for costume play, or in Japanese, kosupure), in which anime and manga fans invent costumes modeled on their favorite characters, and she offers comparative images of American cosplayers at the New York Comic Con and Anime Festival and Japanese cosplayers at Comic Market. These theatrical and inventive styles, whether exhibited in the street or at a convention, stand out against the functionality of blue jeans and other globally popular garments that Japanese youth typically favor. Only the subcultural styles reflect "Cool Japan."

Fashioning Japanese Subcultures lays out a broad theoretical and cultural context, but gives most attention to the relationship between geographical locale and subcultural style. Divided into three sections, each with short chapters, the book is easy to follow. The first section reviews key texts and methodologies in subcultural studies, gives a brief overview of the distinction between high and street fashion in Tokyo, and makes clear the sheer number of marginalized young people who seek a sense of community amid a precarious culture of economic stagnation, part-time and contract work, divorce, and suicide. The second and longest section ("Geographically and Stylistically Defined Japanese Subcultures") considers five prominent shopping areas in Tokyo (Akihabara, Harajuku, Kouenji, Shibuya, Shinjuku) and describes the subcultural style most associated with each locale. …

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