Fashioning Japanese Subcultures

By Barber, Christie | Times Higher Education, September 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Fashioning Japanese Subcultures


Barber, Christie, Times Higher Education


Fashioning Japanese Subcultures. By Yuniya Kawamura. Berg Publishers. 192pp, Pounds 55.00 and Pounds 17.99. ISBN 9781847889485 and 89478. Published 7 August 2012

For readers familiar with Japanese fashion, the eye-catching cover of Yuniya Kawamura's book may signal a link between this work and photographer Shoichi Aoki's long-running FRUiTS project. FRUiTS' monthly magazine and books present vivid images of Tokyo's dizzying variety of street styles, and indeed, Kawamura notes that her research developed after seeing an exhibition of Aoki's work. However, this book is not just about ways of dressing: it is also about ways of being, and the ways in which fashion becomes part of the construction of identity. Kawamura, a sociologist based in New York, delves into the stories behind her subjects, who are members of different subcultural communities in Tokyo, to explore the meanings behind their appearances.

She situates her scholarly examination of Japanese fashion subcultures in the context of an overview of various academic studies of subculture, against and through which she presents her own work. This research is conveyed in an accessible manner, and Kawamura draws connections between her topic and broader concerns, such as suicide, youth unemployment and changing gender roles.

The startling range of creativity in Japanese fashion subcultures, the desire to define and differentiate oneself through fashion and the search for belonging within subcultural communities are, Kawamura argues, responses to unstable social and economic conditions, where traditional values do not correspond to many young people's lived reality. Her careful observations of, and interviews with, members of various subcultural groups are effectively supported by an outline of contemporary Japanese society, using statistical data. Her examination of the meanings underlying the styles adopted by members of fashion subcultures, as well as the wider context within which those meanings are expressed, is perceptive and informative.

Dividing her empirical analysis into sections on specific Tokyo subcultures, Kawamura focuses on, among others: Shibuya district's gyaru (gals), whose fashion is "cute and erotic"; Harajuku's Lolitas, who dress in "the image of a Victorian doll", and of which there are multiple versions, such as "Punk Loli (Punk Lolita)", "Gosu-Loli (Gothic and Lolita)" and "Ouji (Prince for Lolita)"; and the "cosplayers" (who dress as anime and manga characters) in Akihabara and Ikebukuro. …

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