The Girls of Harajuku, Japan

For the Virgin traveller in Japan, Harajuku is one of those ‘must see’ places on the Japan tourist circuit. Without a doubt the most famous street of Harajuku’s is Takeshita. It is highly doubtful that you will see such a place back home – taking into consideration that I am originally from a place of 3,000 people and sheep outnumber humans by 1000:1 it holds especially true for me.

So who are these infamous Harajuku Girls?

Harajuku gyaru (girl) is the phrase most commonly used to identify girls who hang around Tokyo’s Harajuku district. And of the many varied sites, definitely some of the more eye-catching are the lithe figures of the girls that flank the streets there. A word of warning though, “All that glitters is not gold” and all that looks like a girl is often not either.

You will find the fashion styles not only diverse but in some cases exceedingly bizarre. I often notice myself mentally ‘high fiving’ the girls for their courage and complete lack of self-consciousness. Here are a few of the genres that I have been privileged to see in my trips down those lanes: Gothic Lolita, Gothic Maid, Wamono, Decora, Second-Hand Fashion, and Cyber Fashion (which tends to feature goggles, masks, leather and latex.) In one of my more memorable trips I even saw several girls wearing fake blood and bandages.

What possesses these girls to dress in such an outrageous (and often provocative) way you ask yourself…

A number of of them are evidently doing their best to imitate rock bands such as Japan X (this band almost deserves a post of it’s own.) If we put on our social anthropology coats and glasses (or goggles if you want to get into the swing of it) and burrow deeper we can appreciate that for many others this is a form of escapism. At the peril of over-generalizing I have observed Japan to be a very homogeneous society and this weekly indulgence allows them to briefly escape the majority of the rules of Japanese society. It gives them individuality not as certainly apparent while wearing their usual school uniforms or workplace costume. And perhaps at the heart it gives these wonderful ladies an outlet to express, often in very sexual ways (with ripped stockings, garters, and mini-skirts, etc), the oppression of the Japanese female in their predominantly male dominated society.

I have created the opportunity to talk to quite a a small number of of these girls over the years to try and grasp what makes them ‘tick’ and found the Harajuku Girls, underneath all the make-up and bling, to be like the girl next door – tremendously polite, gracious and warm-hearted.