Tokyo's Troubled Teens
Gwen Stefani brought Harajuku Girls to the world's attention when she used some of them as back up dancers and singers for her music videos. But just what are the Harajuku Girls?
Harajuku is a district in Tokyo where teens indulging in Cosplay hang out. For the uninitiated, Cosplay is where you dress up like fantasy, science fiction, Manga or Anime characters and you behave as if you really are that character. The costumes, wigs and accessories are amazing and if you are in Tokyo on a Sunday, then that is where you have to go. There you'll find girls with long blonde wigs and pony tails dressed up as Little Bo-Peep, chatting to full-on Goth characters with death mask make-up and dog collars and other S and M gear. You'll never see such a bizarre sight, as the entrance to the Harajuku Metro on a late Sunday afternoon.
In the park near Harajuku Metro-stop, you'll find young men dressed up as Elvis, strutting their stuff, girating their pelvis to hits from the fifties and sixties. A few girls, not part of the Harajuku sub-culture, are dressed in their fifties diner dance dresses with the huge skirts, and bop away with the Elvis-types.
Just across from the Harajuku Metro-stop, is Takeshita walking street, with tiny shops jam-packed with the most outrageous clothing you've ever seen! If you indulge in sexual role-play, then this is the street for you. You can buy your sexy maid's uniform, or rip off nurse dress, complete with sexy corsets and garter belts. If you are more into the dominatrix role, then you can buy your whips, chains and handcuffs when you buy your S and M outfit. In the area, are also Love Hotels where randy old men can disappear for a few hours with a Harajuku Girl wanting to supplement her income. The Image Clubs have replaced some of the once popular Karaoke Clubs, and the girls that go there sing a different tune. They specialise in sexual Cosplay, where young girls can dress up in school uniforms and other erotic outfits and indulge in sex play. Many Love Hotels rent out Cosplay costumes as well, should you wish to check in for a few hours and have fun dressing each other up.
Are the Harajuku Girls a sign that Japan's teenagers are troubled?
In a culture where people are expected to conform and success is highly valued, Cosplay is a way to show the older generation that you are a non-conformist. After living in China where people push and shove and spit on the sidewalks, Japan was so civilized. People wait for the train to stop and for the people getting off to actually get off before they get on. When the train is full, out of nowhere, old men with white gloves suddenly appear and gently, like they're doing Tai Chi, push the people onto the train so that everybody fits. Another strange phenomena, was people waiting for the little man to turn green before crossing the road, and cars actually stopped at red traffic lights. all of that, is quite alien in many parts of China, Beijing and Shanghai probably being the exception.
So in such an ordered and civilized society like Japan, Harajuku didn't quite fit in. It is not polite to eat in public like on the train or on the street. It is very important not to do anything where you are seen to 'lose face'. For the girls and boys who frequent Harajuku, they are escaping from the pressures their parents and society have placed on them. So much pressure is put on these teenagers at school to achieve, that taking a Sunday out to non-conform relieves a little of that pressure.
School is not an easy place for teenagers, as bullying is rife and a huge problem. Teenage suicide and pleasure cutting incidents are higher than they should be. Many girls sell themselves to old men for money to buy their Cosplay outfits, so that they don't have to ask their parents for the money. Japan's teenagers are definitely troubled. More incidences of violent behavior by teenagers are being reported in the newspapers. Many parents, not wanting to lose face, are sending their troubled children overseas, to study in English Language Schools or putting them into boarding school.
It is ironic, that the Harajuku Girl sub-culture was started by young girls trying hard to non-conform and now, if you want to conform and be like your friends, you have to practise Cosplay and non-conform in solidarity. So, would that make you a conforming non-conformist, or a non-conforming conformist? That, is the question. Either way, the older generation in Japan are not too happy that Harajuku and its girls are becoming a major tourist attraction.