Tokyo Dreaming: Harajuku

10Mar06

Perhaps I’m just five years too late, or perhaps the Harajuku that I always imagined simply never really was there, but I found myself disappointed with Harajuku’s trendy Takeshita St. I was hoping to find the kind of exuberant urban street culture and radical self-fashioning that you can find in urban youth magazines such as Fruits; but while I saw plenty of snazzy dressers wearing wonderful and violent layers of contradiction and compressed semiotic refusal, the place as a whole had the feel of a shopping mall rather than the feel of a place where something fresh is experiencing its new life. I suppose the tip-off should have been the (horrid and offensive) Gwen Stefani appropriation of Harajuku street fashion — as soon as it’s safe enough, even in falsified and appropriated form, for top 40 video airplay, then it’s all already over. Don’t get me wrong — I love Harajuku street fashion, but somehow there doesn’t actually seem to be any street there. There are stores that sell all the accessories, like Nudy Boy, which as far as I can tell is the Hot Topic of Japan, but somehow these seem like stores that are catering to young people who already know what to buy, rather than young people who are in the process of inventive, nomadic, ludic self-production from within the cracks of an urban space that constantly demands refashioning. In fact, it’s possible that Osaka’s America Mura may be a more ‘authentic’ expression of Japanese youth culture since there’s no sense of the gaze of the international camera eye there. Also, since America Mura’s property values are so far below anything to be found in Harajuku, you can still find highly personalized clothing stores, record stores, etc. that haven’t been subjected to the hairline parsing of the market survey. Harajuku feels a bit like Haight Street to me, or parts of Greenwich Village in the 80s — it’s a youth culture theme park in which you find precisely what you would expect to find, and nothing more. Except, that is, for the most favoritely named store ever — MIGHTY SOXER with Beautiful Smiling Face.

While composing this entry I found a good post about Stefani’s Harajuku appropriations, though unfortunately it no longer seems to be around. Further investigation, however, led me to this wonderful Moleskine notebook project.  Click here to see more work by Yuki.

A couple of photographers that I met on Takeshita St. They had gotten their first video commission and were in the process of taking still photos that will later be incorporated into a video for a Romanian rock band.

Hey — check out all these hip, chic, cheapy sunglasses for sale! And then there’s the old guy in the back, bored out of his mind while the youth parade passes by.

There are about fifty million crêpe shops on Takeshita street, and if it’s not crêpes it’s some other kind of sweet that’s being proffered. This sweet and lacy food is the embodiment of the Harajuku youth culture that I saw on Takeshita street — it may look like punk rock on the outside, but on the inside it’s all sugar and spice and everything nice, and all the sticky pleasures of consumption too.

The end of the busiest section of Takeshita St. gives out here where youth culture “boutiques” are replaced by the more familiar signs of Tokyo consumer culture.



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