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Harajuku Fashion: A Medley of Cultures

Edited by: Lavya Joshi


Disclaimer: The opinions presented in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus at Manipal.


TW: Mentions of suicide and self-harm



In contemporary times, the concept of clothing has changed; it has shifted from being comfortable to accommodating various beauty standards to determining one’s gender and background. These practices were uncomfortable and non-inclusive. Tracing this historical trajectory, we come across a question- Why can’t we feel comfortable and beautiful in our body?

Harajuku style is a mix of substyles such as Gyaru, cutesy fairy kei, visual kei, Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita, cosplay, Decora, and punk rock clothing. It maintains the balance between feeling comfortable and looking aesthetic in one’s body. This style is named after Harajuku station in Tokyo. Traditional Japanese garments like Kimono and wooden sandals, vintage, and second-hand clothes would all be mixed. It is not limited to clothes; it also includes various accessories, hairdos, and colourful eye contacts.

Harajuku rose during the postwar Allied occupation of Japan when the American and the Japanese soldiers lived in the same area. The western products sold then caught the youngsters’ attention, who then started to combine them with their traditional clothes. Initially, the local youngsters used to dress in unique, colourful and customised self-made dresses. In the early 1990s, many used this style to show their discontent and dissatisfaction with society. 

Several garments in Harajuku Fashion are inspired by Victorian style, Kodona or even ‘boy style’—a trendy style in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Harajuku. ‘Boy style’ includes cropped pants and large lace cuffs, which the princes at the time wore. Harajuku fashion has also been influenced by modern western style. Gyaru, which started to become popular in the 1990s, includes fake tan, which is not common in Japan, fake eyelashes, and bold clothes. Fairytales and punk culture also influence these.

Yami Kawaii is a Harajuku style; Yami is the Japanese word for depressed, and Kawaii for cute. This style is somewhat similar to Yume Kawaii, but it has letters like “Yami”, which means “kill me”, or “I want to die”. Yami Kawaii includes accessories like a fake gun, bandages, gas masks, syringes, pills etc. Through this, awareness is spread about depression and other mental illnesses, while for some, this remains a coping mechanism.

Ezaki, a Japanese illustrator/manga writer, created the Yami Kawaii genre of Kawaii. A representative of his work is Menhera Chan, a character whose theme is mental health. Menhera is a Japanese slang term that refers to a person who has mental health issues. However, due to social stigma regarding mental health issues, this term at times is used negatively. In general, it is perceived that there could be nothing wrong with their health if a person looks nice. Thus, Kawaii targets this issue by depicting characters that might look cute but have poor health. They usually have an excessive amount of blush. The outfits typically consist of a dress or an oversized hoodie, short bottom, seifuku collar, fishnet tights and medical accessories (predicting suicidal tendencies).  

The ‘ideal body type’ for men is to be tall and muscular, whereas it would be an hourglass figure with low body fat for women. What about those who do not fall into this spectrum? Are they not allowed to wear fancy clothes? These absurd and almost unachievable “standards” were created by society, making us believe that only people who have a specific body type are entitled to looking good. 

Fashion is a distinctive, signature look that is different for different people. Harajuku fashion is one such style in which the garments are customised according to their choice and type, making it very inclusive. It has always been about expressing yourself through fashion. It is not a dress code; it has no rules and no restriction based on gender. It is very inclusive of people who are non-binary, agender, and gender fluid. It provides a safe space and various options for people to dress up as their affirming gender. Its customisation makes it easier for people, as many fashion brands today remain non-inclusive. 

Recently, awareness about Harajuku Fashion and the issues it represents gained centre stage in mainstream media. A lot of celebrities and influencers are seen donning this style. Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Lady Gaga are said to be fans of DOG, a fashion shop in Harajuku. Noor, an international British Muslim blogger, was known to have merged Harajuku fashion and the traditional Hijab. 

Over the past few years, Harajuku fashion and its sub-sects have moved from being purely Japanese to global. The key must be to take inspirations from this and incorporate it. There’s nothing wrong with liking and admiring other cultures as long as we respect its cause and history and understand that it is more than just an outfit for some. 

Harajuku Fashion is a significant breakthrough in the fashion industry. It is about being creative and having fun, combining different garments like skirts made for women and men’s trousers. Harajuku style breaks the societal norms and addresses issues that many people do not talk about or is often unnoticed in a fun and creative way. Thus, making everyone irrespective of their gender and body type, feel included.

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