February 7, 2020

Tokyo has never been a city to shy away from the eccentric and bizarre. Even in the years of state-imposed isolation, Tokyo was a Mecca of uniqueness and innovation, an oasis in a sea of the ordinary. In the years following Japan’s opening to the Western world, Tokyo spearheaded the country’s movement to modernity and twentieth life. During Japan’s Allied occupation, Tokyo appropriated the culture of her occupiers and turned it into something quintessentially Japanese. It would make sense that the city’s fashion sense follows suit.

One of the defining characteristics of Japanese fashion in general is the culture of kawaii (cuteness). Traditional Japanese ideals are now in an era where they are being transmitted from times gone by to an era of juxtaposition with modern life. One of the most visible forms of this blending can be found in Tokyo’s vibrant fashion world. Just walking into the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo is like opening a door from normality into a toy fantasyland rife with doll-like passersby in extravagant getups and shops that look straight out of a manga comic book. But it’s not just rainbow hair and cosplay outfits that are forming this new generation of social deviants. In recent years, Tokyo has assumed the role of a safe haven for kids across the nation that never quite blended into the framework of this ancient society. The LGBTQ+ peoples, eccentrics, and artists flee villages trapped in a previous century and depart to Tokyo, in search of a place where they are not just tolerated, but celebrated.

At the forefront of this world stands the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo, the fashion paradise now frequented by every teenager in the city in search of something more than the monotony of their daily lives. The demographics of the Harajuku neighborhood are comprised of Japan’s most resented humans, outliers in a society where conformity is the ultimate ideal. The response of the Harajuku residents to society’s decision to exclude them was to be so loud they couldn’t be ignored, and fashion was the most powerful tool to execute this. Donning cartoon-like getups, assuming shocks of multicolored hair, and religiously applying rainbow eyeshadow all stated this generation’s determination to not be pushed aside.

Though Japan is a far more accepting country than it was thirty years ago, those in the Harajuku scene, particularly those who suffer from mental illness, are still hard-pressed to find a space to express vulnerability and dark emotions; this is where Yami Kawaii comes in. Yami Kawaii, which in literal translation reads as adorable darkness, has been a recent trend sweeping the streets of Tokyo. The pastel outfits are combined with imagery concerning suicide and mental self-harm, a radical statement in a society where expressions of mental illness is deemed a cardinal sin. The Harajuku culture lays testament to the fact that fashion is so much deeper than what meets the eye — it can quite literally save lives.

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