Think Piece: Is Harajuku Dead?
Everyday within our worldwide community there are debates and discussions about Japanese street fashion and everything that comes with it. We want to discuss the happenings of the community on The Comm so every month there’ll be a topic of discussion where you can have your say! The first is one that has sparked A LOT of conversation in the past year and that is the question: is Harajuku dead? I actually wrote a 10,000 word dissertation on this but I’ll spare you the effort and give you a condensed summary, so here are my thoughts.
As I’m sure many of you know, Harajuku as a hub of fashion first came to global attention in the late 90s with the publication of street fashion magazines such as FRUiTS and youth magazines such as KERA, CUTiE and Zipper. The colourful, bold, extreme looks featured on those pages became known as “Harajuku fashion” and people latched onto these looks that were both iconic and perceived as “uniquely Japanese”. Fast forward 20 years and these same looks are still the barometer of “How Harajuku Are You??” on a scale of Decora to Gothic Lolita. The truth of the matter is, as with all fashion, trends change and the styles that were once popular on the streets of the small Tokyo neighbourhood are not what current trendsetters are wearing. Of course, that’s not to say that people have stopped wearing Lolita or Fairy Kei or Decora fashion—brands will always have long time, loyal fans. But if you ask a high school student about 6%DOKIDOKI or Spank! they will tilt their head in confusion.
Recently, with the ceasing of publication of FRUiTS, KERA and Zipper along with Shoichi Aoki’s misquotation of “there are no cool kids to photograph” which prompted English language articles citing the death of Harajuku, of course there was some panic amongst those who idolise Harajuku as an iconic fashion haven. But this quote needs a bit of context. One article was used as a source and was then misquoted by thousands of others. He did indeed say that the area was lacking people to photograph, but this is not due to a revert to mainstream fashion—he meant that people simply do not visit the area as much anymore. They would rather visit other fashionable areas such as Kōenji and Shimokitazawa which are not flooded with aggressive tourists. Additionally, with the rise of social media, people are able to get their own following by uploading their own photos to Twitter and Instagram, and do not have to hang around Harajuku in the hopes of getting noticed.
Meanwhile, there’s been a scramble to find the “next Harajuku style” prompting articles on Menhera, Yumekawaii and Yamikawaii styles as the “latest trend in Harajuku”. My own feelings can be summarised by this caption posted by Haruka Kado, a student at Bunka Fashion College and member of FANATIC, on instagram:
“Why are there people who like to put you into categories? Harajuku-kei, whatever-kei… I hate that street fashion is split into genres like this! What I hate even more are people who don’t really understand Harajuku and shoot their mouths off, deciding what Harajuku is even though they don’t know anything about it! It’s not like I have been in Harajuku since time began. It’s not even like I’ll be there forever. I’m not planning on taking over the place!
The reality is that right now in Harajuku, there are more and more tourists, more and more teenagers who live to take pictures that they can post on social media. All the companies are pumping money into Harajuku, trying to get the attention of these people. They mass produce goods so that they can sell them for cheap.
The reality is that there are an increasing number of fast fashion retailers alongside a boom of simpler, minimalist fashion shops. Personally, I think it’s sad—but if you look at it, you understand. The saddest thing is how people can see this happening and think that that’s “Harajuku”. There are so many fun and interesting things, so many cool people and cool fashion styles in Harajuku. And it’s not like I know it all. I am constantly learning too, but it’s sad that there are a lot of people who are half-hearted about fashion even though they really love it. Even though it’s so much more fun and cool when you’re taking the things you like to extremes, in the end, it’s embarrassing and uncool trying so hard to please the crowd. I may be biased but… that’s what I think.
It would be great if everyone wore the clothes that they love, the clothes that represented their own distinctive and original fashion point of view. With social media, they can share their fashion with others! I think it would be great if we were all allowed to be originals. To do that, we need to see a lot, feel a lot and experience a lot. I think it’s essential that we use the knowledge and passion we gain from these experiences! Because we LOVE fashion!”
This change in trends does not mean that we must all change our styles to match current popular styles. For most of us outside of Japan, Japanese street fashion was introduced to us via Harajuku and the sub-styles that popularised the area. That’s what grabbed our attention, and if you want to stay with that fashion, fine!—and if you want to wear a newer style, sure!! Fashion is all about an expression of creativity and self: it’s a selfish art. So in the end, it’s your choice.
So what do you think? Is Harajuku dead?