Sebastian Masuda: Godfather of Kawaii
As the mastermind behind 6%DOKIDOKI and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s music video for “PONPONPON”, Sebastian Masuda needs no introduction. From humble beginnings in Harajuku, Sebastian has travelled the world bringing kawaii culture to the masses. But Harajuku has greatly evolved since 6%DOKIDOKI first opened their doors in 1995. As Sebastian’s boundless creative vision and artistry continue to echo worldwide—what role will he and 6%DOKIDOKI play in the future of kawaii culture and Harajuku?
Tell us a bit about how you created 6%DOKIDOKI.
I started 6%DOKIDOKI because I wanted to work in Harajuku. At first, 6% was a shop where I could showcase and sell me and my friends’ artwork. But, I didn’t get any customers after I’d set up the shop, so I started selling vintage clothes and toys. I began by stocking the shop with all sorts of things that I liked.
The idea of a shop girl or shop boy is synonymous with 6%DOKIDOKI. What was the motivation behind putting the shop staff centre stage?
The concept of shop girls and shop boys started in 2005. I think it came about because of a clothing retailer called Biba in London. The staff was made up of photographers, models etc., so I thought it would be great to have artists and creatives working as shop girls and shop boys at 6%. I think it was the first time that anyone had worked that way in Japan, because there’d been nothing like that before.
Image courtesy of Tokyo Fashion.
Many people credit 6%DOKIDOKI for the popularisation of Decora fashion. What part do you think your brand played in the creation of the style?
6%DOKIDOKI opened in the backstreets of Harajuku in the 1990s, so all the younger generations used to come to the shop. It wasn’t a clothing store at the time, but we had been stocking a lot of things like plastic toys and interior accessories and they were gradually incorporated in fashion. At that time, there was a TV personality called Tomoe Shinohara who used to layer plastic toys and interior accessories for her TV appearances. People all over Japan saw Tomoe’s style and were heavily influenced by her, and that had a big impact.
You can’t even talk about kawaii fashion without talking about Sebastian Masuda and 6%DOKIDOKI! Why do you think your brand has resonated so much with international audiences?
I’ve thought about that question myself and I think the main reason is that there’s no “right way”. For example, Cosplay has a right and a wrong way of dressing like a character, and it’s the same with Lolita. But there’s no “right way” in kawaii fashion or Decora. You pile on the things you like, and the more you do it, the more you like it—that is the “right way”. If there were 10,000 people in a room, there would be 10,000 different ways of putting a look together. That is the concept that has spread all over the world.
The other thing is that it’s colourful. Wearing colour is not universal, but it is something unique to Japan. When you go to London and other cities in Europe, it’s a brown world full of grey buildings made of stone. I think wearing colour is unique to Japan because there aren’t a lot of colourful things in the world.
What are your thoughts on the influence of social media on kawaii culture?
Before the advent of social media like YouTube, I used to go around the world doing fashion shows and workshops with the shop girls. Those videos were uploaded onto YouTube and people could watch them even if they couldn’t attend. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “PonPonPon” video played a huge role in that, and social media created a place for people to talk about fashion with other people as a result. I think that’s how social media has gradually influenced kawaii culture.
You’ve done world tours to connect with Harajuku fashion enthusiasts but now you have moved to online events because of the pandemic. Why is it important to you to connect to a global audience?
Kawaii is more like a philosophy, so I think it’s more important to think about it like during this Pandemic during which no one can dress up and we have more time to think. So we’re having meetings with a lot of different countries to discuss how we can spread kawaii around the world. If we think of kawaii as a philosophy, we can become happier and more peaceful.
Image courtesy of Sebastian Masuda.
How has Harajuku, particularly the backstreets of Harajuku evolved, since you founded the flagship 6%DOKIDOKI shop?
After the hokoten [pedestrianised streets] disappeared in 1998, Harajuku was no longer a place but a concept and something that could be created all over the world. Harajuku, the place, became more of a tourist attraction as we approached the Olympics, but the Olympics have been cancelled.
I predicted early on that Harajuku would reach its peak before the Olympics and then decline. Rent would be cheaper, creating a movement in which young people could rent the shops or open their own little shops in the backstreets. It’s been accelerated by COVID-19, so I think the young generation has a chance now. I want younger creatives to challenge themselves.
Tell us about your first encounter with Harajuku street fashion.
When I was a teenager, I lived in Matsudo in Chiba prefecture. It was only 30-40 mins away from Harajuku, so I used to hang out there when I was a teenager because I didn’t get on with the local kids. In Harajuku I’d hang out with people who had similar ideas and interests. They had the hokoten back then so you could see performance troops like Takenoko-zoku, and there was a huge boom in live band performances, and pop-up live shows. That’s when I first encountered Harajuku street fashion, that’s what I remember.
What are your thoughts on Harajuku street fashion today?
I don’t think there’s much individuality, I don’t think there’s much originality. There are a lot of hip-hop influences these days but I’d like to see more originality. I think it’s good to be influenced by all kinds of things when you’re young, but I want people to make their own original creations from that. I feel like Harajuku is less original than it was before. In the past, you couldn’t buy clothes like that, so people would remake things or come up with their own ideas, but now people just wear what they see on the internet, and I feel that there’s a lack of ingenuity and creativity.
What lessons can we learn from the kawaii movement?
I think people get into it for superficial reasons at first. They want to wear a particular style of kawaii fashion, or a particular style of make-up, or something like that. And that’s fine. But when I think about how I felt when I fell in love with it, it was because I was rebelling against someone, or because I wanted to make someone happy.
I think the movement is very important, and I hope that the next generation will continue to do the same when I pass the baton on to them. I want them to enjoy fashion more, organise fashion shows, create communities, and do new, different things, but I also want them to maintain the spirit, the deepest part. I think that’s the most fundamental part of the kawaii movement.
Introduction and questions by Vania, interview translated by Anna.
Featured image courtesy of My Modern Met.