Japanese fashion in the 90s - PART 2
The 1990s in Japan are remembered as the "lost decade" due to the bursting of the speculative bubble in the late 1980s (here the first part of the study).
What seemed from the beginning the entry into a deep economic crisis was such only in 1997, when the Asian Crisis from Thailand expanded into the Asian basin. Due to a lack of coherence of political choices, it led to high cost of living, unemployment and bank failure. All of this resulted in social changes, with the peak of life expectancy reaching and a drastic drop in births. To counter this profound crisis, as the second world power at that time, it opted for a massive export of technological goods abroad, the production of which reached one of the highest peaks ever.
Two companies distinguished themselves in those years for the very high quality of technological products. The first was Nintendo, already famous in the 80s for the Game Boy, the longest-running console in the history of technology with 13 years of life since its launch.
The second company was Sony. Sony Music in the 90s became the largest and most important major in the world (the other two most important are Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group), but Sony made the real breakthrough with the video game market.
In 1993, after having withdrawn the project for a CD player for the Super Nintendo, Sony transformed it into a console: in 1994 it launched Play Station on the market which gave birth to the greatest console revolution of all time thanks to commercials from strong emotional impact. The audience involved was very large, so much so that it changed the daily family life.
It is estimated that around 40 million units were sold between 1999 and 2000 alone. Video games of the highest quality and variety were made, some of which, especially for the narrative content underlying the plot, are perfectly comparable to literary works. Among the best video games of all time for Play Station are Final Fantasy VII and VIII, Resident Evil, Tekken, Silent Hill, Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid but also Tomb Raider (produced in England) and Crash Bandicoot (produced in the United States ).
Also by virtue of the wildfire expansion of new technologies, cyber fashion always took hold in Harajuku (I'm talking about it here too), represented by pop and futuristic looks with synthetic and artificial fabrics, plastic and metal accessories, exaggerated shoes
The mobile phone became an indispensable device in everyday life, especially for teenagers, and were structured so that they could only be used in Japan (hence the name "Galapagos"), to send emails via the internet and make purchases as if it was an ATM. Linked to the world of Japanese mobile phones there was merchandising consisting of ornaments, stickers and laces (keitai sutorappu) which created a real business.
Between the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 00s, a new literary genre called the cellphone novel, or "mobile novels", composed of about 70-100 words per message, also emerged. The topics covered were mainly related to the problems of adolescence, romantic and sexual relationships, pregnancies. The movie My Rainy Days is inspired by one of these novels. In relation to these issues and the use of mobile phones there is the social problem of the enjo kōsai.
At the same time, a literature that I would define "institutional" continued to emerge, represented by two great authors who had begun to be appreciated as early as the 1980s: Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto. Both represented the watershed between post-war literature (among which authors the great Yukio Mishima stands out) and the transition to internationalization with the novels Tokyo Blues and Kitchen. These were innovative for their ease of consumption and for being the spokesperson for a metropolitan youth.
Murakami stood out for her numerous references to American culture, while Yoshimoto for her minimalist style and for the themes related to shōjo manga (intended for a predominantly female audience).
In fact, it was no coincidence that during the 90s manga and anime were massively spread abroad, constituting a new imaginary in the West. Among the most popular titles: Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon, Slum Dunk, Card Captor Sakura, Lupin III and Neon Genesis Evangelion (true and great emblem of those years).
Manga culture was so rooted in youthful feeling that cosplayers began to appear in the Harajuku district, people who dressed as their favorite characters. It was a phenomenon already in vogue in the 80s but which saw its maximum expression at the end of the 90s also thanks to the numerous comics conventions (Comiket, always besieged by photographers), before the great exploit in the USA and in West in the 00s.
About the numerous social changes and massive technological development, the West said a lot about Japan, especially in a negative way in those years.
The trend of passion for Asia and especially for Japan is something recent and also very far from what was reported by the mass-media apparatus of the time. The idea of a postcard-perfect Rising Sun, where food is what interests most and where everyone is at peace pursuing the Zen ideals of happiness, is truthful especially if you think of the 90s.
The great crisis that bent the Japanese economy, and which many critics have compared to that of 1929 in America, has led to important social problems that have contributed to give a precise image of the Japan of the time: hikikomori (literally "stand aside", "isolate oneself").
It is a Japanese phenomenon that began in the mid-80s and that has had a great increase ten years later, linked to depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and persecution delusions. The hikikomori, with an average age between 19 and 30 and coming from a middle-upper social class, decided to voluntarily isolate themselves from society and the family, living inside a room crammed with objects without even going out to wash and asking for food to be left in front of the door. The life cycle was reversed: the night hours were mainly dedicated to the manga, anime and videogames world while they slept during the day. For the hikikomori there were no human contacts, the only possible relationships were those mediated by the internet.
At the base of this phenomenon, the critics have found the lack of a father figure (extremely widespread problem throughout Japan, caused by work transfers), the excessive maternal protection but above all the enormous social pressure for self-realization and personal success since elementary school.
Since the 2000s this problem has also spread to the USA and Europe.
It is an important theme that in the 90s was also dealt with in anime and manga including, probably first of all, Neon Genesis Evangelion: the protagonist Shinji Ikari embodies the spirit of the youth of that period that suffers significantly from social changes. , the education system, job instability and social pressure; In fact, Shinji has relationship problems, rejects the outside world and does not have a positive parental figure.
Also in those years we speak more and more often of otaku (literally "his house"): it is a Japanese term that indicates a specific subculture born in the 80s that unites obsessively fans of manga, anime and video games.
If in Japan the otaku was viewed negatively because it concerned socially isolated and alienated people, in the West it indicated both people passionate about these issues and everything that derives from Japan, without negative implications (today we would use the term "nerd" ).
The change of vision of otaku also in the West was caused by a news event from the interesting media management.
In 1989 the journalist Akio Nakamori (who had already dealt with the otaku phenomenon in previous years) published an article on the serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki calling him "the otaku killer"; he jumped to the front pages for killing and raping four children, eating body parts.
From that moment the newspapers massively published photos of his room, in which over 6000 videotapes and comics were piled, many of which hentai (in Japanese it generally means "pervert", in the manga and anime it refers to erotic products / pornographic) that covered the windows up to the ceiling.
A real media psychosis was unleashed which led to the profoundly negative view of the otaku, ghettoized in the Akihabara neighborhood and seen as problematic misfits, on a par with the hikikomori.
Tsutomu Miyazaki was also a great fan of extreme horror films: in his collection the police found the first five films of the Guinea Pig splatter series: he would have been inspired by the second film (Flower of Flesh and Blood) for the realization of his atrocious acts. These were extremely realistic products, so much so that in 1991 actor Charlie Sheen asked for an investigation by the FBI to confirm that it was not a real snuff movie (it was not).
This background threw deep moral panic in Japan and consequently in the West, fueling the idea that the Rising Sun was populated by strange and violent people. In a time in which there was no fast and pervasive internet as it is today, a country so distant and different seemed to be diverted.
The reality is that all the production consumed by the otaku, aka underground, has been the test bed for the hugely successful mainstream.
Niche cinema in Japan, in a more generic sense, has made many emblematic films of those years thanks to more or less prominent authors who have been able to represent the changes and problems of the time (among the most important, Takashi Miike) - in in this vein there are many examples of cinema explotation (a cinematographic genre that does not pursue artistic values in a canonical way but stages shocking elements).
One of the niche documentaries that best represented the Japanese youth of the 90s was Hell Bento from 1995, by brothers Anna and Adam Broinowski (sons of Australian diplomats).
The documentary presents the sub-cultures of Tokyo (you can see it here) through the numerous topics covered: sexuality and gender identity (drag queen, HIV, lesbianism), geishas (Hana chan, a geisha who loves punk), drugs (speed shabu), yakuza (complete with an interview with two of them), homeless, the far-right nationalist group Uyoku dantai, the noise and punk music scene (The Jet Boys, Guitar Wolf and Merzbow), as well as the group The 5.6. 7.8'S, also featured in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.
From all this it is clear once again how underground creativity was starting to interest the western media, which from gaijin did not understand how much Japan was already iconoclastic at the time.
If in the early 90s the twenties rejected the oppression of the uniform through street-style and hip hop, in the second half of the decade the new trend was that of gyaru (from gal, "girl"): macro-area or even "spectrum style" within which there are numerous trends that have developed over the years regarding over-represented exaggerations of American adolescents.
These trends represented the girls' non-compliance with the role of women in a society that decided to categorize them as rebels, delinquents and prostitutes.
Shubuya was the landmark of the gyaru, especially the Shibuya 109 shopping center.
Among the reference girls of the time are Tsubasa Masuwaka, Kumiko Funayama, Kaoru Watanabe, Sayoko Ozaki, Rina Sakurai (hence the film Girl's life).
The first trend within the gyaru was that of kogal ("little girl"), the fashion of schoolgirls who wore school uniforms with very short skirts and loose socks. These were girls who were looking for a way to customize their uniform even risking expulsion (in Japanese high schools it was not allowed to add accessories to the uniform).
The term used initially was kogyaru ("high school girl") and was used by bouncers at nightclubs to distinguish minors from adult women. Instead, the girls used the term gyaru, first used in 1972 in a television commercial for jeans. In 1993 the special Za Kogyaru Naito ("The kogal night") presented this style to the mass audience for the first time.
It was a fashion linked to purikura (booths for photo-cards with kawaii special effects) and love hotels, characterized by a language rich in neologisms and liberal expressions related to the sexual sphere. This style was documented by specialist magazines as early as the 1970s and 1980s such as Popteen and Happie Nuts (magazines whose publishers were previously involved in male pornography). In 1995 Egg was founded which became the main reference magazine where photos of girls portrayed on the streets of Shibuya were published. In 1997 it was the turn of the Fruits magazine by Shoichi Aoki, who since then has portrayed youth street-style in hundreds of shots.
Kogal have been criticized for their consumerist, materialistic lifestyle, dedicated only to entertainment, to discos (para para dance) and for this parasitic towards parents. To the criticism they were the specter of the spiritual emptiness of modern Japan.
Some of these girls, not financially subsidized by the families, were associated with the phenomenon of enjo kōsai and child prostitution in exchange for money and fashionable accessories, then often sporting skimpy looks inspired by those of 1994 of the singer Namie Amuro (who for the first time showed tanned skin).
Kogal fashion peaked in 1998, being supplanted by the ganguro style.
The transition from kogal to ganguro was characterized by the appearance of chapatsu (a term that indicates the bleaching or coloring of the hair) to emphasize the tan and clearly rebel against traditional canons. The principle underlying this further evolution of youth sub-cultures is precisely that of finding a stylistic line in profound contrast with the canonical idea of Japanese beauty, inspired by the style of Californian girls. In the second half of the 90s the Baywatch series was broadcast for the first time in Japan, one of the inspirations of the ganguro style.
The lightest and most accessible facet was that of the ganjiro ("white face"), which featured light makeup, colored hair and no tan.
Ganguro ("black face"), on the other hand, had a very dark tan, often bleached dyed hair (shocking pink, orange, silver gray or platinum blonde), black ink as eyeliner, white concealer as eyeshadow, powder and pearly lipstick, false eyelashes, stickers applied to the face, kitsch and skimpy clothes, Hawaiian bracelets and necklaces.
One of the very first ganguro was made famous by Egg magazine with the nickname Buriteri (dark soy sauce used for teriyaki): thanks to the fame given by the magazine, she worked as a model and advertised for a solarium. Due to social pressure she had to retire - she now lives a normal life and has become a mother.
The third declination of the ganguro is the extreme style of the manba or yamanba, characterized by an even darker tan, pastel eyeshadows, white lipstick, stickers and glitter on the eyes, colored contact lenses, fluorescent dresses and Disney plush as accessories.
Of this trend there was also the male equivalent, sentaagai ("boy from the central street"), as a reference to the shopping street near Shibuya where they used to shop.