Saturday, 31 August 2013

WSJ Scene Asia, school girls!

My latest blog for WSJ on kawaii culture. Maybe one more on Harajuku. I think Japan is one of the only, if not the only country where being a school girl is an image and a kind of status. Most people consider uniforms to be restrictive or oppressive but girls buy cute fashion uniforms at conomi to wear on weekends.

and... I remember how much people used to complain about how boring the traditional fashion week is in Tokyo, compared to the other fashion capitals of the world, esp as Issey Miyake, Comme de Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto don't even show their collection there. Even if clothes, fashion is not your thing, Tokyo Girls Collection is an overwhelming glimpse into school girl culture and most importantly anyone can go (not just press and buyers).

 High school. For many girls, it represents a time of awkwardness and cringe-worthy crushes. In Japan, however, schoolgirls are seen as style mavens. A symbol of youthful freedom, they are a widely exalted as fashion and pop-cultural icons, featuring in manga such as “InuYasha,” anime like “Sailor Moon” and Hollywood movies such as “Kill Bill.” But they’re not just an object of fascination. They also have tremendous power as consumers.

Thanks largely to their parents, they often wield a decent disposable income, and they have an uncanny ability to instigate new trends. So far, they have been responsible for cell-phone charms, loose socks, Pikachu onesies (as street wear, no less), purikura photo booths, Cheki instant cameras and a plethora of kawaii character goods, to name just a few. In fact, even back in the Taisho era (1912-1926), it was schoolgirls who were the first consumers of kawaii items such as prints, cards and umbrellas adorned with designer Takehisa Yumeji’s feminine illustrations.

While researching my book on Japan’s kawaii culture, I saw hordes of immaculately made-up schoolgirls on the streets of Harajuku or Shibuya’s 109 department store after school. Toyoko Yokoyama, vice president of Conomi, a Harajuku-based brand that makes “fashion school uniforms” for girls to wear on the weekends, told me that “Japanese schoolgirls are iconic because they are good at expressing themselves. They know the brand power of being a schoolgirl.” In fact, one of Conomi’s corporate advisers is Shizuka Fujioka, who travelled to places like Thailand as a “kawaii ambassador.” Dressed in Conomi’s preppy outfits, she spread the gospel of Japanese cute culture as part of a soft-power diplomacy project by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2009.
Nowhere is the consumer power of young Japanese girls more visible than at the biannual Tokyo Girls Collection show, the biggest fashion event in Tokyo, which takes place this Saturday. It counts more than 60,000 attendees a year, who pay between 5,500 Japanese yen ($56) to 15,000 yen (around $150) per entrance ticket. On this weekend’s lineup are catwalk shows, entertainment by all-female pop group HKT48, comedians, a Miss TGC beauty contest, and a stage by fashion director (and former Lady Gaga stylist) Nicola Formichetti.

The carnival-esque atmosphere is amplified by the frenzied enthusiasm of a squealing teen audience. It’s in stark opposition to the traditional Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Tokyo, which is largely attended by po-faced buyers and press. Most of the brands at Tokyo Girls Collection are casual labels like the hyper-girly Cecil McBee and Jouetie. Rather than showcasing next season’s designs, the brands allow the audience to buy the clothing shown on the runway in real time. The girls make their purchases on their cell phones via the event’s website, which has over half a million subscribers and 2 million unique visitors per month, according to organizers. The purchased items arrive on the girls’ doorstep the following day.

Many of the 80-plus models and celebrities at this season’s show are half-Asian, such as Japanese-Polish singer and actress Anna Tsuchiya, and Bengali-Japanese-Russian model Rola. Instead of the intimidating fashion models that strut the catwalk at orthodox fashion events, the look at Tokyo Girls Collection is decidedly kawaii – many of the models are no taller than 165 centimeters, and step onto the runway dressed as cheerleaders, carrying giant lollipops or sporting Minnie Mouse-size ribbons in their hair. It is a loud, extravagant six-hour affair that can frankly be overwhelming. But it can’t be beat for a glimpse into Japan’s schoolgirl culture, in all its bedazzled glory.

Manami Okazaki writes about the more colorful aspects of Japanese contemporary culture. She is the author of five books on Japanese pop culture, including most recently, “Kawaii, the culture of Cute” (Prestel UK).

Hakkunsou in Tsuchiyu

Just saw all over the Jp press that an old ryokan in Fukushima was burnt to the ground. Had a closer look and realised it was one of the places we stayed in for a few days while shooting in Tsuchiyu onsen (kokeshi town) The proprietress whom I interviewed is missing. I hope she is ok, so so sad news. Such as shame, especially as it survived the earthquake in one piece. Built in 1917 it was perched on the side of a mountain, and truthfully a total hassle to get to -- even taxis were reluctant. The building was a haphazard mix of architecture, with maybe the wonkiest stairs I have ever seen going to several riverside baths -- however it was one of the best place we stayed in the whole trip. Really old school atmosphere.

Oh and the rice was incredible.

 Here are some pix. (pix: Hakkunsou, Kokeshi artisan Watanabe and Tsuchiyu onsen scenery)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Fukushima Peaches

This is so typically Tohoku, the people are just SO incredible.

For the book on kokeshi culture, Kokeshi from Tohoku with Love,  I interviewed the owners of Horieya ryokan, in a historic onsen town called Iizaka. The ryokan itself was built in Meiji15 (1882) and has barely changed -- great atmosphere and one of the best onsen baths I have ever been in. The whole town has a retro atmosphere which is quite unique. The entire area is surrounded by mountains and farms, with  beautiful river meandering through the town, but area used to be a night playground in the showa era, when it was absolutely booming and remnants of that culture are still visible. We were shooting a fighting festival, which was fierce and exhilarating.

I sent them a book and they sent a box of peaches (Fukushima's pride) back.
If you have been watching the news, Fukushima is really struggling at the moment, so I found this particularly heartwarming, that they would have enough space in their heart to think of some wandering journalist that took their time.   In fact the people from Tohoku have been the most appreciative people I have ever met, sending letters of thanks and kokeshi dolls. This is not because it is me per se, it is because the people are so beautiful and gracious, even under adversity.

I think recently a lot of the guests are people involved with NGOS and whatnot. I really recommend it if you are working in the region. Horieya Ryokan. There are in-house shamisen performances, the hotspring bath is spot on, and of course, the peaches are amazing. <33333

thank you amazing people of Tohoku, my thoughts are with you  xxxxxx


At the festival (someone lost a finger! -- ok so that isn't very kawaii)

FUKUSHIMA fighitng festival

Thursday, 8 August 2013

WSJ Live

Went to meet Wall Street Journal journo Eric Bellman at the Dow Jones bldg in HK to shoot this!
So nervous!! And the turn around is so quick, really amazed!

thanks so much Eric and WSJ, I really, really appreciate it! m(_  _)m

Tomorrow I'm home in Japan. YAY!!! It has been a couple of months now, so excited!

Starting research for a new book in downtown Tokyo,
Comiket, clambering up Mt Fuji, beaches, the new Miyazaki Hayao film, sushi, mum's cooking, sento baths, hopefully pick up some more kokeshi <3 <3 <3

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

tokidoki VS Karl Lagerfeld

Been overseas and seemingly can't get away from J kawaii -- even at the Gottfried Helnwein show at the Albertina (!)Over the past few years, Hello Kitty, Japan's reigning princess of kawaii has gone collab crazy with overseas brands (Stussy, Vans, Louboutins, Swarovski, DC COmics, Laduree, Zippo, Dodgers (baseball doll),  Crabtree and Evelyn, Neivz, Forever21, Liberty of London to name a few). It was LA based, Italian designer Simone Legno tokidoki that took fashion's biggest collab with Karl Lagerfeld recently though. Probably the biggest kawaii design house overseas, even though it is kawaii, most people can tell that someone who wasn't Japanese does the designs (composition, lines, "streetiness" etc.) tokidoki is also influential on local Japanese designers like bukkoro.

(scroll down for the youtube vid), it's really well done! <333 Hong Kong harbour

thank you Simone xxxx

Wall Street Journal's Scene Asia

Karl Lagerfeld — the 77-year-old style icon and designer — is bringing cute to haute couture by being reborn as a cuddly character.
Mr. Lagerfeld has long been one of fashion’s most recognizable luminaries thanks to his white ponytail, black sunglasses and gloves. He has now commissioned design firm tokidoki to create a Japanese manga or comic-book version of himself, which has been used to make Lagerfeld-character clothing, accessories and even a limited-edition doll.
Simone Legno of Los Angeles, who designed the Lagerfeld character, is one of the biggest non-Japanese champions of kawaii.
Kawaii is a Japanese term that roughly translates as “cute” and is traditionally used to describe the adorable qualities of kids, baby animals or anything else that is small. Even though there are many uses of the term kawaii, it is usually synonymous with beautiful, lovable, small, comforting, cool, vulnerable and funny. It is also a global art and fashion movement.
If Hello Kitty’s company Sanrio Co.i s the reigning ruler of Japanese kawaii, tokidoki is its overseas counterpart. The firm has created a universe of colorful and cute characters previously only found in Japanese design.
Tokidoki’s collaboration with Mr. Lagerfeld is fun and adorable. The printed T-shirts, jeans, scarves and tote bags are embellished with Mr. Legno’s manga rendition of a stern-faced Lagerfeld and his cat Choupette. The scarf print is brimming with tokidoki’s trademark unicorns, stars and smiling balloons.
“I wanted to communicate that Karl Lagerfeld is a visionary, a dreamer and a very open-minded personality,” said Mr. Legno. “The kawaii Karl is very serious, passionate … but with a romantic and sweet artistic heart.”
This collection, which is available exclusively at the Karl Lagerfeld concept stores in Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris and on-line fashion shop Net-a-Porter is in fact one of many collaborations between tokidoki and Mr. Lagerfeld since 2009.
While Mr. Legno is influenced by Japanese manga, Edo-era woodblock print art and contemporary artists such as Yoshitomo Nara and Aya Takano, his work is also infused with inspiration from his Italian background as well as street culture in Los Angeles. His work is popular in Japan and even inspires some Japanese character designers.
While researching, my book, “Kawaii!: Japan’s Culture of Cute,” I found out that the origins of the kawaii culture are connected to Japan’s interaction with Western sensibilities. Taisho-era illustrator Takehisa Yumeji showed he was being influenced by European art when he used motifs such as strawberries and mushrooms in his art. Macoto Takahashi — who pioneered the sparkly, doe-eyed look that is common in manga today — depicted European scenes in his art, often using big-eyed blonde girls standing in front of castles. Even Tokyo’s Mecca for kawaii fashion, Harajuku, has had some Western influence. It was once the home to American GIs, making it one of the first places for Japanese youth to witness the culture of the West.
Now, unexpectedly, kawaii culture seems to have come full circle. The Japan Expo in Paris, which I just attended, was packed with Parisian “cosplayers” (costume-play enthusiasts), showing their love of Japanese manga culture. Interestingly, some their costume evolved from how some Japanese manga titles represented French high society before the revolution.
Art that cuts across cultures, boundaries and time periods is an apt way to represent Mr. Lagerfeld, said Mr. Legno.
“Kawaii culture is something that globally became part of everyday life and is a very interesting side of pop culture,” he said. “Someone as creative and sensitive as Karl Lagerfeld never (become) fascinated by the energy of kawaii culture and not play with it through tokidoki.”
And how does Mr. Lagerfeld feel about his manga-ized image?
“I am very flattered that I have become a ‘tokidoki,’ ” he said in a tokidoki news release. “I always loved them and I am very happy to be one of them.”
Manami Okazaki writes about the more colorful aspects of Japanese contemporary culture. She is the author of five books on Japanese pop culture, including most recently, “Kawaii!: Japan’s Culture of Cute” (Prestel UK).