I haven’t written anything about Japanese pop culture yet because it can be a scary, scary place. The pink, fluffy rabbit hole of cuteness goes very deep, and many people who go down, never come back. I do look over the edge however, and I admit that I have a Hello Kitty phone cover and I enjoy wearing bows in my hair.
In Tokyo we visited two of the most important spots for experiencing kawaii culture; Harajuku and Akihabara. Walking down Takeshita Dori, the main fashion street in Harajuku, is a bit of an ordeal as it is very narrow, filled with people, both young Japanese girls and tourists, and the shop wares spill out on to the street, while the shop assistants shout welcomes at the passersby. It’s best just to stick to the current and take in the atmosphere as you shuffle along, as most of the shops here can actually be found elsewhere, in less crazy locations. It’s a good place for a crepe though, if you don’t mind the queues.
Akihabara is also known as ‘electric town’, for its many electronics shops, and it’s also the centre of otaku, or ‘geek’ culture. There are many manga and anime shops, maid cafes, manga cafes and game centres. Its most important export is probably the girlband AKB48, which takes the worst things about girl bands and multiplies them (literally!) by ten. They are so called because the AKB stands for Akihabara, where they perform daily, and 48 because there were originally 48 members. I say originally because there are now 88 members of the group, plus reserves. The idea behind having such a large number is so that different subgroups can perform live each day, while others can perform on television or do other promotional work for the group. The members’ ages range from 13 to over 20, and their image is an uncomfortable mix of childish sexuality. The group is a commodity that can be expanded by auditions, reduced by graduations, sold as events and merchandise, and even exported to create JKT48 in Jakarta and TPE48 in Taipei.
Jenny and I popped into a Taito game centre to try to catch a pokemon in a claw machine and to take our picture in the photobooths there. We didn’t catch any pokemon, but we did get some great purikura (print club) pictures. Japan takes photobooths to a whole new level. These booths are often located in shopping centres or other places that are convenient for girls or couples to create a memento of that day. In some places they have costume rentals and makeup and hair products to use. You stand in the booth and strike several cute poses as the camera takes the picture. Through some kind of magic, the camera makes your skin whiter, your hair lighter and your eyes bigger. But the real fun happens in the photoshop area. At the side of the booth is a screen which has a multitude of options for editing the photos. You can choose the format and background of the pictures, you can write messages and add pictures, and you can adjust your appearance further with the addition of accessories, makeup and eyelashes.
On to the best representative of pop culture – Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. Irish readers will recognise the above song and general style from the mobile network 48’s advert. I like Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. While I’m sure that extended listening would cause your ears to bleed syrup, the songs are ridiculously catchy and the visuals are amazingly surreal. It just so happened that while we were in Tokyo, there was a pop-up exhibition held in Roppongi, showcasing her costumes. They were fabulous (and tiny) and some of them had cut-out faces so that you could ‘try on’ the costumes.
I’ll leave you with this.