From wearing wild colors of yellow and green combined, to the wearing of cute pink and peaches for an outfit, the different fashion subcultures of Japan are known for these. Living a life where the use of colors are highly experimental, it is also very unusual from someone who has an eye for the usual boring casual attires of the modern.
But while there are ones who would let these enthusiasts be, there are also a lot who enjoys the experimental way of dressing up by these people and it makes them wonder what type of way of dressing up is this? Now, this is where it gets complicated as people would always get confused as to which term is appropriate, Harajuku or Kawaii. Which terms are used for the different styles and who are they to be distinguished from one another?
Well, here is our little guide to give you some hints to answer those questions.
Photo from Matcha JP
The Harajuku fashion culture stems from the origin of the place itself - what Harajuku really is. Harajuku emerged in the postwar era and when Japan was establishing its economy after the ruins of war. Harajuku years later became a melting pot of different cultures mixed with not only the Eastern culture, but also of the Western culture considering that American soldiers were still wandering on their land. Harajuku has become the spot for many people to go to because of the number of different stalls and businesses that are available for everyone to go-to there. The streets of Harajuku are also popular as a shopping district for the youth as young people enjoy going to Harajuku due to the different varieties of business that are available for them when they go there. Being in their youthful spirits, of course when they are welcomed with a different culture that they know nothing about, they are bound to get curious. May it be in the form of food, mannerisms, or clothing, the Japanese youth were curious to know all these different cultures that were presented to them all at once. This is also one of the reasons as to why the different Harajuku fashion substyles are often taken and/or inspired from the Western influences. Due to the effects of war and the manner that they were introduced to their culture, they can’t help but get attracted to the novelty of the liberated way of expression even in the form of fashion and clothing wear.
Later years and the youth started to integrate some of these liberated ways of expression in hopes of being able to express themselves in the form of fashion and thus where the different sub styles of the Harajuku fashion styles started. Although, keep in note that not all of the Harajuku substyles are only limited to the pop culture ones, there are also the traditional ones such as the use of Kimonos.
For the Kawaii on the other hand, the kawaii emerged in the late 1960 during this specific revolution that led a lot of university students to refrain themselves from properly attending their classes and instead stayed in their homes and read a lot of children comic books, or better known as manga.
The cute culture emerged at this time during the infamous student protests that started for many political-related and economical-related reasons. Eventually, these protests and revolutionary acts of the students were able to bore fruit and led to the consumer-centered society that is also what Japan is known for - merchandising-centered.
Pretty much sure you have heard of Hello Kitty before, and yes she is known as the queen of the Kawaii aesthetic herself. Who can blame it? After all, Hello Kitty has long been an icon ever since she started to emerge in the earlier times of postwar Japan. Even the West loves her a lot, so her existence is nothing less of a unprecedented business opportunity that eventually swept the globe with its charms - its kawaii charms, becoming the very icon of the aesthetic itself.
The origins of the kawaii aesthetic itself can be traced back to Hello Kitty. Many would recognize the aesthetic itself just by showing some Hello Kitty merchandise, but it doesn’t stop there. These days, the kawaii culture has evolved a lot that it even not only inspired some of the Harajuku substyles, but also the recent new substyles that emerged through the apparent rise of social media. Since information is very accessible these days to the point where one can simply find what they are looking for on a single click of their computers, it is not surprising to see different styles are coming to a rise with the kawaii aesthetic as a sole inspiration of such styles. After all, the kawaii aesthetic itself is so charming, it’s not hard to fall in love with its styles
To be honest, there is not much difference with the Harajuku and the Kawaii as both started from the very same country, and even have shared qualities that make up the other substyle as well. Both also have a lot of cultural and historical significance that not many may have any awareness of.
Girls of the streets of Harajuku sporting Decora
However, it is also important to take note that the Harajuku fashion style has different subcultures that come under it, and if compared to the Kawaii style, which is very self-imposed and/or a self-defined way of doing fashion, the Harajuku style is more consistent when it comes to defining a certain characteristic of a certain fashion substyle that comprises it. The Kawaii, while universally loved and accepted and even an inspiration to the Harajuku styles, is very flexible depending on the necessity of the wearer. Just like in Decora, which is a Harajuku fashion style, it has a lot of kawaii elements incorporated in its fashion style such as the usage of colorful clothing and colorful hairpins and accessories. This is Kawaii, and you can also say that Decora is Kawaii itself, however, it is mostly identified as part of the Harajuku subculture simply because you don’t usually see a lot of people doing Decora outside of Harajuku, although there are some as Decora itself is a street style wear, but the Decora is more recognizable as part of Harajuku. So are the other substyles such as Lolita, Kei, and Gyaru, these styles are popularly recognized as part of Harajuku although they are still recognized as Kawaii fashion aesthetics due to their styles harboring the elements of the Kawaii style, not only on their clothing styles, but also on their makeup styles.
Who Wears the Aesthetic and Why Do They Wear It
As mentioned earlier, the Harajuku emerged due to the influences of the different cultures converged into one. Different subcultures of today are the by-products of these influences and some are even still being used up until this day. But why do they wear this and who are the ones who constantly wear these types of fashion substyles?
Mostly, it is not already a surprise to say when we mention that young people of the population are most likely to take these subcultures as their own. After all, the novelty of the styles and feel is one factor that makes the styles even more endearing to the one who wished to acquire it for themselves. The Gyaru subculture for example, is an optimal example of the Harajuku style. The Gyaru are often worn by the young people, specifically young high school kids who like to make a statement of their own. As Gyaru itself has a lot of kawaii elements on its own, it is to be expected that the younger ones were to be attracted. The one thing that set Gyaru apart from the Kawaii aesthetic though is the fact that the emergence of the Gyaru is actually supposed to be a social movement done by the high-class society in hopes to inspire its society to reform its beauty standards. After all, the Gyaru is often known for their tanned-skin that goes against the norms of the Japanese beauty standards.
While not all subcultures have the same social purpose like that of Gyaru, all of them share almost one thing in common - and that is all of these subcultures were created by the people of Harajuku based on the stores that they see available from the same place.
Another example is the Lolita fashion style, where it is believed that the emergence of the fashion style, while aside from its business roots, lies in the rebellion of the youth to go against the gender norms of society where Japan has usual conservative views. As Lolita fashion is often likened to that of a doll fashion, it is not hard to compare the enthusiasts of the fashion itself to be very unwilling to take away their childhood considering that the Lolita fashion has a lot of similarities to that of a child-like fashion style. And that some even perceive this in two ways where (1) the fashion style is a way for the enthusiasts to escape adulthood, and; (2) it is an escape to a fantasy world, in which an ideal identity can be created that would not be acceptable in a daily life.
As for the Kawaii, there is no exact definite reason as to why people would wear Kawaii. In fact, anyone can wear Kawaii, just by simply incorporating some Kawaii features, say, playing around some Hello Kitty accessories and put them on your current attire, that can already be considered Kawaii. Also, the thing about this specific culture style is that it is emerging as a global fashion inspiration. The Kawaii aesthetic is basically being known around the globe now and people of different ethnicities and cultures are trying to sport their own fashion statements with the added features of the Kawaii itself. After all, the purpose of why one would want to wear Kawaii is to feel kawaii, make themselves feel cuter and give them a boost of confidence with whatever and whenever they are doing and going.