Illusions of Crazy Japanese Fashions

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I’m not the biggest fan of Japanese brands, to be honest there is a certain type of person that wears the clothing readily available on the Tokyo high street.  The trends in Japan are suffocated with frills and bows so to find something that feels right for my age is sometimes rather challenging. It’s not only the style that I have taken issue with, but it’s extremely hard to find clothing that compliments my body shape. Hence, I tend to go to places I know best, H&M, Zara and Mango, clothing tailored nicely for different body shapes. I guess, you could also throw in the nostalgia; it’s nice to see styles that I’m familiar with.

Though, I shouldn’t put down all the brands, for every Lowry’s Farm there is a SLY.SLY is one of my favorite Tokyo brands, it’s not afraid to be fun, or to  get a little inspiration from European and other Asian trends.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with liking Japanese brands, they have of course established their own reputation, UNIQLO being one of the best known clothing chains outside of Japan.  I think that a lot of people living outside Japan would conclude that it has somewhat originality, look at all those girls dressed in lolita-style dresses, the yankis of Kyushu or the gyaru-types in Shibuya. An image that many who arrive in Japan are hoping to take a photo of or at least see.

The truth is the subcultures of Japanese fashion are rare and once you leave the hub of Harajuku, these trends become less en vogue and far less acceptable  Most popular fashion is more like a uniform,  not that Japanese ladies and men aren’t fashionable, but they are a little scared of stepping out of the box. I used to be into some of the subcultures of Tokyo’s underbelly, I knew more about “Visual Kei” than I did about “Rock ‘n’ Roll”, but these are just fallacies amplified by certain bands and musicians who are not only selling music, but also a brand (Gackt, Pillers Clothing Line).

You come to realise once you’ve lived in Japan for a while part of being “Japanese” means alienating people who try to be (or are) different.  The idea of “us” not “me” is still heavily engrained into Japanese society.

Deviant  just isn’t Japanese.  Unlike, America and Europe where being unique is something to aspire to be; that sentiment is almost the complete opposite here. Same sentiment could also be said about the fashion, though there are subcultures, it’s hard to decide how they differ from one another.

Just a word of warning for those dead set that “Japanese fashion” equals originality; it doesn’t it means –conforming.

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Wanderlust

Another entry about traveling you ask? Yes, sorry to bore you with my great plans to travel across all the continents, but after an eventful January; I’ve come to realise that traveling is my only safe net.  This month was my birthday after all the drunkenness and mishaps I decided to clear my mind from all the nonsense happening around me; to make a couple of much needed adjustments.
I turned the grand old age of 25, it’s remarkable really that I’ve celebrated nearly all my early 20s in Japan. Some would say that is an amazing feat, but now I just feel rooted and I hate that feeling. Sure, I love my friends here and some you could say are almost as close to me as family and that in some ways that -scares me. You see when I was younger, I had always wanted to travel. I was pretty much a loner throughout primary school and secondary school due to my love for academia and other geeky stuff which didn’t have that geek-chic that it does now. I had only a couple of close friends who although were good company, remain little more than acquaintances. During my early years, I was one of those “out of sight out of mind,” people, but as I entered university that person I had molded began to change significantly. The constant need to hide myself, not to reveal too much had broken.  Then in my second year of university I decided that I was due a change, it was one of the hardest things to do, to say goodbyes to some of my closest friends. I couldn’t cope with what that meant to me and I decided to  make them hate me, make them really dislike me. It worked, I left the U.K without any attachments.

Celebrating my 25th Birthday

Celebrating my 25th Birthday

It was a childish idea, however after contemplating my actions for a long time, I knew I couldn’t do it any other way. The honest truth is that when I decide something mentally after hours of consideration, it’s done; nothing is changing my mind. This is one of the few traits that I have kept from childhood and possibly why down the line I have made some foolish choices.

The story begins when I was walking to work in Ikebukuro, I take the same trip everyday, I see the same shops and speak to the same people. “Black coffee please.”  I’ve never been a great fan of repetitiveness;  unlike others I find no comfort in a habitual life. The same reason that I wanted to escape the U.K came surfacing up on my journey to work, why am I here if it’s not for adventure? I had always had an ideal of being a nomad, a traveling tramp with just my backpack and some money, but alas my upbringing and my love for modern comforts had made me realise that I couldn’t live that sort of existence even if I tried.  Though the idea of acquiring knowledge has always appealed to me, I mean that is one of the reasons I came to Japan, to learn the language, the culture and its history and I couldn’t careless about grades or pieces of papers that are suppose to somehow make me feel verified.  Though I knew that I would be wasting an opportunity if I didn’t change my route. If I stayed in Japan and studied I would be missing out on some adventure somewhere else. The idea of studying in Sweden popped into my mind, whilst being rammed by yet another leather handbag on my commute to work. Japan has made me grow as a person, there’s no denying it so I’m not demeaning my experiences here.  I’m more confident with who I am, despite the obvious flaws. There’s a belief inkling at the back of my mind that I could develop even more someplace else, with more space for creative expression. I won’t deny that I also have a thirst for culture and history and I believe one country isn’t enough to suffice this urge.

Japan was a challenge. Although in some ways completely westernised, in other ways so strict and traditional that it can be suffocating. Many of the nuisances started to grate on me after a while. I wanted more liberation, I did my research and found Sweden. I won’t deny that I find life in Japan comfortable, everything is easy. I never wanted easy though, liberal-yes, but not -easy.  A friend recommended I read Into The Wild by John Krakauer.  One lazy afternoon in the staff room twittering my thumbs, I noticed a copy lying on one of the top shelves apparently disregarded by one of the other teachers. I couldn’t put it down, I read it on the train, between breaks,  before bed. It is one of the few books that has altered my views about traveling, in a better way of course. Christopher Mccandless died in a bus in the middle of the wilderness in Alaska; with nobody.  Getting rid of all my belongings and living off the land in the middle of nowhere with the chance of impending doom doesn’t exactly appeal to me, but whilst reading it I couldn’t help but empathise with Mccandless, his constant frustrations of his dreary middle-class existence, his pent up dissatisfaction with society.  Mccandless did something, he made that change although it cost him his life, given another chance; he probably would do it exactly the same, make the same mistakes.

It’s possible like Mccandless that my idealistic views of the world could end up getting me into some trouble: debt, stress, and possible loneliness.  Though to say I never took the opportunity would be a greater disappointment, at least for myself.

ARTNIA : Square Enix Cafe in Tokyo!

You may have not realised, but I’m pretty geeky. It’s a secret. However if any of my previous posts are anything to go by; a complete geek. Of course not that’s not main reason why I moved to Japan, but there are times when living in Tokyo does have its benefits. Square Enix recently opened a new cafe called Artnia, of course the news of the opening got to me fairly quickly. I decided to visit the cafe once my friend Ali had arrived, so we could enjoy the ambience together, like the couple of nerds that we are.  I’m glad I waited.

The Cafe is located in the east of Shinjuku where a large number of department stores are also located.  For the occasion the two of us chose to faux-cosplay, not upright cosplay, but a little nod towards the characters we like. I wore my black leather pants with a plain white t-shirt and converse; channeling Tifa from Advent Children while Ali chose to wear a pink dress with a bolero jean jacket and a ribbon to  the hair for that added Aeris touch. We took our time meandering through Shinjuku’s tricky pedestrian system. The cafe is hidden amongst the Shinjuku skyscrapers close to the E1 exit of Shinjuku Sanchome subway station.  I was excited, even at the age of 24- I found that 17 year old girl breaking through my false mature demeanour.  As soon as we entered we were faced with some curious looks from some would presume Final Fantasy fans; I guess that being newly opened they didn’t expect the foreigner invasion to start so soon. We were offered menus and we excitedly looked through, speaking into the camera we had bought along to record the event. So with further ado -here is our video, please watch like and comment. Or just ignore this post entitrely.

 

Despite my very unimpressed manner, near the end of the video; I highly recommend it. Especially if you are a Final Fantasy fan, if the cafe part doesn’t interest you, I’m sure the merchandise and materia fountain will. Just make sure to bring plenty of cash with you! Those materia cocktails are very pricey!

 

Climbing Mount Takao

Summit of Mount Takao

One pastime, which I acquired in Japan is the joy of mountain climbing.  England has a real lack of places to climb and for those who wish to try out the dangers of some serious rock-climbing one only has to go to Scotland to fulfill such an endeavor. For me though, I had always wanted to see what the thrill was of going up high (secretly I always dreamt of being Frodo on Mount Doom, cue dramatic music).  Even when I moved to Japan in 2009 I had moved to a part where there was relatively few hills, let alone mountains and although on a clear day you could see Mount Fuji as though it was only a couple of miles away, it didn’t satisfy my urge.  So when I moved to West Tokyo, I’d decided to take full advantage of my close proximity to Chichibu, famous for its temples and mountains. I went mountain climbing at least once a month, a straight train on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to a completely different world.

Mount Takao, which this post is about, is situated in Tokyo, it’s only 50 minutes away from Shinjuku on the Keio Line or the Chuo Line. I live relatively close to Mount Takao and I had never climbed it before so I decided to do so this week. The idea had crossed my mind a couple of times, but I was always too busy or there was something more pressing that I wanted to do.  Though when I eventually got around to doing so; I  wished I’d done it sooner.  The mountain is full of life and I don’t mean Japanese people paying their respects at the temple at the top of the mountain; I mean nature.  Nature is everywhere.

As I said in my previous article I am essentially an urbanite, but my time in Bath, Somerset made me appreciate the great outdoors. Somerset with all its green hills, woods and free roaming deer is probably my spiritual home. Now, I sound like a New Age Pagan, so moving swiftly on.  Mount Takao is also the spiritual home to many Japanese, it’s closely associated with tengu.  Forgive me, because my Japanese folklore has become slightly sloppy of late, but I believe tengu is depicted as a crow like creature who’s initial job is as a messenger to the deities and Buddhas. Tengu carries a fan to sweep away bad fortune and bring those around him good fortune, so not an oni (Japanese demon), but to be frank looks almost as terrifying.

Yakuo-in Temple

I have to admit something before I continue; I didn’t climb up Mount Takao, since time was limited I had decided to take the cable car to the half-way point.  However, I did walk all the way down and even though Mount Takao is relatively easy in comparison to the likes of Mount Fuji, you can get easily tired if you take it too fast. I took it quite slowly as I wanted to absorb as much of the visuals as I could. The path to the temple is rather underwhelming, since most of the way is concreted and heavily crowded, since I went during koyo (red leave) period.  Once you get on one of the nature trails though, it all becomes worth it. I was a little surprised to see how few Japanese people actually decided to go back on one of the trails, since one would think that’s why they went there. Alas, it seemed the majority only came for the temple as the trails were sparse with walkers.

A friend and I chose the Inariyama trail, not because we had been sensible and thought ahead; we were just being in the moment. We were lucky, the views and backdrop were breath-taking, sometimes a cliche is needed when words fail you. The trail was covered in deep forestry and although the path that laid before us was relatively easy;  if the casual walker didn’t prepare decent boots one could find it rather hard to maneuver over rocks and tree roots.   The trail starts slightly steep, but eventually evens out, so you can admire the panoramic view of the mountain range as you descend. In some ways, some would say it’s a more worthwhile hike than Mount Fuji.  I’ve been told Mount Fuji’s climb is comparatively dull, with rock and dirt being your companion for most of the way.

Warning of poisonous snakes.

The mountain is rich with wildlife. During our walk, there were plenty of signs to inform us about the plantation or poisonous snakes. Once we got to a mid way point, we decided to take a rest.  It wasn’t because we were tired, but more due to the fact that we kept stopping to take pictures of  the woods or the views from the edge of the trail.  I thank God we live in an age where we can easily capture a memory, yes I know a rather cheap sentiment, but sometimes the brain with all it’s marvelous functions still hasn’t evolved enough to give us a photographic memory. We got to a split in the road, and though I’ve been studying Japanese for almost 4 years now, I still couldn’t make out the Chinese characters. Fortunately, there was a nice Japanese family who directed us on the right path.

One of the pathways.

When we got our rhythm back,  it was a straight down direction.  As we neared the base of the mountain, towards Kiyotaki Station, which loosely translates as “clear waterfall,”  we found that the steepness was getting the better of us as we started to trip over large tree roots and forgotten walking sticks.  Momiji trees line the walk down, and one could forget that the heart of Tokyo was only a couple of miles away. As we walked over the bridge, which signaled the end of our trail; I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, not because the walk was a let down in any way, but because it took me so long to realise that there was such natural beauty right on my doorstep. I had been too involved in the delights of modern day living, that I forgot all about simple pleasures like this. The train station across the bridge shook me back to reality, a little victory pose was needed as it marked completion of our hike and then we were on our way.