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I Can CanCam


Let us applaud the crazy girls in Tokyo wearing demented maid costumes and late 18th century lace contraptions, for they have pulled off the greatest media coup in Japanese history! These are girls from the lowest-rung on the high school ladder — even beneath the college-bound bookworms — and they’ve convinced the world that their nerdy deviance is what’s cool in Japan! And how could someone not want to visit a country so ridiculous that the young women dress up in doll clothes and Broadway makeup in the depths of summer!

Meanwhile, society’s prom queens and sorority sisters — the CanCam girls — silently rule the school and win new recruits to their female order by the minute. They are the everyday office lady, the big sister, the bank teller off at five-thirty, the good girl who likes to go slightly bad on the weekends — long, slightly-curled brown hair extending four inches beyond the shoulders, white pants or denim skirt, Louis Vuitton or Gucci bags or at least a luxury dayplanner, high-heeled sandals, painted nails, shiny lips, immaculate. They are, for all practical purposes, the real Japan.

The monthly magazine CanCam runs at 600 pages, around five-pounds, the kind of book you throw to kill a bug and end up denting the wall. The motto: “Come on, Join us!” Inside holds page after page of the same six models displaying hundreds of outfits, dozens of brands, and thousands of possible style permutations on this female fashion trope. 600 pages of wall-to-wall information — no articles, only instructions. There are also no artistic, theme-based fashion shoots with fancy photographers and there are oddly few ads: just raw recipes for exact personal duplication of this irreproachable code to upright womanhood. And it’s monthly — as if the 600 pages from last month could not possibly answer all the questions required for matching a denim jacket to a pair of black pants. The manpower required to write, edit, and layout the material must resemble the Triangle Shirt Factory.

Long ago girls dressed head-to-toe in vibrant fashion, whether high or street, roamed Harajuku and Omotesando, but now the CanCam tornado leaves nothing but designer bags and parvenu values in its path of destruction. But who can blame its adopters — the “o-nee-kei” (big sister) style is easy-to-build, liked by boyfriends, respected by friends, understood by parents, approved by employers, and attractive to candidates for o-miai. This look is a guaranteed free dinner at one of the expensive (!) restaurants in Roppongi Hills (!!), courtesy of Mr. Mitsugu with long brown hair, an Armani suit (!!!), and no-(!!!!)-tie. (He’s also totally rich!)

The alternababes reading Cutie, Spring, Olive, and Mini are gone, boys. If there are any left, they are holding on the doorframe, while the house is being sucked into the spinning vortex known as the CanCam look. Come on, join us!

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

19 Responses

  1. antonin Says:

    cant wait to be in Tokyo

  2. channing Says:

    ha ha!

  3. JB Says:

    Rozen Maiden is kinda cool :)

  4. MUeno Says:

    …and lets not forget the JJ girls!

  5. channing Says:

    what’s o-miai?

  6. marxy Says:

    JJ pretty much puts together the same style, but I don’t have a copy on me at the moment to know how they differ. Maybe a little more “bad girl”?

    o-miai is the Japanese practice of arranged marriage, where women meet a list of financially secure men and then pick the one they fit with most. This is still very popular today – mostly with women who want the traditional marriage arrangement of a corporate husband. O-miai should not be thought of as “forced marriages” where parents choose their daughter’s partner, but it’s certainly closer to making a social contract than getting married on the idea of falling in love (ren-ai kekkon).

  7. trevor Says:

    i don’t see what love has to do with marriage.
    and i sure don’t like that can can style.. i see it on alot of jgirls here [nyc].. its dissapointing.

  8. farley Says:

    Can Cam look is gross to the max. Looks like some horrifying plastic Crumbesque psychedelic newspeak nightmare. It is so annoyingly lifeless that maybe it will spawn a new wave of kids who rebel against the mainstream look. No more “sumimasen punks.”
    Omiai is basically no better than prostitution as far as I’m concerned. It’s an awful trade-off for the girls. Ugh – I can’t imagine sleeping with some fishflake-shouldered beer-breathed salaryman and then ironing his sweatstained shirts if I didn’t love him. Plus this practice dehumanizes the men too; if you are going to judge someone purely by how much money or social quo-points they have you might as well be putting them through a meat-grinder.
    And Trevor – surely you must have noticed at least some relationship between love and marriage. Goes together like a horse and carriage… sound familiar? I mean, it’s pretty cool to be 100% detached and practical but you’re not actually that cynical, are you? Feelings are revolutionary – especially in post-incadescent light type societies.
    And Marxy – there has recently been a lot of buzz about Japanese erotic blogs. Just wondering when you are going to get in on the act… After all you seem to think it’d be a good thing if Japanese blogs became more like American blogs and this position is hardly defendable if you are not willing to at least experiment with changing your blog to be more like Japanese ones. It’d be trendy and you’d probably get more hits.

  9. marxy Says:

    I spent an hour the other day looking at Japanese “erogs” (erotic blogs), and I may do a post this week about them. Like everything else in Japan, they do not seem to be what they claim they are. For starts, a lot of the picture angles would need a photographer. I don’t really understand the scam though, unless it’s based on browser hits.

  10. Jean Says:

    JJ and CAN CAM are different. I can’t really tell you why, only that my wife really likes CAN CAM (her two favorites magazines are CAN CAM and BITEKI — BITEKI’s focus is on makeup), but she doesn’t like JJ. From the covers I’ve seen of JJ, I’d say it’s like a follow-up to the QAWAII set, while CAN CAM is more a follow-up to NON NO.

  11. marxy Says:

    The JJ-CanCam distinction may be indistinguishable to the foreign eye. I would guess that JJ is a little more “trashy” (tans, gaudy designer items) but nothing to the extent of even Cawaii and the gyaru magazines.

  12. Momus Says:

    you seem to think it’d be a good thing if Japanese blogs became more like American blogs and this position is hardly defendable if you are not willing to at least experiment with changing your blog to be more like Japanese ones


  13. marxy Says:

    Momus, you took his comment out of context.

    He was suggesting that I started to show erotic pictures of my self on the blog to make it more “Japanese.” I very much doubt that would help my readership.

    To my defense, I do change up the blog content quote a lot. There’s little talk about what I ate for lunch; I try to push into more uncharted meta-blog possibilites.

  14. farley Says:

    Either way you interpret it, the revolution is in the salami.

  15. Joey Says:

    I’m not really sure what the point of raising a fuss over magazines that define fashion is. Isn’t this just a Japanese quality of making things accessible in ways people want them accessible? Are there not underground Japanese magazines teaching you how to dress like a mod or be a punk? What about all the indie hipsters roaming Japan? Are they not subscribing to the same “magazine” regardless of if it’s a 600 page monthly glossy or not?

  16. marxy Says:

    I’m not really sure what the point of raising a fuss over magazines that define fashion is.

    The problem is not the instructional fashion styling, but that particular style itself. The Can Cam look is based on really old notions of “wealthy society” and economic success being the ultimate pinnacle of social status.

    Are there not underground Japanese magazines teaching you how to dress like a mod or be a punk?

    Yes, but at least the mod look has fallen out of favor. I’d rather see Japanese kids dress like totally outdated 60s subcultures than like Hoobastank.

    What about all the indie hipsters roaming Japan?

    There are as less Bohos in Japan than elsewhere in the world. Like always, I am just bemoaning the decline of the follow-the-numbers indie kids who looked good and financially supported interesting culture that they didn’t quite understand.

  17. matt Says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a Can Can girl in the office and nothing wrong with a girl who doesn’t want to get married to any old gaijin – there’s something about chasing conservatively dressed girls that play hard to get and then marry some high-flyer at Mizuho – that’s my sex-life right there

  18. guest Says:

    Can Cam gets several mentions in the new Time Asia, along with lots more about work, consumption habits, and life patterns of Japanese women. As for LV bags, the magazine confirms that “more than half of Japanese women in their 20s own one, says a survey by Saison Research Institute.”

    Interesting and surprisingly in-depth for TIME.

  19. marxy Says:

    Thanks for the link. Maybe I’ll post this up later.