I got my hair cut in late February to gear up for job interviews, and then grew it back to the shag once I became complacently employed. Now with the warmer weather and my ten-paa natural curl springing into action, my haircut looked less like I was protesting the staid business world and more like I was wearing a helmet. So, I made an appointment with my “guy” and dropped in on his Omotesando location on Sunday to get cleaned up for Early Summer.
Weekends are busy — all three shampoo stations operating simultaneously — and prices are high — 6000 with a friendly discount that seems to slightly decrease with every cut — but you get what you pay for: Omotesando hairdressers are so posh that you get to hear the entirety of the Maroon 5 album — complete with multiple Japanese bonus remixes of “This Love” and a live acoustic version thrown in for good measure. This kind of experience tends to overwhelm me: my back broken yet again by the weight of inimitable Tokyo hipness. I feel sorry for the patrons of similar spots in New York and Paris who don’t receive such constant immersion in cutting-edge music and fashion. I’m not even sure if Maroon 5 has even hit it big in America yet. Watch out, MTV. Here comes Youth Culture.
Omotesando, the street, has always been one of Tokyo’s most unique locales — ignore the Paris-complex for a moment (ie, Eiffel Tower:Tokyo Tower::Champs-Elysees::Omotesando Avenue.) But now Darth Vader’s Omotesando Hills has radically denatured the downhill walk towards Harajuku. I’m not sure OH can be described as “ugly” but it certainly has forced the spatiality of the area to be identical with the dreaded Roppongi Hills — yet again decreasing Tokyo’s environmental diversity. Mori has the unbridled creativity of George Lucas: “For my sequel, I will make another Death Star. Only this time it will be slightly bigger!” OH does, however, keep us on the cutting-edge of fashion. If this Ugg Australia brand can break through the competitive Japanese fashion market, perhaps it will make some inroads with American women. Such crazy boots!
I duck behind Wendy’s to check out the ghosts of “Ura-Harajuku,” an area which has basically morphed into the Aughts version of Takeshita-doori “Junk Street Hell.” Signs are advertising second-hand Ape directly to Chinese consumers. No offense against the Chinese, but this has not traditionally been an indication of brand strength and exclusitivity. Nigo himself may never construct signs luring Chinese tourists into his shops, but he is busy bringing Busy Work Shops to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Mostly because Japanese youth consumers are ceasing to buy overpriced street wear, and also, exist.
But historically, the Ura-Harajuku degradation makes perfect sense. If Takeshita was It in the mid 80s, and Ura-Harajuku was the mid-90s It Relocation, then Ura-Harajuku should now be the New Teenage Junk Shop Hell, and It should be… Wait, where is It?
Maybe Daikanyama took the crown for several years around 2000, but Nakameguro never rose above the “trendy” tagline to actually become a region of real cultural import. The age of o-share — the exclusive “cool” accessible to all kids who can read a magazine and take a weekend jaunt into the city — is over. I have no doubts that the rich, famous, and semi-talented are having warm champagne at secret corporate parties. But they have ceased to have any sort of impact on mainstream Japanese youth culture, just angry and angular pseudo-celebrities settling with invidious socioeconomic distinction as an ersatz for artistic distinction and popular support.
Lacking any competition, Harajuku carries on as an aging monster we have forgotten to slay, fully funded by the same suspicious dummy real-estate corporations. And up the hill, Omotesando symbolizes all the delusional VIP self-aggrandizing that prospers behind closed doors. But there is no happy middle — an electric environment connecting innovative creators and innovative consumers. At least not in the Old World of fashion and trends. If you get your kicks from maid cafes, chain izakaya, melocore punk, slow life myths, global fashion conglomerates, and R&B divas, Tokyo will blow you away. Otherwise, start mingling with the super rich.
Or build a nice peer group and create something new and self-satisfying, far from the concrete of ambition.