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Harajuku/Omotesando: Radically Cool or just Totally Awesome?


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.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
April 24, 2006

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

59 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    Dare I suggest it? Akiba-kei is the new Shibuya-kei. Search your feelings Luke, you know this to be true.

  2. rachael Says:

    i’m surprised how apeshit (bad pun) hong kongers are going over bape. when the shop was opened,there nigo was on the covers of all the young people’s magazines.
    the consumerisation of design and creativity in hk is kinda tiresome.

  3. Chris Says:

    Great writing, always an enjoyable read. Keep it up.

  4. nate Says:

    looking at the april 15th entry, it seems that mingling with the super rich is the route you’ve chosen, no?

  5. marxy Says:

    April 15th’s gallery was far from posh. I think I was drinking Black Label directly from a bottle, seeing that there were no cups left. In Tokyo, there are still a lot of what could be called “street galleries.”

  6. dzima Says:

    What you just described on this entry didn’t surprise me and is pretty much agreeable and understable.

    But what I don’t understand is the tragic tone by which you end your essay. Do you necessarily think this is such a bad situation or isn’t that the way people doing interesting things were always treated, by being alienated, while the pseudo smart ones make money?

  7. marxy Says:

    Akiba-kei is the new Shibuya-kei.

    Yes and no. The otaku have the energy and the spotlight, but I’m not sure Japan’s macro image is better off as a “Nation of Nerds” instead of a “Nation of Unique Cool.”

    the consumerisation of design and creativity in hk is kinda tiresome.

    I’m not sure design and creativity in Japan have ever NOT been consumerized.

    Do you necessarily think this is such a bad situation or isn’t that the way people doing interesting things were always treated, by being alienated, while the pseudo smart ones make money?

    My problem is not “creative people are being ignored!” or “the world is unjust!” as you suggest. I think a lot of us became interested in Japan because something was all gelling together in neighborhoods like Harajuku and Shibuya. You can find talented people, high fashion, and young consumers almost everywhere. What made Japan magic is how these groups all came together for a short while.

  8. nate Says:

    marxy, was tokyo the paradise you describe at any time after you became essentially fluent in Japanese? after the mystery had worn off?

    With your willingness to dismiss the sacred cows of early nineties/late eighties popular american culture, culture that you by and large missed out on thanks to the bad timing of your birth, I’m surprised by how much you mysticize mid-to-late nineties tokyo. Or maybe it’s just that now that you’ve got the cred to be a member, you can’t esteem the club so strongly.
    I never got even a glimpse of the edo-eden, the passing of which you so often bemoan. Tokyo remains my favorite city… but I haven’t spent nearly enough time there to be bored of it.

  9. alin Says:

    oh, here’s marxy as we know him.

    do try to think of japanese culture/cool as NOT having started in the in the 90s for goodness sake. what you’re doing is the equivalent to clinging to and crying over shinjuku golden gai as the only thing that remains? from the trully brilliant rad. 60s culture (or asakusa in the x0s for that matter) (hey, in the long run oshima nagisa, yokoo tadanori etc will most likely have more staying power than pierre taki, nigo or keigo oyamada).

    one great thing happening now is that a new infrastructure is being laid – this will be the stage for things to come . if you want to see truly interesning things happening in japan now you’d probably better look at architecture/city planning than at TShirts – there’s an huge range of books being published continuously like this. practical and conceptual. in my opinion japan is now on a more or less constructive cycle so the da-raku necesary for art production might be more or less absent.

    i don’t think tokyo tower is, or ever was, simply indicative of a ‘paris-complex’ again it’s more subtle and complex (btw. if you want to see a city in terminal decline paris might be a closer hit. speaking now i would rather say that the paris palais de tokyo is indicative of a tokyo complex) – you forgot to mention ginza printemps vs. paris printemps. Speaking of towers , was driving through Sendai the other day and all of a sudden not one, not two but three Tokyo(Eiffel) towers appeared on the horizon. Take that Sapporo, Nagoya etc. btw Sendai also houses the wonderful mediateque – a smaller scale Pompidou centre for the 00s

  10. alin Says:

    and careful what you say about Ugg boots; they’re australian Shinto.

  11. dzima Says:

    do try to think of japanese culture/cool as NOT having started in the in the 90s for goodness sake

    But Alin, this is the intentional fallacy of Neomarxisme!

    Click Opera has its own IFs as well, and sometimes they overlap with the ones found here (not this particular one though).

  12. Momus Says:

    (btw. if you want to see a city in terminal decline paris might be a closer hit. speaking now i would rather say that the paris palais de tokyo is indicative of a tokyo complex)

    A thunderous YES to that sentiment. Observe how the most interesting Parisians, like o.lamm, long to live in Tokyo, and wax lyrical, from the 18th arrondissement, about Afrirampo. The Eiffel Tower and the Palais de Tokyo are cold comfort for such as Olivier…

  13. marxy Says:

    I get the sense though that everyone agrees Tokyo makes a better myth than an urban reality. Fundamental to Momus’ fandom is the fact he doesn’t live here. And I’m not talking about the fact that he does not have to weather the “bad parts” of commuting, etc. Tokyo is an amazing place to visit and fawn over, but everyone rushing to attack me has riden into my ranch on a non-Edo high horse. My fellow Japanese residents are also bored and understimulated, as much as you’d like to paste this opinion on me alone.

    The idea of Tokyo clearly remains vibrant and bold, however.

    (Also, are there other blogs where the main commenters are always bitterly trying to take the author down?)

    P.S. – I like Japanese 60s culture just fine, but I don’t see how that is “vibrant” and new.

    P.P.S – Funny how that Sendai Mediatechque’s planning started in the 90s.

    P.P.P.S – My parents got me Ugg slippers for christmas which singlehandedly got me through the winter.

    P.P.P.S – Mass Japanese Cool ABSOLUTELY DID start in the 90s. Yes, there were interesting people before hand, but London Night was small, and in hindsight, inconsequential. YMO got big from being big in America, not the other way around.

    P.P.P.P.S. – Anyone really think that Paris’ Tokyo akogare is based on Tokyo 2006, and not, say, Tokyo 1996?

  14. Momus Says:

    Well, since we were discussing Afrirampo, it’s fair to note that they formed in 2002 in Osaka. They were probably alive in 1996, though, and that certainly adds weight to your argument that everything of any Japanese consequence took place that year.

  15. marxy Says:

    Afrirampo are fine, but do they have any chance at all at a mainstream hit? I am shocked they are even on a major label.

    And for the one millionth time, Japan continues to have interesting artists and creators, but they have ceased to exist in an environment where they are financially rewarded and given chances for greater social penetration.

    Paris may be boring, but at least they get a month off every summer.

  16. alin Says:

    I don’t think anyone is trying to ‘ bitterly trying to take the author down’ but rather try engage in dialogue with the author who when it comes to a spectrum of points gets super-defensive rather.

    ‘that Paris’ Tokyo akogare’ might go back to the impressionists (the point when paris arguably reached it’s pinacle and started it’s “terminal decline??” and has been sustained ever since.)

    all your P(PPPP)Ss are highly dialogue-able.

    The Eiffel Tower … cold comfort f

    The Eiffel tower as an index to Tokyo tower, that’s interesting. Barthes talks about the Eiffel tower being over-coded to redundancy; now Tokyo tower has been an actual symbol of redundancy from day two so it all kind of makes sense.

    Marxy, it was ‘Mass Japanese Cool’ that was way cool to the impressionists.

  17. alin Says:

    but do they have any chance at all at a mainstream hit?

    you’d want them to follow mr K?

  18. marxy Says:

    Great irony of the Impressionists was that the Japanese of the 1880s thought all that ukiyo-e Japonisme was worthless, tasteless garbage.

    Another question: was 90s Tokyo the first Japanese cultural movement that the Japanese respected before the Westerners got around to discovering it? Most of the previous cultural exchanges had Westerners liking things the Japanese had never even really highly valued. (ie, YMO) Maybe my phrasing is too simple though.

  19. marxy Says:

    you’d want them to follow mr K?

    They could at least follow Mr. Momus.

  20. r. Says:

    …at least!

  21. Momus Says:

    1. Only mainstream success makes good things matter.
    2. Only good things make mainstream success matter.
    3. Good things only achieved mainstream success during October 1996.
    4. Therefore, if it isn’t October 1996, nothing matters.

    Such thinking leads us straight to the doldrums of weltschmertz. I’ll have none of it!

  22. dzima Says:

    At last people on this blog are talking about Japan compared to somewhere else other than America. Good job, boyz!

    Anyway, this thread reminded me of something that might be dismissed as silly: back in the 80’s, I used to watch Japanese live action series for kids (and animation as well) which I though were very “cool” compared to other TV shows (I’m not talking about Ultraman, but shows contemporary to the 80’s). Because of the foreign and hi-tech aura they had, I’m sure these shows helped to create a Japanese bias in my juvenile brain.

    Does that count towards Mass Japanese Cool, at least as a spin-off, or was I an exception, five years ahead of everyone else?

  23. Momus Says:

  24. dzima Says:

    This last Momus comment made me laugh.


  25. marxy Says:

    The NES was the height of cool in ’85.

    Re: Momus’ list.

    I’m not saying that everything needs to sell, but am I the only one who thinks Japan was interesting precisely because Godard movies were stocked at the local Tsutaya and not just shown in obscure arthouse theatres? There was something way more immediate about Japanese cool in the 90s than now. I think the superficial level of Japanese culture now is very underwhelming, with some interesting things bubbling under the surface.

    I do buy, however, that pop cultural items have more influence when they have a mass audience.

  26. dzima Says:

    Then do you agree that the 90’s generation of artists, Shibuya-kei or otherwise (even Vincent Gallo), might as well have been the last to crossover to a mass audience because of the way the entertainment industry is set up right now?

    Nowadays, it’s all about rampant capitalism, recoupe your advance immediately or get dropped instantly. And you should know that.

  27. marxy Says:

    I don’t think this is 100% capitalism’s fault.

    But what you are saying is partially true. Sony Music Artists signed a lot of weird people in the 90s, flushed with cash from the Playstations. Now the company doesn’t have as much capital to throw at a Sunahara Yoshinori, etc. Funny how less arty you get when the profits go down.

  28. nate Says:

    wow, it’s like a time machine to 4 months ago! That was a golden era around here.

    But I wonder why marxy’s wagon is so hitched to nigo’s star. Even if we all agree that the music dominating the pop charts was better in the shibuya kei age, nigo feels completely ancillary. What he created wasn’t so much good in itself as it was rendered “cool” by the market and being attached to shibuya in a sense.
    These days Japan is still the worlds coolest, it’s just that the world’s definition of cool is set by magazines like wallpaper instead of Spin. While it certainly is a revolting predicament, by quickly changing its consumer patterns from critical to mindlessly committed to luxury, japan has once again shown its cultural agility.

    what none of us like is that cool changed on us.

  29. r. Says:

    yeah, but he bought that shirt pre-owned!


  30. Chris_B Says:

    marxy sezeth: I don’t think this is 100% capitalism’s fault.

    But what you are saying is partially true. Sony Music Artists signed a lot of weird people in the 90s, flushed with cash from the Playstations. Now the company doesn’t have as much capital to throw at a Sunahara Yoshinori, etc. Funny how less arty you get when the profits go down.

    Butcha see, it is 100% Capitalism’s fault!

    Having funds to blow doesnt mean you are going to invest them wisely (just how many CDs did all those cool bands actually sell anyways?) Having less funds to blow forces more conservative investment of those funds into channels more likely to provide the target rate of return. In short, Ayumi Hamazaki is a better investment than Pingpong Fooferaw.

    God bless Capital!

    As far as whether we have more or less cool now, I vote less if were talking mass market cool. If were talking low level “I knew this 5 years before the unwashed masses” cool, I think we have much more and some of it is coming from the Old School. At least in my field of fandom thats true in that there has been a real upswing in the quality and quantity of Japanese reggae. Last year Kodama Kazufumi returned to the stage and studio after years of silence (founder of late 80s/early 90s band Mute Beat), Dubsensemania is doing good shows and Likkle Mai (former 90s Dry & Heavy singer) just put out her first solo CD. I’ve even seen local roots bands playing outside by Meiji Jingu. Cant speak for the state of Japanese dancehall since it bores me more than j-rap, but anyways, some good things are bubbling up.

  31. check Says:

    Not to debate definitions, but I would contend that “cool” rarely broaches any flavor of intellectual revolution; mental shifts are uncomfortable, and not conducive to master production, and mindless enthusiasm. The general populous strives to maintain a state of equanimity and complacency – not challenge their beliefs with avant-garde interpretations of assorted subject matter.

    So, David, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong places?

  32. Terence_C Says:

    On the subject of the decline of the Palais de
    Tokyo a recent editorial in paris-art discussed
    a recent billboard at the entrance of the palais de tokyo that affirmed the need for “artistic emergence” in the contemporary art scene as a “strategic concept”. Alongside this comment, on the same billboard, were the names of different sponsors of the event. Further along one could read about the fact that the presence of different patrons of the arts and financial partners were allowing to “open art to a larger audience thereby giving roots to its pertinence at the heart of society”. In short, the Palais de Tokyo which started out as a place for the creation of contemporary art now carries the slogan “Lets give art the means to open to a larger audience”. OK this is a hasty translations of the following article :

    but it does confirm the “cold comfort” offered by the Palais de Tokyo. Which does not mean that you can’t find other interesting venues for art in Paris…the grass is always greener etc tc…Then again I don’t know squat about Tokyo except what I could glean from a two week stay and what I’ve been reading in this blog.

    As for Afrirampo I would ask that Japan make a special effort to share other artists of their calibre with our boring nation of France. We need more beautiful girls who can pound a drumset while jumping up and down and singing in harmony !

  33. alin Says:

    wow, everyone is having a field day,

    was this entry a

    a. practical joke
    b. regressive move
    c. ressurection

  34. Momus Says:

    David, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong places?

    I think this is exactly it. Marxy is like someone weeping at the shrine of 1996’s party while 2006’s goes on behind his back.

    When I lived in New York I used to go to a bar called Void on Mercer Street. It had big screens all around a dark room, showing art video. I passed the building last night: chained, locked, abandoned.

    Now, I could sit in front of Void’s void weeping, mapping its closing to New York’s “terminal decline”, or I could simply go to Monkey Town, a multimedia bar which opened in 2003 and has a room full of screens. It’s in Williamsburg.

    One thing’s for sure, cool is never going to be exactly where it was ten years ago. It tends to move house. The question is, does Marxy think it’s undignified to be a trend hound, sniffing out the new talent, the new hot spots? Is he afraid to get in the ring with Jean Snow? Did he perhaps not have enough money, as a student, to go to expensive nightspots? Does he have enough money, now, with his new job, to do that? It could give this blog new elan vital. Or does he actually like sitting in front of 90s ruins, weeping loudly?

    The irony is that, as far as I can see, Sangenjaya is actually one of the spots young people are making as vital and interesting as Ura-Hara used to be. And I understand Marxy lives there.

  35. Mulboyne Says:

    There are economic factors at work here too. It’s worth noting that the Japanese economy has been recovering now for nearly four years. This has been driving the wholesale redevelopment of Tokyo – Shiodome, Odaiba, Shinagawa, Roppongi Hills, Omotesando Hills etc. There are also plans in the works to redevelop Ginza’s Kabukiza, Shibuya Station, Kamiyacho and Naka Meguro. I’m no lover of many of these developments but a changing cityscape is a a characteristic of postwar Tokyo and the lack of change in the recession 90’s stands out as an anomaly.

    One reason why the mid-90’s may have seemed especially vibrant is that job prospects for young people were bleak. Also, rents had started to come down. This meant that a high school or university graduate with no obvious career in sight could consider renting space for a club, bar or shop and give it a go for a few months. Shinjuku’s Golden Gai was mentioned earlier and its revival is entirely attributable to that phenomenom. Think, also, of the explosion of a new generation of young restaurant owners, many from Osaka, who were able to get their hands on some choice sites at low prices. Many of these ventures failed but enough of them survived to recreate the capital.

    A recovering economy doesn’t sound a death knell for creativity, though. Harajuku may be showing its age but Asakusa has been buzzing again and, as Momus says, there are new cafe galleries, bars and “event spaces” in Sangenjaya and the nearby Mishuku.

    Familiarity does alter your perception of what is new. Dir en Grey seem have been pumping out fairly dull visual kei fare for around 10 years now but seem to have clicked with a certain US audience in the last few months. It’s difficult to see that as an exciting development when you are sitting in Tokyo but it must seem very different when you are living overseas.

  36. marxy Says:

    Sangenjaya is actually one of the spots young people are making as vital and interesting as Ura-Hara used to be. And I understand Marxy lives there.


    I gotta move out of the real Tokyo and into the fantasy.

  37. marxy Says:

    Dir en Grey

    Fuck, I had forgotten about Dir en Grey.

  38. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    What, like five years ago?

  39. Momus Says:

    Hilarious. I gotta move out of the real Tokyo and into the fantasy.

    Wait, you’re saying all districts of Tokyo are equally boring? And that that’s not a fantasy?

  40. dzima Says:

    I wonder if Marxy has ever lived in Omiya or Seiseki-Sakuragaoka. Maybe he is the new Sofia Coppola?

    I do think that Marxy has interesting tastes and knowledge but he is also very reluctant to adapt to the new millennium. And when you refuse to change we all know what happens: a decade of recession.

  41. dzima Says:

    But I think that another valley separating a few of the commenters and Marxy is that some people here are talking about artists and Marxy is talking about the market (or the market reaction to artists).

    “Cool” is not some inbred quality of an artwork, or rather it’s an attributed value. A person like Beck for example didn’t start out play his music thinking that it was “cool” but simply because that what he liked to play, or felt was natural to him. Then people caught up and gave him “cool” status.

    I reckon an essay entitled “The Concept of ‘Cool’ in the Age of Digital (Japanese) Reproduction” is coming our way.

  42. marxy Says:

    Dzima coming to my defense?! What is going on around here??

    The irony is that, as far as I can see, Sangenjaya is actually one of the spots young people are making as vital and interesting as Ura-Hara used to be. And I understand Marxy lives there.

    This summarizes everything that drives me insane about the bulk of these comments.

    I do live near Sangenjaya, and in no one’s imagination could the neighborhood put anywhere in the same class as Harajuku, Aoyama, Nakameguro, or even Koenji. We have one artsy livehouse – Grapefruit Moon – and a crappy punk rock club – Heaven’s Door. We have a few 90s-prototype cafes. some of which are “neat” at best. There are a billion young women, most of whom go to Showa Joshidai – not exactly a bastion of counterculture/art/fashion. Rents are amazingly high these days, and it is easily the least pedestrian-friendly place I’ve ever been in Japan (you cannot walk across the main street under the 246 in the time that the “Walk” is illuminated.)

    Sangenjaya is “hot” as a residential area, but not as a center of culture or consumption. Popeye is not doing big map features on Sancha with all the stores you should check out (and yes, there cannot be youth culture in Japan without stores.)

    But I love the idea that someone who doesn’t live in Sangenjaya and has never lived here can school me on why where I live is somehow “It.” I may be deluded and misguided, but does anyone buy that I’m so dense that I haven’t noticed that my neighborhood is suddenly the new Harajuku? Buzz is different than vitality.

  43. marxy Says:

    I wonder if Marxy has ever lived in Omiya or Seiseki-Sakuragaoka.

    I’ve lived in Tanashi for a summer, and I wasn’t a fan.

    I happened to have a friend with a house who lives in Sangenjaya, and I moved here without even knowing what kind of neighborhood it was.

    That being said, I’m moving farther out, near Kichijoji, to get away from the ambulances and motorbikes and nearer the green of Inogashira park. Kichijoji, by the way, is fantastic. If you are going to live two stops from a major hub, it sure beats Shibuya.

    Another point: Tokyo is fine and great, but I’m not convinced it still has the “cool” youth cultural complex it once boasted. People can like Tokyo for a lot of reasons, but walking down Omotesando avenue, I’m not convinced that I’m still in the middle of a Class 5 Hurricane. Only Class 1 or 2. That’s still a big storm to people looking in from outside, but it is dishonest to act as if everything continues to grow.

  44. nate Says:

    yeah, what’s with momus who seems to have spent less than 48 hrs in tokyo in the last year telling marxy that his neighborhood is super cool?

    I thought it was dzima who’s supposed to claim that marxy doesn’t know (or is too late in learning) the facts of cool; momus that says that marxy is not happy enough and too capitalist in his thinking; and alin who says that marxy is hopelessly hopelessly lost for not exclusively applying anti-oedipal reasoning to every grain of sand on the beach…

    If momus is gonna keep on goofing up, we’re going to have to re-block the whole second act.

    I still contend that global “cool” is not a portion of the art world, but rather that sometimes it gets the art world stuck to the sole of its shoe, sending everyone rushing to buy flannel shirts, old LPs, vintage synthesizers, etc. Since contemporary cool isn’t the cool you all like and excel at, momus leaves berlin, marxy bitches about tokyo, and designer handbags win the day. It’s not that either of these cities is failing to be cool, but that you are. Marxy’s class five storm exists all over tokyo and berlin and new york, if you presume that 800 dollar dog collars constitute precipitation.

  45. nate Says:

    that is to say, the “youth cultural complex” posited likely exists at no place on this planet right now, but even if it did, it wouldn’t be cool.

  46. marxy Says:

    I think that last comment is probably correct. I’m not sure that anything like Harajuku has ever existed in the history of the world, besides Carnaby Street in the mid-60s. The Haight or East Village were something totally different.

  47. Mulboyne Says:

    Marxy wrote: Another point: Tokyo is fine and great, but I’m not convinced it still has the “cool” youth cultural complex it once boasted.

    I think what you thought was a cool youth complex was an anomaly brought on by the lack of job offers. Recruit Co. reported yesterday that employers are planning to offer 825,000 positions to graduates next year – the second highest total after 1991’s 840,000 and 18% higher than this year’s intake. That doesn’t mean that creativity gets killed off but it probably changes the mechanism which means you need to look in different places and media. Punk was a product of a recession in the UK while “Cool Britannia”, whatever that was supposed to be, occurred during a boom.

    I wouldn’t think of putting Sangenjaya in the same class as Harajuku but the place has changed remarkably over the last 10 years. It could yet become another Naka Meguro which you seem to like. I would agree, though, that Naka Meguro has never really blossomed. Part of the reason for that is the rise in real estate prices and rents. Sangenjaya residential rents may seem high but commercial rents are cheaper overall because there are more older buildings.

    If you are looking for a confluence of youth/money /markets then Carl was spot on when he mentioned Akiba-kei. That may not be your taste but that’s where the money is and there are plenty of foreigners and Japanese who think it’s cool. In the future, Mixi may yet be a catalyst for new trends in the same way that Myspace has helped some bands in the US and Europe.

    Inevitably, though, it does get harder to stay on top of youth trends as you get older. Age differences also affect the trends themselves. There is an essay in the 2002 book, “Japanese Cybercultures” on the noise scene which noted that older musicians tended to look down on the contribution of younger musicians which led to a divisive fragmentation. I can’t vouch for that analysis but similar issues cropped up in the 60’s theatre and butoh scene and 70’s photography so it’s possible that it has happened to your 1996 generation too. If an eighteen year old gets put in his or her place by a 28 year old then they tend to go off and do something else.

  48. marxy Says:

    older musicians tended to look down on the contribution of younger musicians which led to a divisive fragmentation.

    I’ve talked about this in other essays, but there was a real sempai-kohai torch-passing structure in the Rich Tokyo Underground Scene (Hosono, Oyamada, Konishi, etc.) that kind of hit a wall recently. Where Takahashi from YMO beknighted Salon Music who beknighted Flipper’s Guitar, Oyamada gave his benefit to a bunch of wacky PM remixers who haven’t really collected the same amount of cultural influence. Konshi has been to hesistant to really give new people chances besides just putting them in his remix factory. I saw his disciple Yoshida Tetsuto do this insane DJ set of 60s 45s (with beat matching!?) a couple of years ago, and could never figure out why Konishi wasn’t pushing him to the forefront instead of Nomoto Karia.

    Not that I care about this Shibuya-kei stuff, but…

  49. marxy Says:

    Also, I’m not convinced that it was freeter that caused the coolness bubble in the 90s. Most of the consumers were rich pre-shakaijin kids – ie, still on their parents’ money. Freeter are and have always been terrible consumers/fans. And most of the creators themselves are graduates of senmongakko and are just doing what they were trained to do anyway.

  50. Mulboyne Says:

    I don’t think we disagree. Freeters didn’t set up businesses but graduates who couldn’t find decent jobs did (using money from friends and family). They probably wouldn’t have done that if the employment conveyor belt hadn’t stopped. Freeters provided a cheap pool of staff, though.

  51. marxy Says:

    There are “economically disadvantaged” freeters and “privlidged freeters.” I would guess that a majority of the music and fashion came from the latter (although Fujiwara Hiroshi is an obvious member of the former.) JETRO’s report on Gross National Cool tried to make it sound that people without corporate job options had a better reason in the recession to go into the creative industries, but all the case studies I know point to the opposite: kids who were never going to get a salaryman job (which by the way is only 10% of the workforce to start with) and rich kids who don’t need to get a salaryman job.

  52. dzima Says:

    (One thing you’re forgetting about Sangenjaya is that it is home to Fujiyama, mecca of Japanese noise CDs and worst costumer service you’ll ever get in Japan [which is a part of its charm for some people])

  53. marxy Says:

    Wait, is Fujiyama the “自分の踊り方で踊ればいいんだよ” place? That store is open sporadically and I once asked if they had any Citrus 7″s and the guy acted as if I had killed his daughter.

  54. dzima Says:

    I went there once and it happened to be closed so I asked the obaachan from the fruit shop next door if she knew when Fujiyama was opened. She nodded saying that the owner is chotto kawatta hito.

    r. might chip in here and give us a hand but if I’m not mistaken he once raved about the Nippori area being a new underground art hub. Does anyone know anything in detail about that?

  55. guest Says:

    Hold your horses, Marxy! According to the OECD, over 25% of the Japanese workforce is engaged in part-time employment:

    Among OECD countries, only Australia and the Netherlands have higher percentages of their labor force engaged in part-time work. And they at least have the remnants of a welfare state to fall back on. Japanese part-time and temp workers are screwed, and it’s going to get a lot worse, if the bastards at Keidanren get their way (and when don’t they?):

    Toyota, who shares a chairman with Keidanren, pioneered this whole dismal business with their トヨタ生産方式:

    “Japanese industrialists’ objective was to contain the insurgency of postwar Japanese workers, whose struggles revolved around seisan kanri or “production control” (workers took over the workplace and ran it under their own control) to circumvent the U.S. Occupation’s no-strike rule.”

    Well, I’d better wrap this comment up before I start thumping the Manifesto. Props on the planned move to Kichijoji, which has been the best neighborhood in Tokyo to actually live in for quite a while now. If you’re a meat eater, check out いせや焼き鳥! Great ambiance…

  56. guest Says:

    Oops, I think I misread your comment, Marxy. If you meant that salarymen are only 10% of the workforce, then you’re absolutely right. My apologies.

    Mulbyone, I wonder if any newly created jobs will go to people currently floating around as twmps, or if employers still only want fresh grads? I’ve heard concerns that once you go temp you’ll never get a “real” job. Almost like being born under a bad sign.

  57. der Says:

    Postscript: you got a problem with my hoodie? (asks the NY times)

  58. Momus Says:

    Link should read You got a problem with my hoodie?

    Actually, I rather like these kiddy hoodies. I’ve seen people on the subways here in New York wearing them, and it makes a change from the dull denims and black jackets people usually wear. I also like the candy-coloured sneakers Bape are selling here. I think they’ve improved recently. I’m sticking to my Japanese carpenter’s outfits, though. Wristbands cost $2 from Shinsekai uniform stores, and everyone marvels at them.

  59. marxy Says:

    Again, Tokyo 1996 rears its head in the Western media.