As part of some professional research I am engaged in, I talked with two female fashion marketing experts last night about contemporary Japanese women in their 20s. For a majority of the post-war, a Japanese woman’s lifestyle — fashion, makeup, hair, hobbies, general dispositions — could be almost perfectly deduced from her primary magazine of choice. The instruction and guidance are so precise that even the most individual extrapolation of the ingredients would still result in an extremely manifest membership to a certain style.
Knowing this, I have been interested in the grand meaning behind the giant octopus Can Cam currently sitting on top of Japanese society. The magazine has a circulation estimated between 600,000 and 750,000 — quite possibly the best selling title in Japan outside of the phonebook weekly manga. According to my sources, even women who consider themselves non•no readers may also be glancing at Can Cam to skim tips. CC‘s popularity has been attributed to the three exclusive models (専属モデル) in their pages — Ebihara Yuri, Yamada Yu, and Oshikiri Moe — but these women (all in the same K-Dash jimusho keiretsu) have only really broken into pop culture over the last year, whereas the magazine started quickly increasing readership after 2001.
Source #1 sees modern culture revolving around goukon (合コン) — the traditional group date system that brings together an equal number of boys to an equal number of girls to meet and flirt at a table. Can Cam readers are obsessed with goukon success, and in the past, that meant catching the eye of that one special boy on the other side of the tatami mat. Now girls aim to win the hearts and minds of the entire enemy side, and ultimately, those boys’ parents.
Boys who attend goukon don’t like designer fashion, weird haircuts, queer collars, innovative fabrics, challenging appearances. And they don’t even like the strong and chic Yamada Yu. They prefer the slightly grown-up yet sweet and adorable Ebihara Yuri (“Ebi-chan” to you). Opposed to its rivals, Can Cam best shows you how to dress exactly like our goukon heroine Ebi-chan and is apparently moving Yamada out of the picture to make more room for Ebi, Ebi, Ebi.
This meta-narrative of female desperation towards capturing ideal boyfriends at group dates leads to another question: who is the ideal boyfriend? Rich and hot. How is this different from the 3高 (tall, well-educated, large salary) ideal of the late ’80s? It’s not really so different, they claim, although girls today care a lot less about where the money is coming from (something revealed by the deletion of the educational requirement.) Post-Bubble, the 3高 made room for the 3C (comfortable, communicative, cooperative), but that sounds less like a husband and more like a social worker. (Am I right, ladies???) In the last several years, that pipe dream of sensitivity got thrown out the window, and girls are on their feet with a new pipe dream: lusting after rich men in fancy suits sans cravate who will save them from a dull life of economical savings and buying clothes for their nobody kids at the Uniqlo across from Bldy. Needless to say, the bulk of Can Cam readers come from middle-class and lower middle-class backgrounds and are a bit concerned about their own abilities to pull themselves up to the top echelons of the class ladder, where all the real action is.
Can Cam girls may be a plurality, but there are two other groups worth mentioning:
First, the Ero Kawaii (“erotic cute”) crew — exemplified by butter caramel squash Koda Kumi, the magazine ViVi, and the popular lingerie catalog Peach John. These are girls who do not necessarily care about finding boyfriends, because boys have never shown much interest in them to start with. Japanese guys don’t like too much skin — they prefer the demure, conservative beauty of Ebi-chan, remember — so the Ero Kawaii crew make up for it by the self-gratifying passage into softly aggressive outfits that leave a 20% pie piece to the imagination. I hate using the term “ero kawaii” — feels like I got some memo from Dentsu and am explaining Japanese “cool” to you in Fall 2005 — but I think it is important to realize how attracting boys is not at the core of the controversial look. Also for reference, these girls — like their Can Cam second-cousins — want to become very wealthy, just not necessarily through the economic transaction of marriage.
Second, the “independent” girls who are generally from wealthy backgrounds. They are not necessarily interested in boys because their birth-right gives them a confidence that failure to attract a well-to-do guy in a banana yellow Porsche will not lead them to a bland, frugal future. This confidence also means not having to follow all the instructions in those 2 kg. magazines: ensembles can be put together more freely. Not caring what men think about you opens up some serious options.