The Misanthropology of Late-Stage Kogal

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“There is a case to be made that the kogal image epitomized Japan’s hazily defined crisis of the 1990s at least as well as did layoffs by top Japanese firms,” writes David Leheny in his book Think Global, Fear Local: Sex, Violence, And Anxiety in Contemporary Japan. Although the kogyaru/kogal appeared too late and peaked too early to really sum up the entirety of the Lost Decade, Lehery is right that most would rather visualize the era through wild youth female subculture than gray old men losing jobs in corporate restructuring.

Hell, everyone loves rebellious kids, and the kogals/kogyaru — with their tanned skin, scandalous skirt length, “loose” socks, mysterious argot, and alleged promiscuity — were perhaps the world’s most fascinating youth tribe in the 1990s. For foreigners looking at Japan from abroad, the kogal appeared to be empowered young women forming a revolutionary army against the patriarchal mores of traditional society. Some gawkers came for the the fashion innovation, and and some were mystified by the large numbers, but the kogals’ widespread popularity/infamy came mostly from the unbridled teenage sexuality at the heart of the movement. Maybe this is slightly unfair, but Punk:Music::Kogal:Sex. For many Japanese men, the kogal movement legitimized and updated a latent ephebophilia. When tales of enjo kosai (compensated dating) appeared in the media, it created a narrative where young women were willing participants in the Lolita fantasy as long as prices were high enough.

At this point, so much myth and innuendo surrounds the kogal phenomenon that it is worth going back and looking at their point of origin. According to egg magazine founder Yonehara Yasumasa, the first kogal were delinquent private school students (Aoyama Gakuin and Seikei listed as two main sources by Wikipedia) with rich delinquent boyfriends who cruised in the roving gangs of Shibuya called chiimaa (teamer). Their particular clothing style and gruff speech were intended to scare off lecherous old men.

What is important to remember at this stage is that the kogal were relatively rich and relatively attractive, and they were called “ko-gal (maybe from 子ギャル)” because they were imitating their older “gal” superiors at a precocious age. Their collective reason for rebellion was nothing particularly novel: They were your stereotypically bored (sub)urban rich kids who were ready to be adults but were stuck within the concrete confines of secondary education. So they acted out by having older boyfriends and sexualizing their uniforms.1 The slightly darker skin may also have been a product of a psychological impulse to appear more sophisticated (or based on the natural tan of wealthy surfers) rather than the misconception that they had any association with or interest in African-American culture. The short skirt is also telling, because the previous style of rebellion had been the yankii practice of lengthening the uniform’s skirt — something much harder to pull off and without immediate sexual message. The kogals wanted to rebel, but they also wanted to show a little skin like their elder peers.


Mainstream kogals

By 1997, however, the commercial establishment began to catch up with the kogal movement and spread its gospel of fashion liberation out to the entire nation. Starting around 1995, chapatsu — brown hair — went from an act of juvenile delinquency to a mainstream style. Magazines then created the guidelines for openly constructing the “kogal fashion,” and middle-class girls rushed in to participate. Soon to follow came a less glamorous bunch of young women from the countryside who wanted in on the delinquency angle.

The male-dominated shukanshi did their part to twist the aggressive anti-Lolita of the original kogal look into a masochistic neo-Lolita fantasy. The “oyaji pranking” of “enjo kosai” — where girls would charge men ¥10,000 for a one minute date — became transformed into something more titillating: a slightly less-stigmatized form of child prostitution. The media attention not only sent middle-aged men out on the prowl to find these girls, but also gave many girls from the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder a convenient way to afford the consumer component of the gal lifestyle.


Ganguro kogal

Once the look peaked as a mass trend in 1999, the movement became more and more marked by its late-adopters. The extremes of the style — the ganguro and yamamba — took the slightly provocative “delinquent consumer subculture” (a mix between delinquent subcultures and consumer lifestyles) over the edge to aggressive confrontation. When egg became a consumer lifestyle mag for these delinquent girls, the clear difference in the group’s “morality” became reflected on the pages: issues featured tales of outrageous and casual sexual play and guides to “how to have sex in car” that would never fit in an issue of an-an (a magazine that still asks girls “which celebrity would you like to be bedded by” instead of “who would you like to bed?”) What had been a slightly new style and beauty aesthetic turned into Frankenstein costumes. The extreme character of the kogal movement post-’99 immediately displaced mainstream society’s original feelings of curiosity and lust with something new: massive antagonism.

In her essay, “Black Faces, Witches, and Racism against Girls” in Bad Girls of Japan (Ed. Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley, 2005), Sharon Kinsella identifies and explores this widespread hostility against the late-stage ganguro kogal. Her essay lists quote after quote from the weekly male magazines disapproving of the youth look. Kinsella even finds female writer Nakano Midori (from “Yamamba,” Japan Echo 27, vol 1, Feb 2000) admitting, “In all honesty, I have seen very few girls sporting the style that brings me even close to thinking, ‘Without that makeup, she must be a beauty, what a waste.'” In sum, Kinsella writes that the girls are “an affront to the tastes of male readers.” Indeed.

Her final analysis, however, takes a seriously wrong turn when she begins to blame the roots of the antagonism in profound racial prejudice. She objurgates, and boy does she objurgate:

Furthermore, commentary about the race, tribe, and skin color of girls, was sometimes entwined with a derogatory and pseudo-Darwinian commentary about dark-skinned girls, which implied that they were a kind of species or animal. Classified as dark-skinned primitives and animals, girls daring to wear black face and witch outfits sometimes became subject to a racist assault on their humanity.

Kinsella provides a couple of neat examples of this “racial assault” — Spa calling the kogal’s lack of morals a “Latinization” of Japanese culture, for example. But her analysis fails to recognize all the other reasons to dislike the late-stage kogal that likely have nothing to do with latent racism.

First, the charge that these girls were “dumb, dirty, and ugly” seems to match certain pre-existing conceptualizations of the girls’ placement within the standard high-school hierarchy. The girls who became the main recruiting base for the extreme kogal were not rich delinquents who dressed in designer bags, snuck out to clubs, and had college boyfriends, but those (lower class) girls who would be viewed as losers in the prism of their environment — neither smart enough to hold college aspirations nor cute enough to attract boyfriends or popular pals. The ganguro look offered them an escape from the hierarchy, in which they had already realized they were destined to fail, by letting them hide their true identities in costume and bond with girls in similar positions and values from all around the country. Commenting on the late-stage kogal costume, Kinsella guesses that “the main effect… is to frighten” and brings up Dick Hebdige‘s theory of subculture as “intelligent style”: Girls have invented their own uniforms in order to mark themselves in opposition to the values of mainstream society. But she is angered that, “society just merrily misinterprets [the look] as a form of animal coloring or tribal decoration.”

If the look is Hebdigian in form, however, the goal is precisely anti-social, and the kogals ended up winning the desired effect — total enmity from the mainstream.2 Why Kinsella thinks society should respect the “intelligence” of the uniform, however, is unclear. More importantly, the early, mass-friendly kogal had provided older men a three-dimensional sexualized spectacle upon the streets of the city and tantalizing myths of easily acquiring their flesh for a small lump sum (where the girls themselves were understood to graciously remove moral boundaries and replaced them with market prices). The ganguro girls took the rebellious-yet-sexy movement of the original kogal and robbed it of its mass aesthetic pleasure. Kogals now looked scary, and to a certain degree, were less likely to be the “normal” daughters from private schools and more likely to be the “unwanted.” The kogals stole back the style from the fantasies of fathers and made it once more about themselves. To see where the conflict lay, Kinsella quotes a men’s magazine headline complaining about the infiltration of the ganguro look into their precious porn videos.

Knowing the intentional struggle manufactured by the fashion look, why would men’s magazines be supportive of the ganguro kogal? Adding in the obvious socioeconomic and regional bias — the new girls were neither urban nor urbane — these girls had absolutely nothing going for them outside of their subcultural participation. Kinsella oddly projects the responsibilities of academic anthropologists upon the Japanese media — organizations that clearly see themselves as arbiters of “conventional” values rather than sympathetic social analysts. While men may have felt robbed of convenient sexual fantasy, women on the other hand remained unimpressed with the girls they always saw beneath them in the classroom. Even now, I ask a Japanese female about the types who became late-stage kogals, and she answers, “The dumbest (一番バカ) and ugliest (一番ブス) girls in the class.” The word “dirty” (汚い) also comes up. Kinsella finds the same sentiment — “The allegation that witches and black faces were ugly and stupid, circulated widely and formed a base stereotype” — but then crams it into her shaky narrative — “underlying more intricate considerations of their hygiene and racial origins.” Do we dislike them because their skin color goes against traditional ideas of Japanese beauty and colonialist concerns? Or is it that many have misanthropic feelings that they are merely ugly, dirty, and dumb girls in outdated and unflattering makeup?

The ganguro today still exist, of course, although relatively marginal and have not been “cool” for a decade now (at least, as dictated by the domestic fashion authorities.) They have boiled down to their most hardcore delinquent/leftover element.

Notes:

1 The original kogal strikes me as fitting well in the “rich kid delinquent” archetype that Ishihara Shintaro and the Taiyo-zoku Sun Tribe set back in the 1950s and carried on through the Southern All-Stars surfer of the 70s.
2 This puts the ganguro kogal in the mold of the normal yankii working-class rebellion archetype.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
January 23, 2007

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

66 Responses

  1. Darragh Says:

    Trying to understand Japan social through the prism of , race-is-everything American dynamics doesn’t work. One of the key reasons is that though the Japanese are certainly capable of racism, people too often assume standard-issue western prejudices in Japan, when in fact the Nipponese brands of discrimination have their own histories and paradigms.

    When I ask my (Japanese) friends what they think of the ganguro remnants of today, most of the distaste they express is usually based on seeming them as déclassé- crude and ignorant. And to be honest, the extremes of matted hair and panda-make up to which the whole style eventually ran are rather 醜い。

  2. Adamu Says:

    What a great read that helps make sense of it all. You just summed up the whole movement in a few easily digestible pages. It’s enough that I feel vindicated for not keeping up with Men’s Egg after being totally floored by its contents back when they were still fresh.

    And if analyses of Japan tainted by Western perspectives are on the menu, you might enjoy this interview with the author of “Kickboxing Geisha.”

  3. Momus Says:

    This seems disconcertingly like personal prejudice in the form of an academic essay; “Objective reasons to hate the ganguro” — with footnotes.

    There are either too many footnotes or too few. If it’s a blog entry, there are too many, if it’s a proper scholarly essay, too few. For instance, there’s no footnote telling us who the Japanese female is who called ganguro “the ugliest and stupidest in the class”. The wife, perhaps? And no demographic footnote about whether this key witness went to school in the country herself. Because we’re told (as we have been before on Neomarxisme, in the context of a similarly-disgusted assessment of AV stars) that ganguros are “neither urban nor urbane” and “women from the countryside”. So Japan, despite being urbanized at around 65%, draws all its porn stars and all its late ganguro from the countryside? A footnote on this demographic allegation would be very welcome, because otherwise it looks like prejudice and stereotyping posing as academic data.

  4. marxy Says:

    I don’t want to claim there is no racial discrimination at work in Japanese tastes, but I am not sure it’s the dominant one at work with ganguro.

    Although I say it subtly, the whole style to me looks like a standard class-based trickle-down, with the upper classes being the innovators and early adopters, the middle-class being the mass, and the lower classes picking it up at the end. There is a lot of class discrimination built into picking on the bottom variations who turned it into ganguro.

  5. Mutantfrog Says:

    >
    Isn’t hating the ganguro just playing right into their hand?

  6. marxy Says:

    “So Japan, despite being urbanized at around 65%, draws all its porn stars and all its late ganguro from the countryside?”

    If you’ve moved to Tokyo from Saitama are you “urbanized”? Is Saitama or Gunma “urbanized”?

    “the ugliest and stupidest in the class”

    The bigger question is whether this is a typical reponse or not. My guess is, yes. Ask around and see what you get. Kinsella found a similar response in her look at the media at the time.

  7. Adamu Says:

    Hm, html isn’t working but just look for the book title on salon dot com and be amazed.

  8. marxy Says:

    “This seems disconcertingly like personal prejudice in the form of an academic essay.”

    I don’t think you get my point – no one in Japan likes or liked the ganguro. Everyone is in agreement there. I am trying to least break that down, because I don’t think it has to do with race. (Do YOU like the ganguro? They seem worlds away from your Japanese art school student expat crush.)

    Also, why is this an academic essay? Why can’t it be academically-informed critical media? (Are YOU writing academic essays every time you reference an academic?)

  9. Momus Says:

    “Do YOU like the ganguro?”

    Well, since you ask… googling back through my own (rather sparse) references to ganguro, I find I’m pretty ambivalent about it. Here are the 5 references I could find:

    2000: “[In my art show] you will also be able to have a song written about you, and to buy a rather bad piece of junkstore folk art painted by me (likely to feature Pac Men as ancestor spirits and Ganguro Girls as Amazon goddesses).” [Never painted.]

    2000: “[Touring Hamburg] Shizu and I make a beeline for a nearby Japanese bookstore and catch up with the latest Japanese magazines. I’m aghast to find that the ganguro (‘black faced’) girl movement is still going. I thought it had died the death last spring. But its flagship magazine, Egg, is not only back (it was closed down for several months after being linked to prostitution rings), but now has a brother, Egg Men. Shizu and I sigh saite (disgusting) as we survey page after page of gormless tanned and tinted buriteri girls.”

    2001: (Article for Relax magazine) “In the West the tabloid papers invent scandals to sell more papers. Here it seems to be the style press who make things up. If a new style like Ganguro doesn’t come along, you have to invent one, like Nakame-kei!”

    2005: (Blog dialogue between two fictional characters) Chromatic Geographer: “the last major style trend in Japan, ganguro, was due to a massive influx of yamamba, tanned mountain hags descending on the cities en masse, abandoning their animal herds in the high pasture…
    Fashion Chromaticist: Honestly, what rubbish! You know nothing about style!

    2006: (Blog essay) “The following things disappointed me as possible sources of… gorgeousness… [list of things] …Japanese youth culture as portrayed in street fashion magazines like FRUiTS… since the decline of ganguro, the last Japanese youth culture style of any interest.”

    So for me it’s both disgusting AND the last Japanese youth culture movement.

  10. marxy Says:

    ”So for me it’s both disgusting AND the last Japanese youth culture movement.”

    So, I should have used less footnotes…?

    I think it is the latest major easily-visible youth movement to have happened in a while. But what does “youth movement” mean? Does it have to be anti-social? Does it have to be delinquent? Does it have to be new? Does it have to be interesting to us?

    The CanCam stuff is a movement of sorts, but not anti-social nor new. There are very vague movements and groupings these days, but nothing near as extreme.

  11. michael Says:

    very well written…
    a couple of things come to mind:

    why does hating or not hating these girls have to be a part of the discussion of them?–i find that interesting. and why is such an unkind word as “disgusting” even being used? why so cruel?

    lastly, for what it’s worth, i don’t see anything “radical” or non-“mainstream” about these various style movements–they’re all, in some way, still contributing to mass material consumption (regardless of the attractiveness or repulsiveness of the style, it still involves shopping), and all flavored with healthy doses of male sexual fantasy and exploitation–none of it is the least bit radical. on the contrary, it’s all extremely mainstream and very typical, i’d say.

    a great read, again…

    michael

  12. marxy Says:

    “why is such an unkind word as “disgusting” even being used? why so cruel?”

    I think the media and general public felt a serious hostility towards the last-stage kogal. I think it’s hard NOT to talk about the enmity. Also, if they are intentionally looking “displeasing,” then many are going to react by finding them “digusting.”

    “they’re all, in some way, still contributing to mass material consumption”

    Yes. These definitely are not anti-consumer looks. They have internalized commercial logic in their rebellion.

  13. Momus Says:

    There are strong parallels between ganguro and punk.

    This is something I tried to bring up with Malcolm McLaren when I interviewed him. I suggested that he had used Situationism as a sort of sophisticated marketing strategy for punk. It looked like nihilism and rebellion at the time, but it was just very, very clever marketing. And it would have appalled the Situationists, who really wanted to undermine and overthrow the Society of Spectacle.

    But I think we throw the baby out with the bathwater if we suggest that since all style revolutions happen within a consumer context, they are all no more nor less subversive than each other. Some are clearly more subversive, and they’re usually the ones that have nice, normal, bourgeois people reaching for words like “disgusting”.

  14. marxy Says:

    “Some are clearly more subversive, and they’re usually the ones that have nice, normal, bourgeois people reaching for words like “disgusting”.”

    The question is whether there is a larger goal than just annoying the bourgeoisie. Obviously there is solidarity in opposition, but are there other goals? Huge question – but is power recentered? What did punk “achieve” that Surrealism didn’t by ripping into the established mores? Economic success? Marketing genius?

  15. Momus Says:

    Perhaps punk was Surrealism / Situationism for poor kids “from the country”? It can take several decades for ideas to radiate out from elites to the dispossessed, who often have a greater vested interest in upsetting the established order.

  16. Brown Says:

    Further still, perhaps punk is to hardcore as kogal is to ganguro/yamamba?

  17. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    interesting. however, I’m entirely unmotivated to read Kinsella in depth, in large part due to the allegation that mainstream dislike of the yamamba types has anything to do with “racism against girls” (since when are girls a race anyways?) Your summary gives me the idea that this is just more silly western twattery posing as serious study.

    Uncle Momus soiled himself with the first reply, but started to make a comeback later on. Momurs, you really ought to spend more time here and get to the point where you can talk to the locals. One nice part of gaijin license is you can approach and speak to people outside of the mainstream and they might actually talk to you where they probably wouldnt talk to the average citizen. Were you to try this around Center Gai, you might well find that the broad generalization of these kids as inakamono mostly applies.

    However, regardless of Malcolm McLaren and high falutin art types, the punk analogy is quite apt. Kids who are told they are rejected and seek to prove the disapprovers right. Its really not ever about upsetting the established order as much as just having some people like you to hang out with, all appearances to the contrary.

  18. Chuckles Says:

    […Do we dislike them because their skin color goes against traditional ideas of Japanese beauty and colonialist concerns? Or is it that many have misanthropic feelings that they are merely ugly, dirty, and dumb girls in outdated and unflattering makeup?…]

    Why not both? Colonial discourse does not distinguish between the beautiful and the good. The conflation of being ugly, dirty, dumb and black is a bedrock of said discourse: existential antagonism hidden as aesthetic critique.

  19. marxy Says:

    “The conflation of being ugly, dirty, dumb and black is a bedrock of said discourse: existential antagonism hidden as aesthetic critique.”

    This is going to sound really Stone Age, but how do we test that?

  20. trevor Says:

    why, in the one picture. are only 3 of the 4 girls eyes pixled out? pixeling seems like an all or nothing game. ???

  21. Brad Says:

    I think that girl on the right in the one photo is actually a singer/idol type. I’ve seen similar photos on TV or magazines when they want to show what the star looked like when they were young. They don’t have permission to show the other people’s faces, so they blur them out.

  22. marxy Says:

    She is some manner of star! I stole it from some “before they were stars” type page.

  23. Chuckles Says:

    […but how do we test that…]

    Oh, come now, Mr. Marx. This – from you?
    But to be nice, it suffices to show that the statement is falsifiable. Simply produce an example of colonial discourse in which said conflation is absent as a foundational element and I exit stage right. The coolness/misanthropy directed at early/late Kogal maps very nicely to a kakkoi/kawaisou narrative of blackness and Africanity.

  24. marxy Says:

    kakkoi/kawaisou narrative of blackness and Africanity.

    But I think it’s hard to link early kogal culture – or even gal culture – to aspirational Blackness. You can have darker skin from surfing, sunbathing, a life of luxury, etc. Did the girls even listen to hip hop? Not really. So much of the music is about Eurobeat and aspiration towards this imaginary luxury lifestyle – at least for the early stage.

    The other question we have to ask is, what is “colonialism” in Japan? Does it mean internalization of Western ideas of colonialism? Think about the difference between European colonialism – France in Africa – vs. Japanese colonialism, where the Japanese came into contact with people of similar appearance and race. (Only later in their wartime expansion did they hit the “Southern” people. Maybe we could count Taiwan, but the difference is still minimal.) At the end of the reasoning, I don’t think you’ll arrive at “there is no colonialist aesthetic principles in Japan,” but I think you need to build that historical case before just assuming that any sign of darkened skin is going to immediately piss off the general public.

    The early kogal – with darkened skin – were more accepted. How dark does skin have to get? And what if the ganguro had been lower class girls with bad hygiene and LIGHT skin? Same colonialism?

  25. Troy Says:

    Aside from the global youth-movement psychology, I think it would be useful to look at the ganguro at the personal level. From what I gathered, the big loose socks made their legs look more attractive (ie less “fat”), the makeup and hair treatment served to camouflage a more average appearance.

    I think the above factors were a big part of the impetus behind its popularity.

    As for recent youth movements, perhaps the Harajuku goth-y types might qualify (nb: I lived in Tokyo 1992-2000).

    ps: as a culturist, if you haven’t gone to a semi-annual Comic Market show, I highly urge you to do so . . . my going to the summer 1999 show was the most “holy ****!” moment of my stay there.

  26. Laotree Says:

    I think you’ve just pinpointed my problem with this discussion. How do we define racism or colonialism among members of the same race? Isn’t skin color in Japanese society more of an aesthetic concern than one of race (unless we’re talking about dark-skinned foreigners)? Isn’t the perceived superiority of light skin, historically speaking, more class-based than anything else, predating Japan’s colonial era? (i.e. a traditionally pale nobility ruling over agricultural laborers with tans.)
    If the ganguro were, as you say, lower-class country girls, then you could say that a hundred years ago they would have been similarly dark from field work. (only now it’s through artificial means) While one could say that the look is influenced by foreign culture, I don’t think the backlash has that much to do with race or colonialism, or even differs much from more traditional yankii criticism.
    Are there still any Mori-o (male ganguro) around or was that a quick flash in the pan? I haven’t been out on the town in a while…

  27. Momus Says:

    Aren’t “host” boys a sort of socialized male ganguro? They have the tans, the lightened brown hair…

  28. Laotree Says:

    Well, hosts can still blend into the landscape. A few years back there was an extreme male ganguro form, guys with stickers all over their faces, yamamba makeup, etc. Saw a few on TV and in person, but probably never was a widespread phenom. Guess they’re extinct now…

  29. marxy Says:

    I may put these stats up in a different post if I can figure out an elegant way to present them, but I have some demographic stats for fashion magazines.

    Out of the main fashion mags I looked at, the gal mag Cawaii has one of the lowest ratio of readers living in Tokyo – 9.1%. (Compare this with Cancam (32.3%) living in Tokyo.) Cawaii has lower reader ratios than the population makeup in the rich parts of Kanto (Tokyo and Kanagawa) and higher ratios, but higher for the more rural parts of Kanto (Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, and Chiba).

    I unfortunately have no stats on Egg. There is going to be a bit of a non-Tokyo bias because teenagers tend to live outside of Tokyo and move in when they are older as students or workers, but the stats still suggest the gal look is a non-urban one.

  30. marxy Says:

    “Aren’t “host” boys a sort of socialized male ganguro? They have the tans, the lightened brown hair…”

    I think the hosts look like male versions of the Kyaba-jou hostesses. There is something aesthetically connected to the gal look, but maybe not the ganguro look.

  31. eiff ell Says:

    It’s the dadaists who were the big punks. The surrealists were more like greenday. The original caberet votaire were nihilists except they believed in one thing – that wwi was a horror. They never “took off” commericially because they were scattered by that war. The punks were not anti-war (in fact a lot of them said they were pro-war – ironically, course). They were pure nihilists, and they were hugely commercially successful.
    One might say that what punk achieved that dada didn’t was the absorbtion of rebellion into the world of capital. This is an american perspective, but before, with the hippies during the protests against the vietnam war, the general reaction was disgust and revulsion – “hippies smell bad.” Now, with a very similar war happening, there is hardly any protest, but there are a million punk bands on myspace – all of whom appear to have a metrosexual fragrance. I know that someone else would have aided the commercialisation of the revolutionary spirit if Malcom McLaren hadn’t, so I hope he is enjoying his cash. Yeah, he’s a genious, but he’s a royal fuckup as well.

  32. Rei Says:

    Nice essay, but one small correction: JJ has 100% completely moved on from any “gal” influence (now it is all about the ojousan look- white skin & dark hair). Maybe you are thinking of Pinky or ViVi?

  33. Rei Says:

    “Aren’t “host” boys a sort of socialized male ganguro? They have the tans, the lightened brown hair…”

    Hosts are just the male form of kabakura club girls and sex-workers. I have heard that the majority of host club customers are hostesses and prostitutes, who like to have ‘attractive’ men serve them after a long day of serving old oyajis.

  34. marxy Says:

    “JJ has 100% completely moved on from any “gal” influence (now it is all about the ojousan look- white skin & dark hair). Maybe you are thinking of Pinky or ViVi?”

    Pinky and Vivi are definitely more gal-influenced, but I doubt they want to see themselves described that way. I take your point about JJ, although JJ still seems slightly more ex-kogal to me than CanCam.

    “I have heard that the majority of host club customers are hostesses and prostitutes, who like to have ‘attractive’ men serve them after a long day of serving old oyajis.”

    We all have heard this and it’s probably true, even though I keep getting berated for the sexist allegations that normal women don’t want to pay for this kind of service by a certain segment of my readers.

  35. Brown Says:

    Might a lot of this skin color thing be a policing of gender boundaries? It’s OK for men to be darker skinned- and not just hosts and day-laborers, but men of all classes: look at Taro Aso! Only a shade or two paler than Condi Rice in their joint photo-ops. Or is that some kind of semiotic appeal to populist sentiment?

    Also, I really can’t get enough of that new Boss coffee ad with Tommy Lee Jones… as an alien… working in a host club… getting a tan!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCHMk6RBLKI

    Best thing on J TV since… the other Tommy Lee Jones ads. There’s some seriously sophisticated intentional irony in there, I think.

  36. Brown Says:

    Maybe I spoke too soon about male disinterest in staying or becoming 美白:

    Google 美白の女/美白な女/美白女 about 85,000 hits total

    Google 美白の男/美白な男/美白男 about 60,000 hits total

    Not so different after all. Speaking of such things, does anyone know when the hetero male craze for depilation began in Japan?

  37. marxy Says:

    I think you can make and enjoy that CM without any grasp on irony. (Man, if you don’t like the gal thing, you aren’t going to dig Wakatsuki Chinatsu either. She’s cut from that cloth.)

  38. lil jamie Says:

    there are still male “gyaru” types, i saw a lot of them this summer in osaka, they were mostly in small groups wandering and trying to nanpa the wandering groups of gyaru girls… as for the death of ganguro, there are still a lot of upper class gyaru types, in sapporo (for me, the closest big city) a lot of them work in retail especially of expensive european brand stores (egoiste etc)… and i’ve lately even seen a lot of attractive and obviously wealthy high school aged girls and boys with full on darkened skn, and an unhealthy interest in para para and eurobeat… whats funny is that really is nothing racial about gyaru, and that girls who do darken their skin for ‘racial’ reasons (the reggae/dancehall) are usually really antagonistic to the gyaru types…

  39. Brown Says:

    Marxy: You don’t think the Jones ads are a knowing riff on the whole “gaijin as aliens” trope? How about this wager: the ads are either brilliantly, deeply ironic or not ironic at all. I bet on the former. You were wrong about Zuiikin English, remember!

    Lil Jamie: My observations- totally anecdotal, of course- suggest that nikkeijin Brazilians are surprisingly successful at nanpa-ing working class gyaru (or whatever you call the girls in the grey sweatsuits). Haven’t ever seen them hitting on the dancehall girls. Is it a class thing, or are the nikkeijin boys just not interested in girls who are imitating an AfroCaribbean style not so far removed from their “home” culture (which many of them never really knew anyway)?

  40. Brown Says:

    …and maybe the new NOVA ads too. Or am I abusing the concept of irony as profoundly as Alanis Morissette?

  41. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Laotree,

    The male Yamamba were/are called “Center Guys”. I enjoy the pun.

  42. Darragh Says:

    Host club patrons = majority water-trade girls is a fact.
    And what is up with the depilation? I’ve noticed an increasing number of ads for electrolysis for beards etc., on the trains recently. Is this a Japanese thing, or also a western trend?

  43. Darragh Says:

    Host club patrons = majority water-trade girls is a fact.
    And what is up with the depilation? I’ve noticed an increasing number of ads for electrolysis for beards etc., on the trains recently. Is this a Japanese thing, or also a western trend?

  44. Darragh Says:

    oops

  45. Momus Says:

    “the stats still suggest the gal look is a non-urban one.”

    Wait, there’s a difference between “non-Tokyo” and rural, surely! Only 10% of Japan’s population lives in Tokyo, but that doesn’t mean 90% of Japanese are hicks from the sticks! This is a nation urbanized at 65%! You have a very eccentric definition of “urban”… especially when you want to look down your nose!

  46. Chuckles Says:

    […The other question we have to ask is, what is colonialism in Japan?…I think you need to build that historical case before just assuming that any sign of darkened skin is going to immediately piss off the general public…And what if the ganguro had been lower class girls with bad hygiene and LIGHT skin? Same colonialism?…]

    1. But there is a historical case – even if one begins with Nanbanga: The Africans depicted in Nanbanga are colonized bodies. This much is obvious – and the class projection is definite: You dont wear rags if you are a member of the elite or walk about barefoot.

    2. There *is* a historical case: Prebles diary relates a second contact scenario that involved Africans as minstrels.

    3. While I have not heard this – Kome no meshi to onna wa shiroi hodo yoi – expressed by any of my Japanese acquaintances, I have come across it in records of Japanese sayings and proverbs.

    4. Masao Miyoshis narrative of the first Japanese official entourage on tour of the USA includes a stop in Hawaii (and other locations)- charming descriptions of people being as black and ugly as devils may be found if you look hard enough.

    5. Narrative via Kenzaburo Oe; see Shiiku. Definitely *not* complimentary. See also Matsumoto Seicho.

    6. And so on. What pisses off the general public is not simply the sign of dark skin, as you have opined. Take a white kid from the burbs and give him some hip hop. Hes so cool. Take a white kid from a ghetto and give him some hip hop. Hes trash. The first kid is cool because – hey! He identifies with those raging, exotic blacks. What an intellectual mind. The second kid is not cool because, hey! He identifies with those criminal blacks! Hes white – cant he do anything better with himself? Hes trash! Upper middle class persons like Carl Jung can travel to East Africa, mix with the natives and call it Anthroplogy. If one of Jungs manservants did that, he would be going shenzi. The conflation of class and play suggests that it is blackness that serves to reify class/aesthetic judgments. Which is why I asked in the first – why not both?

    7. So to answer your questions: a.)Modern colonialism in Japan shares characteristics with colonialism elsewhere: Structure and Class played on a canvas of type (regardless of whether the type in question is a social construct or not). b.)There is a historical case. See 1-6. c.)Lower class does not exclude one from being Yamato nadeshiko. Bad hygiene was not uncommon among upper class early Kogal. May I reiterate that I suspect that what is going on here is an all too familiar play with blackness that we have seen time and again in the West? One doesnt even have to even listen to hiphop to play.

  47. Mulboyne Says:

    Momus wrote: “Wait, there’s a difference between ‘non-Tokyo’ and rural, surely! Only 10% of Japan’s population lives in Tokyo, but that doesn’t mean 90% of Japanese are hicks from the sticks!”

    Japanese people born in some of the most densely populated towns and cities in the world will freely call their hometowns “inaka”. Maybe not “country bumpkins” but “hicks from the sticks” is a reasonable pejorative.

    One aspect of Tokyo life that continues to surprise me is the way that most non-Tokyoites feel the need to speak Tokyo-ben rather than their own local accent when they come to the city. In Britain, this was not uncommon for aspirational types hoping to disguise their class and make their way in London fifty years ago but not many would bother today. Yoshimoto Kogyo’s success may have made accents from West Japan more acceptable for comedy but there aren’t many other examples.

  48. marxy Says:

    ”but that doesn’t mean 90% of Japanese are hicks from the sticks!””

    I don’t think you understand how fundamentally centralized Japanese culture has become. Being from a big urban area in Gunma still means “inaka.”

  49. liljamie Says:

    I don’t think you understand how fundamentally centralized Japanese culture has become. Being from a big urban area in Gunma still means “inaka.”

    granted, Japan is far more centralized than america, where lots of people couldn’t give a damn about new york or new york culture…. but this seems to be a really Kanto-biased look at things… i live in rural hokkaido and young people here would much rather move to Sapporo than to Tokyo, I’ve spent time in kyuushuu too, and for most of the kids there, moving to fukuoka or kita kyuushuu was far more important than moving to tokyo. Now you can make the argument that Tokyo is the cultural center of japan, but if thats the case how come every young person i know loves osaka-ben but couldn’t care less about kanto-ben. and i mean Dancehall/hip hop culture in japan seems to take a lot of its cues from the scenes in Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka, as much as it does from Tokyo/Yokohama

  50. liljamie Says:

    “Lil Jamie: My observations- totally anecdotal, of course- suggest that nikkeijin Brazilians are surprisingly successful at nanpa-ing working class gyaru (or whatever you call the girls in the grey sweatsuits). Haven’t ever seen them hitting on the dancehall girls. Is it a class thing, or are the nikkeijin boys just not interested in girls who are imitating an AfroCaribbean style not so far removed from their “home” culture (which many of them never really knew anyway)?”

    I’ve never been in osaka for more than a week or two at a time, and i’ve never really interacted wth any of the brazillian nikkei kids, although i have been repeatedly warned about how agressive they are toward women, but then they dont go to dancehall clubs and i dont go to gaijin clubs, so maybe thats why i dont see them… i would think it would be a class thing but like i said, no idea.

    its interesting because the class divisions withn gyaru culture would also be really hebdigian… old school punks couldnt get good work because of their non-‘straight’ style, but punk became hardcore which became indie and now you can be ‘punk’ and get a job anywhere. Gyaru may have been and may be another oppositional lower class style (cause whos gonna hire a gyaru) much like yankii was (and arent the gyaru in the full on sweats just the new ‘yankii’s anyway?) but now that theres o-nee-kei, you can be gyaru and not just get a job, but be a fashionable and upstanding member of the community.

  51. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    [“you aren’t going to dig Wakatsuki Chinatsu either”]
    (DOES NOT COMPUTE)

  52. Laotree Says:

    Sometimes I feel sorry for these O-nee-kei girls cuz they spend so much time doing their hair but apparently can’t quite see themselves from the back; looks like a good place for sparrows to make a nest.
    Plus, saying “irasshaimaseeeeeeeeee, douzooooooooo” a couple thousand times a day will give you a sore throat. Go round to a department store around closing time and you’ll hear lots of nasal cracking voices…

  53. marxy Says:

    “a.)Modern colonialism in Japan shares characteristics with colonialism elsewhere:”

    All your evidence holds up, but as others have suggested, I think the dislike of “darker skin” has greater roots in class-based discrimination against farmers and outdoor laborers than in fear of the Black planet. Not to say there is no colonialist vision of Africans or Southern peoples, but I think you still have to link the roots of the gal look to African “darkness” rather than other associations of darkness (surfing, suntans, Hawaii, etc.) before we can just say, well, ganguro is playing with colonialist fears.

    “Bad hygiene was not uncommon among upper class early Kogal.”

    Really? But do you need colonialism to be revolted by poor hygiene – especially in Japan where the idea of cleanliness existed long before even feudalistic classes. I also suspect that the bad hygiene meme is a late kogal one.

    “May I reiterate that I suspect that what is going on here is an all too familiar play with blackness that we have seen time and again in the West?”

    I am sympathetic to your argument, but am still really unsold on the idea that all dark skin is “blackness” in all scenarios and in all countries. Especially also when you have a totally distinct and separate youth subculture where the dark skin IS a nod to African-American culture.

  54. Mutantfrog Says:

    “Really? But do you need colonialism to be revolted by poor hygiene – especially in Japan where the idea of cleanliness existed long before even feudalistic classes.”

    There was strong conception of ritual cleanliness, but personal hygiene? Not so much. If you think that people back in Heiankyo were actually clean in a physical sense at all comparable today, I suspect you are sadly mistaken.

  55. alin Says:

    /// the gal look is a non-urban one. ///

    look through certain, more obscure, mid 90s fashion mags and see ko-/ganguro girls in oversized martin margiela jackets and jumpers, W& LT etc. the link between the core look and belgian deconstructive fashion is stronger than you’d think. marketing, yes. elective affinity, yes.

    //but this seems to be a really Kanto-biased look at things…//

    this is one of the best criticisms of neo-marxisme. talking about ‘japanese culture’ ignoring the ‘茶の味’ type of inaka life, the fact that say the Osaka morio are keping it real enough to probably make chris b’s heart pound with joy etc etc

    there obviously is one major flow to and from tokyo but here all other flows are cancelled

  56. marxy Says:

    “this is one of the best criticisms of neo-marxisme. ”

    I don’t think I came up with the idea that Tokyo is the central committee of cool for all of Japan. Sure there is lots of good stuff out there, but most of it is gleefully and willfully ignored by the media complex. Name me some hip fashion or culture mags published outside of Tokyo. There is a reason that movement to Tokyo keeps increasing despite a national decrease in population. Whether I think Kanazawa or Sapporo is “keeping it real,” I doubt that HUGE or Fine Boys really does.

    Take CanCam also – a magazine in which 1/3 of its readers are in Tokyo and 47% are in Kanto. It’s also the most widely-read fashion magazine in Japan at the moment with 700,000 copies printed. That says something about centralization of media and culture.

  57. Mutantfrog Says:

    So if CanCan is per capita far less widely read outside of Kanto, then are people there reading other fashion magazines instead, or just not reading fashion magazines as much? Are there similarly Osaka based magazines that are mostly read in Kansai?

  58. marxy Says:

    Or they aren’t reading fashion magazines at all.

    If you had a “mostly Osaka” magazine that Tokyoites rejected, they wouldn’t have relatively that many sales.

    The point is not that Osaka is trivial or meaningless, but that the whole MARKET STRUCTURE of trend/cool is primarily based around the concept of Tokyo being the central command post.

  59. alin Says:

    so what about subculture as breeding ground for culture ? why doesn’t for example the chuo-sen, possibly still the most fertile strip of subculture in the world ever get mentioned here ? i don’t get it. little export value would be my guess.

  60. marxy Says:

    “why doesn’t for example the chuo-sen”

    The train itself or the neighborhoods along it? My guess is that the coolness of the old Lefty hangouts are not “youth culture” as construed by “consumer culture for teens.”

  61. Chris_B Says:

    “he fact that say the Osaka morio are keping it real enough to probably make chris b’s heart pound with joy etc etc”

    As usual I have no idea what you really mean.

    In any case, for these discussions its not a question of whats “real” but what sells.

  62. alin Says:

    __As usual I have no idea what you really mean.

    Kind of old chris b before he became official janitor here , sort of, in my mind epytomized a certain , i guess what momus would call ‘rockist’ attitude here at neomarxisme ;; and i’m inclined to believe osaka people generally tend to get more into whatever they get into than tokyo people in a way that you could maybe call so-called ‘rockist’. well this was my logical progression. no offence meant. also personally i’m not that anti-(so-called)rockist.

  63. alin Says:

    __The train itself or the neighborhoods along it?

    i kind of have to say like chris above ‘As usual I have no idea what you really mean.’ you really are dealing with such a thin slice of it all which would be totally cool if you made it your thesis statement.

  64. Momus Says:

    “also personally i’m not that anti-(so-called)rockist.”

    JUDAS!

  65. alin Says:

    JESUS!

  66. marxy Says:

    Now that’s funny.