Luxury Rot

Am I underestimating or overestimating the difficulty required in procuring this particular stream of songs from early 80s? And not the “I Love the 80s” 80s, but the past mass hits with zero appeal to later media curators — not lucky enough to make it to punchline status. Like ELO’s “Xanadu” but with less name recognition. Do they make CD collections of this genre? Is there a Usen channel dedicated to it? This must be a high-level management decision, because the bleached-hair pock-marked punk-rock clerks at this “recycle shop” could not possibly be responsible.

Whatever the case, the corporate DJ collective know the perfect ingredients for ambiance. No matter if you are in Mobile, Alabama or Mitaka, Tokyo, there is no better music for browsing used furniture and refrigerators than Juice Newton and her ilk. We were looking for a dresser drawer, but I eventually wandered off to see what kind of overpriced yet cruddy musical instruments were on display and whether somebody had done me the favor of leaving behind the board game Stratego.

Past the rack of dusty men’s sportcoats, but before the endless reams of soiled children’s clothes, there is a big glass case filled with luxury handbags. The ordering corresponds to the unspoken hierarchy of status and popularity in Japan. First comes Louis Vuitton, which takes up a whole vertical section. Then comes Gucci, Chanel, followed by Coach, Prada (ouch!), and “Misc.” You may be tempted to believe that this stock is mostly fakes because of parallels to the suspicious stock of similar stores in countries with more rational approaches to luxury goods, but with somewhere between 40-90% of all Japanese females owning a Louis Vuitton product, imitation goods are unnecessary for making sense of this mini luxury select shop within what is otherwise a mildewed warehouse of refuse.

At Tokyo suburban junk stores, you can buy the same black Chanel bag that Paris Hilton wore to her sentencing last week and also pick up some classic games for your Super Famicon.

The European luxury super-brands almost have it in their interest to send out an army of ground-staff to raid these locations and buy out all of their own products. Because the dolor brought on from these sad, overlit stores — middle-class Salvation Army shops without even the basic appeal of charity and property rotation — overpowers the magic and mystery of any and all luxury goods. These bags are not even afforded the charm of functionality and practicality. No one picking up a half-price Gucci wallet would experience the adrenaline rush of rewarded frugality. The brand images get sucked into the vortex of despair contained with the glass cabinets — a variety of abandoned dreams organized by conglomerate, rotting away in the clothing corner of a thrift shop in the middle of nowhere. LV’s Monogram Multicolore may as well be an old version of Scrabble with the Q and the W missing.

W. David MARX
May 7, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

38 Responses

  1. Digiki Says:

    …and how was your DJ set at Le Baron the other night ? I’ve heard it was very 90s ?

  2. marxy Says:

    Very ’88-’91.

  3. Jrim Says:

    Nice post. I wonder if anyone here would actually flaunt the fact that they bought their brand goods second-hand. “Nice LV man-purse you’ve got there.” “Thanks! I got it for tuppence at the local mildew-mart!”
    The fact that Nagoya’s high-end recycle shop empire Komehyo has a shop in Shinjuku now would seem to suggest that the trend is spreading, although at least the folks there have the decency to display their unwanted jewelry and brand goods in glass cases with twinkly lighting. (Shame they don’t sell the electronic gubbins and cameras that the Nagoya one does, otherwise I might actually go there.)

  4. marxy Says:

    I think the “luxury only resale stores” at least have a leg up on the suburban general locations.

  5. Laotree Says:

    “No one picking up a half-price Gucci wallet would experience the adrenaline rush of rewarded frugality.”
    I dunno, Marxy, I’d have to accuse you of Kanto-centricism again. I know a lot of young men and women (with Bubble-fattened childhoods) who see it as ridiculous to spend \100.000+ on, say, an LV bag that could be had for less than \60,000 in a recycle-shop, and while they won’t necessarily flaunt the fact, they won’t try to hide it either. While I’ll admit the frugality of Kansai-jin is often overstated, there is not so much stigma down here attached to buying luxury goods second-hand; maybe people here are more comfortable with 下流. Row row row yr boat, gently down the stream…

  6. Laotree Says:

    What’s up with the clock on your server, DST? It’s only 1:37…

  7. marxy Says:

    “Kanto-centricism”

    This is like accusing the Earth of being heliocentric.

    Just kidding! (Kind of…)

  8. Laotree Says:

    Nah, I understand your tendency to extrapolate the attitudes you encounter in Tokyo to the entire Japanese population, and it is informative since I don’t often get to take sporty jaunts up to the capital.
    I guess I should have said Tokyo-centric, because I don’t think you have any great love for suburban/rural Saitama or Tochigi either.

  9. marxy Says:

    I don’t.

  10. Laotree Says:

    I guess someday people will be able to download torrents for LV bags and “burn” them with some kind of 3D nanoprinter. What do you think these European superbrands will devise as a new mark of authenticity? Or will people even care once they can have something indistinguishable from the real thing? (I don’t mind playing Super Famicom games on an emulator…but I have “a more rational approach” to consumerism.)

  11. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    >What do you think these European superbrands will devise as a new mark of authenticity?

    Authentic panda or unfrozen caveman baby skins.

    And holy shit, Juice Newton is a woman.

  12. Miller Says:

    Super-Famicom provides an interesting parallel to luxury goods. Like “bitton” bags, getting a fake machine, like those new ones they sell at GEO, will no doubt cost you street cred among your peers. But like the 10-man you save by getting your oversized poo-colored wallet at a flea market in Seoul, the imitation has a lot to recommend: particularly that it’s probably less likely to erase 3 months worth of progress in Super Metroid like the decrepit real-deal articles they hawk at the recycle shop.

    Did they ever sell Stratego in Japan?

  13. Chris_B Says:

    Yeah it is kinda odd to see all that high end stuff in recycle shops, or even recycle shops dedicated to that stuff. For me it just re-enforces the idea that its all basically worthless to begin with.

  14. randomcommenter Says:

    Or will people even care once they can have something indistinguishable from the real thing?

    There are tv shows pointing out how incredibly accurate the fakes are, and then showing how to identify them from the color of the stitching on the inside tag being wrong…so I’d say “some of them are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, and yet people still care”.

  15. Aceface Says:

    These”high end stuff” are presumably from the pawn shop.質流れin Japanese.Not fake,but real.
    You get to see some report occasionary on FujiTV,like “a day in a pawn shop” and all the women came to pawn shop to exchange their PRADAs into money only to buy new one.
    If these women get some lame present from their boyfriend or customers(if in case you work at Kyabakura or any “water business”)that goes straight to the pawn shops then to the recycle center.

  16. marxy Says:

    “Did they ever sell Stratego in Japan?”

    Unfortunately, no.

    Although there is a kids version of Shogi that is very similar. I forget what it is called but I bought it at Tokyu Hands.

  17. supernattoman Says:

    Great post. I always find that corner to be somewhat sad. I remember feeling the same way when I would see a tired old Lincoln Towncar crusing down the streets of Chicago with a saggy bumper, torn cloth on the faux-convertible top, the seats covered in blankets and a hoarde of grimy kids whose gaunt faces stared out from the shark-fin rear windows. This tired, worn out luxury item once made somebody very happy, and now it is held together by banding wire with a rag for a gas cap.

    I, too, am a fan of Stratego. If it were available in Japan, could you also get a “nisemono” version that is only distiinguishable from the real-deal by the cross-hatching used in the shading on the miner’s hat?

  18. Mulboyne Says:

    There was a TV programme a few months ago featuring a “brand” sales event in Heiwajima where the goods were all second hand. Whether the coverage was representative or, many of the customers appeared to be foreign. They didn’t care about the location or lighting, they wanted a status product at less than the usual price.

  19. marxy Says:

    “They didn’t care about the location or lighting, they wanted a status product at less than the usual price.”

    What does this do to status of the products though?

    But by this logic, Louis Vuitton should have lost its power a long time ago. Sales are blunted, but it’s not like those bags are out of style. Some higher end stuff is taking over, but the money is still in mass luxury.

  20. Laotree Says:

    Rory–“Authentic panda or unfrozen caveman baby skins.”
    Correct! I would have also accepted “Peat Bog Man leather”.
    So Marxy, on one hand you seem to have disdain for the dominance of these status brands, at the same time showing your distaste for anything not explicitly metropolitan,
    (from the previous post “in “the suburbs.” Almost like a tree line on the mountains, the inhabitants’ apparel suddenly ceases to find construction in world-class styling and first-tier brands. The wide-roads are filled with commercial ventures totally alien to the urban landscape – tire stores, Matsuya fast foods with parking spaces, crummy decaying used video stores, and Home Depots”)

    You seem to be reinforcing the stereotypes of societal class-structure that you rail against in other posts. The world you described as alien is what the majority of Japan looks like. I’m just wondering where you stand on all this rampant, some might say soulless consumerism. Fer it or again’ it?

  21. Laotree Says:

    I know it’s more complicated than that, but lately I’ve kinda lost sight of what your motives are in talking about all this. Always an interesting read, though. Respect!

  22. marxy Says:

    “You seem to be reinforcing the stereotypes of societal class-structure that you rail against in other posts.”

    I am just pointing it out. Whether you think designer fashion is important or not, it does stop being emphasized as part of the social standard outside of the urban areas.

    Tokyo is the center of a certain kind of culture in Japan that sometimes comes in the form of products and sometimes (rarely) does not. I don’t think anyone is for mindless or soulless consumerism, and I am not particularly interested (on a personal level) in the certain consumer subcultures that lust after luxury bags. That being said, the kinds of topics I cover here are almost completely located in Tokyo – seeing that the city is the centralized home to government, finance, entertainment, fashion, and art. Osaka is fine being Osaka, but it’s more like a Chicago than a Los Angeles or something.

    So I somewhat blame my location, but I think the culture itself is heavily biased towards Tokyo. There are like 0 nationally published magazines that originate out of somewhere other than Tokyo.

  23. Chris_B Says:

    I think of it as Tokyo being the center of a certain sickness. As far as anyone being “for mindless … consumerism” well, seems to me that alot of the national magazines are all about that.

  24. Laotree Says:

    I totally understand what you’re saying, Marxy, but I think your view that “the culture itself is heavily biased towards Tokyo” is a direct result of living there. Magazines in this country, as you’ve covered extensively, aren’t necessarily a reflection of culture but a conscious effort to create consumer markets top-down, so of course they would be published in, and cover almost exclusively, Tokyo-livin’. But there are plenty of TV shows produced in Kansai, (some of them nationally broadcast), and the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area is the second largest urban zone (and dare I say second most culturally relevant), so I dunno… Chicago? I’m not saying you should diversify and spend more time talking about Shikoku’s best udon shops or anything, but just entertain the notion that consumer attitudes in the conglomerate NYC, DC and LA of Japan might not accurately reflect those of the rest of the Japanese population. But, hey, please continue to write about what you know, and I’ll throw my “suburban” two yen in every now and then. Hell, I got a rice paddy fulla noisy frogs behind my house…

  25. Brown Says:

    How about:

    Minami Kanto = NYC+DC+LA

    Kansai = Chicago+SF Bay Area

    Sound right?

  26. marxy Says:

    Which part of Kansai is like Berkeley?

    Kyoto is like Williambsurg, VA + Berkeley, CA, no?

  27. Brown Says:

    You totally called it, that captures the central contradiction of Kyoto. Nara = Jamestown?

  28. Aceface Says:

    Kyoto’s sistercity in America is Boston.
    and Osaka’s is Sanfrancisco.
    No sistercity of Nara in America.

  29. Mutantfrog Says:

    Boston is a good counterpart for Kyoto. The Williamsburg characterization is true for like 5%of the city filled with Geisha houses and temples near the east mountains, but don’t forget there’s a city of about 1.5 million people and more universities per capita than any other city, including Tokyo.

  30. Brent Says:

    Kobe is the third city in the Tri-sai area, not Nara. and Kobe’s sister city is Seattle.

    So Boston, San Francisco, Seattle vs NYC, LA, and DC?

    Hell yeah. The less you can abbreviate a city, the cooler it is.

  31. marxy Says:

    I can’t see any parallels between Osaka and SF. Not like it’s this hippie intellectual town.

  32. Mutantfrog Says:

    Osaka has some national pop culture- comedy, takarazuka, some pop music, etc. but I wouldn’t say it’s a city with an intellectual reputation. I think Kyoto and Kobe probably both have more well known artists and writers than Osaka. Nara just doesn’t have much of anything. It’s a very small city that just happens to have some really nice ancient buildings and parks.

    Don’t forget that Nintendo is a Kyoto company. I think you could make a fair case that Nintendo is the single most famous Japanese cultural institution worldwide in all of history.

  33. Aceface Says:

    Actually Osaka is known to be a city with intellectual reputation.Way back in Edo period,
    Osaka had leading play writer like Chikamatsu Monzaemon and Ihara Saikaku,Intellectuals like
    Tominaga Nakamoto and Yamagata Bantou.They were all commoners and not samurai class,which makes Osaka a great town of commoner compare to aristcrat and cleric ruled Kyoto or Samurai centric Edo(Tokyo).In modern times there were satire writer and dissident journalist like Miyatake Gaikotsu and Beatnikesque writer Oda Sakunosuke.Osaka had suddered huge earthquakes in modern times and did(and still does)have many modernist art scenes.Osaka=Frisco ain’t that bad combination to my eyes.

  34. Aceface Says:

    Actually Osaka is known to be a city with intellectual reputation.Way back in Edo period,
    Osaka had leading play writer like Chikamatsu Monzaemon and Ihara Saikaku,Intellectuals like
    Tominaga Nakamoto and Yamagata Bantou.They were all commoners and not samurai class,which makes Osaka a great town of commoner compare to aristcrat and cleric ruled Kyoto or Samurai centric Edo(Tokyo).In modern times there were satire writer and dissident journalist like Miyatake Gaikotsu and Beatnikesque writer Oda Sakunosuke.Osaka had suddered huge earthquakes in modern times and did(and still does)have many modernist art scenes.Osaka=Frisco ain’t that bad combination to my eyes.

  35. marxy Says:

    How is the sourdough in Osaka?

  36. Mutantfrog Says:

    It’s called takoyaki there.

  37. Joseph K Says:

    >> Nara just doesn’t have much of anything. It’s a very small city that just happens to have some really nice ancient buildings and parks.

    Haha! How appropriate that it’s the sister city of my previous small city of residence – Australia’s capital Canberra.
    Only difference with that statement would be to change the word ‘ancient’ to ’60s/70s corporate style’.
    I never knew the pairing was that natural.

  38. Laotree Says:

    It would seem that while I was away this blossomed into a nice little sidebar. I guess Wakayama and Shiga are not even culturally relevant enough to draw comparisons to US cities/states. Fair enough, I don’t know anything about Wakayama. But I know Shiga, having lived here for almost 5 years. The capital, Otsu, is the sister city of Lansing, MI, but aside from the existence of Lake Biwa, (the source of Kyoto and Osaka’s drinking water) and some moderate industry up and down its east side, comparisons between Shiga and Michigan end. No Motown, no Juan Atkins, no militias. A lot of Pachinko parlors, boat AND bicycle racing. The area around Otsu station is awash in loan companies. Not the most positive environs, but it’s got its charms too. Alas we’re too close to Kyoto (4 minutes under a mountain) to have our own bustling modern culture, but Shiga played a prominant role in history. Genji Monogatari was written here, at Ishiyamadera. Basho’s grave is here. Miidera and Enryaku-ji, two other prominent temples, played an integral role in the Gempei Wars. Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle was here, and for 5 years, Otsu was the capital of Japan.
    Just gotta rep where I live.

    Kyoto and the Bay Area seem like a better match to me, given the history of hippie/leftist politics and such, but hey, it’s silly to begin with. Maybe that makes Otsu a bit like Oakland. Looks like I broke wind in the elevator and left yall with the stank! ごめん!