2008: Ebi-Chan Graduates

Ebi

Can fruit graduate from jam? Can sand graduate from glass? I am having a hard time accepting that model Ebihara Yuri aka Ebi-chan has graduated from Japan’s most-popular women’s fashion magazine CanCam. She WAS CanCam! The magazine’s tremendous ascent to the peak of the media pyramid commenced in late 2003, just as Ebi-chan became the primary cover model. While the circulation of almost every magazine started a descent into oblivion, Ebi-chan gave CanCam the perfect paladin to heal the bleeding and sound a clarion call to collect more readers. Now after five years as the helm, it is time for Ebi-chan to shuffle off the sparkly pink coil and move on to a better place: by this I mean she will move up to CanCam‘s “big-sister” title — AneCan.

Ebi-chan is a relatively divisive figure for men: some love her, some are confounded. But she was never for us. She was the absolutely perfect prototype of a look beloved by young Japanese women, refined from the original gyaru subculture of the early 1990s: the curled chapatsu chestnut hair, the demure expression, the esquisitely-applied make-up, the brightly-colored conservative clothes. Maybe selective surgery helped sculpt Ebi-chan’s ideal facial angles, but in the end, her management created an aspirational beauty who could also somehow appear plausibly imitable to young Japanese women in clerical positions. Ebi-chan and CanCam sold a promise to 500,000 readers each month: a little hard work and faithful dedication to the magazine’s style teachings would make you into a Ebi-chan, ready to win the hearts of wealthy young necktie-less entrepreneurs in Roppongi Hills. And even as the Roppongi Hills New Rich future for Japan crumbles like the Tower of Babylon, the CanCam look remains the “base” of what women believe men want to see in potential girlfriends — whether true or not.

Post-Ebi CanCam is going to lack energy in the short-term. Maki has been positioned as Ebi’s replacement, which will be adequate for the time being. At the last Tokyo Girls Collection, Maki hit the runway to deafening applause, so the girls are ready to vote her as Prom Queen, but her relatively-weak artist management affiliation is going to prevent regular TV and CM appearances. Yamada Yu would be the obvious inheritor to the CanCam Presidency, but at this point, she is nothing more than a “special returning guest” to the magazine, leaving CanCam a weak bench. ViVi could very well abuse this chaotic post-succession period to steal the crown.

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that Ebi-chan embodied the mass plurality of Japanese female culture for the first decade of the 21st century. But think about what this means. Unlike previous heroes — singers, variety show stars, actresses — Ebi-chan does not really do anything except appear and emote. Literally speaking, her skill is entirely superficial. Her lack of thespian prowess cut short a career in television dramas, and unlike Yamada Yu, she never launched herself as a singer. (The best they could do is have her act naturally — polite, yet annoyed — in these pretty good meta-commercials for Daiwa Securities.) Unlike 1980s idol Matsuda Seiko or 1990s Okinawan singer Amuro Namie, Ebi-chan does not represent a change to the role of women in society or the emergence of a strong new personality type. She is not deliciously mean, nor a heart-warming sweetheart. She is not shorthand for “change.” She uncompromisingly exists only as an image, like the human analog to Hello Kitty. And like Sanrio’s creations, the vanitas is the charm. We the consumer and viewer are allowed to project all the missing pieces onto the idealized visage, as to our liking.

But as much as we will no doubt decry the blank slate for ultimately promoting emptiness, models this inspirational do not come along so often. Ebi-chan may have graduated, but her flock will not be wayward. Sales for AneCan should get a boost in no time.

Previously on Néomarxisme / Néojaponisme:
Super Attractive Japan (9/19/07) – translation of essay on the meaning of Ebihara’s popularity
CanCam: Moteko vs. Busuko (11/13/07) – CanCam‘s guide to perfect behavior
Néomarxisme Archive: I Know What Boys Like (08/29/06) – explanation to the Ebi-chan phenomenon
Néomarxisme Archive: I Can CanCam (05/29/05) – an introduction to the magazine

W. David MARX
December 2, 2008

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

17 Responses

  1. dagnabit Says:

    A thousand thanks for “vanitas”, it’s just perfect.

  2. Adamu Says:

    I saw the “graduation” issue on newsstands and assumed she was moving on to bigger and better things. Then I click on the AneCan link and she’s doing the exact same thing in another magazine! I wonder if she is going to tell this generation of women how to dress in successive magazines until they reach retirement age (30-Can, Oba-Can, Obaa-Can).

    Maybe we can look forward to a slightly more mature version of the McDonald’s fried shrimp burger?

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    The old order was PS –> CanCam –> Oggi –> Domani, but now they added AneCam before Oggi. If you are still not married and pregnant by the end of AneCan, that means you gotta go pretty conservative with Oggi, but Oggi has about 1/3 the readers of CanCam.

  4. DB Says:

    Oh lordy, I love the Buck Owens reference.

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    Wha??

  6. heroes of our time | Digg hot tags Says:

    […] Vote 2008: Ebi-Chan Graduates […]

  7. Adamu Says:

    Never heard of that, but those zenlike questions at the beginning might be what he’s talking about?

  8. Ratiocinational Says:

    It’s funny that you used a paladin reference. I have a paladin in World of Warcraft… named Shokotan. Maybe I should have named her Ebi-chan?

  9. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    I saw her new Pixus(?…some camera.) ads today in Shinjuku station. She looked a bit odd.

  10. W. David MARX Says:

    The funny thing about Ebihara is that she has a twin sister who looks… kind of different. But when you see old photos of Ebihara you’ll realize that they use to look exactly the same. Something happened to the model sister, perhaps two words p****** s******.

  11. Aceface Says:

    Gotta love internet.
    Introducing Japanese blog called 押切もえ整形.com.
    http://www.xn--r8j4fo68h2flq3do1e.com/archives/51081527.html

  12. Bangbaduc Says:

    Ebi-chan is like Hello Kitty. So true.

    (And she is also the epitome of everything that is wrong in japanese pop culture.)

  13. Aceface Says:

    “And she is also the epitome of everything that is wrong in japanese pop culture”

    Yeah,but always something that is”wrong” will get you addicted.

  14. tokyo fashion Says:

    …W. David Marx over at the NeoJaponisme blog has an in depth analysis of what Ebihara’s departure means for CanCam…

  15. Connor Says:

    “Ebi-chan and CanCam sold a promise to 500,000 readers each month: a little hard work and faithful dedication to the magazine’s style teachings would make you into a Ebi-chan, ready to win the hearts of wealthy young necktie-less entrepreneurs in Roppongi Hills.”

    THIS IS THE KING OF SENTENCES. MARXY WINS THE SENTENCE AWARD FOR BEST SENTENCE.

    Ps. The Roppongi Hills New Rich Legend will never really die. It’s just gone away for a minute, to a nice farm where it will get to roam free around the countryside, is all.

  16. nyuudo Says:

    I’ve never understood the Ebi-chan thing, she always looks really odd, something in her perpetual smile make me uncomfortable… mmm… how I miss Rie Miyazawa’s charm… Ok, exploited, suicidal, drunk, anorexic… but her smile didn’t make me feel uneasy .

  17. james Says:

    I can’t believe they “graduated” Ebi-chan, she’s not that old
    http://japansugoi.com/wordpress/yuri-ebiharas-graduation-to-anecam/