Sunday, May 13, 2007


When western people consider Japanese fashion, they tend to focus on the extremes. There are the perfectly attired businesspeople, funky Harajuku/Shibuya/cosplay types, and the traditional dress types (kimono, happi, yukata). There are a lot of people who are impeccably dressed in business attire so that image is certainly quite valid but there are also a lot of people dressed rather boringly who aren't worth the attention of the gaijin camera lens.

One thing that people don't tend to talk about is that there is a lot of simply dubious fashion sense going on in Tokyo. One of my former coworkers, a relatively stylish British woman (with the pierced nose and piles of amazing permed hair to prove it) remarked that she was really taken aback by the odd combinations of clothes that she witnessed when she first arrived. It wasn't that people were trying to be funky or fashionable. They were simply fashion victims, some of whom appeared to have dressed themselves in the dark.

My husband took our camera and caught some shots of people walking around Shibuya to catch a few of the weirder ones as well as shoot the all too well-known T-shirts with odd English sayings on them. He noted the fellow on the right in the picture above as he stood waiting for the light to change and between the waiting start and the crossing, this young man "enhanced" his fashionable look by pulling his shirt up a bit more and his pants down an inch or so. I guess that he felt his torso was insufficiently exposed for the look he was going for which I'd assume would be narcissistic doofus with too much time on his hands for tanning. It's rather ironic that he actually attaches suspenders to pants that he actively does not want to stay up.

Aside from the "Peekaboo", this shot shows people dressed boringly pretty well. Of greater note is the couple holding hands on the right. When we first arrived, it was rare to see such public displays of affection between Japanese people. In fact, we once got dressed down on a train by a middle-aged man because my husband and I were acting too lovey-dovey. He poked at us and said in English in an agitated voice, "this is Japanese!" These days, what is "Japanese" is being a little more affectionate in public.

This shirt is somehow more amusing because it talks about "fat Tokyo" and the people, by and large, are not fat.

This is a good example of a common disconnect between the message and the wearer. She doesn't look to be especially confident. In fact, wearing all dark colors is often a sign of a lack of confidence in one's appearance. And she really doesn't have the expression of someone who is feeling marvelous.

This is another example of a disconnect between message and wearer. Unfortunately, her hair covers most of the message but it's clearly a reproduction of an old-fashioned "wanted" poster.

I don't know who designs the messages on these T-shirts but I've been told on numerous occasions that the Japanese people who buy these shirts are not buying them because of the content of the English written on them. It's all about the look or style of the shirt and how the design strikes them aesthetically.

These shirts can be found in shops all over Tokyo but the "Jean's Mate" shop in Shibuya has a higher concentration of them. (Click the pictures to see a bigger shot with more visible messages.)

These types of shirts would be good as gifts and souvenirs for friends back home if it weren't for the fact that they are mostly in very small sizes designed to fit young Japanese women. Only petite foreigners will fit into these shirts.

I love the yellow shirt with the purple and black checkerboard pattern rabbit head saying "spoof". I'm not sure why but it strikes me as representative of English in Japan. It's often digested and spit back out in an amusing way (such as students writing or saying, "oh my got," because they've misunderstood "oh my God," or my students pronouncing "Yosemite" as "Yo-say-me-tay").


Shawn said...

I loved this post, as it's something I've been curious about (although obviously never asked). My friends and I have often remarked on the images of Japan we see on TV showing people who apparently get dressed by diving into a pile of clothes and wearing whatever sticks. However, I wasn't sure if this was as common as TV out here would lead us to believe.

I like these articles that help put opposing faces on some western stereotypes; very informative for someone relatively uncultured and untraveled :)

Androo said...

I couldn't believe how many misconceptions about Japanese fashion I had to fight through once I was back state-side. This was made all the more difficult by the subsequent increase in pop culture awareness of such fashion "hubs" as Harajuku by a number of sugar pop stars. My friends and I were amused enough by the t-shirt sayings that we had Engrish shirt day every so often, with each person sporting the cheapest, most poorly written shirt they could find. I think the shirts made over here that say something to the effect of "I want a Japanese girlfriend" in kanji are just as bad, but I find them far less pervasive.

Another amusing post.