Harajuku Girls Escape!

November 2, 2005

I think Halloween, at least in its form at the Castro, is just an excuse for people to parade around in their slutty outfits. I can't tell you how many barely-there nurses' outfits women (and a couple men too) were wearing. It seemed like a nurse passed by every 2 minutes in stilettos.

You want to be a nurse in PVC? OK. Sure. What is not OK to me though are the ethnic costumes. You know, like someone wearing a cheongsam. When an Asian person does it, it's just lame. (Hi, I'm Chinese, and for Halloween now, I'm going to be "more" Chinese." ) Hello, get a real costume.

But I also came across some non-Asians wearing conical rice hats, Vietnamese aodai or Chinese silk jackets. There were some non-Native Americans decked out in headdresses. So not OK. It's one thing to be say, a ninja or a Samurai, some sort of historical or mythical person. It's kind of like dressing up as a Viking. But dressing up in someone else's traditional ethnic clothes for a costume? Using an ethnic group as a mascot? How can people not see that this is offensive?

I think people think this is OK because they continue to consider Asian Americans (and Asians, whatever, they're apparently all the same) and Native Americans as The Other -- foreigners, mysterious other, not real people who have anything in common with them. Now, you don't see people walking around in black face saying they're in an African American costume do you? That's seriously messed up. Why can't people see it's seriously messed up when this is applied to other races? And ridiculously dumb. Should I put on a blonde wig for Halloween next year and pretend I'm a white person? Go Fighting Whities!

I will admit to pretending to be Japanese for Halloween this year, but this was in a pop culture context. You see, the other side of being The Other is people exoticizing you. (Or thinking you make a cute pet.) For our costumes, my friend and I were Harajuku girls who had escaped from Gwen Stefani. We wore knee high boots and funky dresses and bright geisha-esque makeup, topped off with an X-ed out picture of Stefani. Too bad no one got it though.

Contributor: 

Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. A native Texan, she lives in California. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Comments

Comments

I'd fault him for the tattoo. And the kente cloth too.A ?er, yes all clothes are cultural, but I do think claire has a point in that some clothes have ethnic implications as well. I think that's my problem with this. If someone put on a dominatrix outfit who isn't one, then yeah, that's totally biting on that subculture too. If someone dressed up in skateboard gear and isn't a skateboarder, yup, that's biting on that too. There's a word for what you're talking about: poser. But these subcultures are not ethnic specific. A kimono is Japanese. Doesn't mean that every Japanese person has one, wears, one, wants to wear one, or whatever. That's irrelevant. It represents Japanese people. So it's a little different in my book when someone dresses up as a dominatrix, as opposed to when someone dressed up in a kimono. Esp. in the context of halloween.and i agree: the "harajuku girls" should quit. while it's true that they represent a subset of japanese girls, i'm not confident that an american audiences knows the difference. i think they just see 4 asian girls following her around.
first, let me say i don't see BDSM as equivalent to 'Japanese' or any other ethnic culture. That said, I don't see a person wearing clothing from another culture as inherently offensive. if the kid is wearing kente cloth because he likes kente cloth without meaning to demean, belittle or express contempt for that culture, it is a good thing. if he took the time to really understand the characters of his tattoos and to digest what they are saying and their context on his skin, then i see no insult or inherent evil. more power to him - he has expanded his world view and if he can cogently express why those symbols speak to him and how, he serves as a conduit for understanding. if he just says 'becuase it looks cool' then he is FOS (I get the same feeling from people that say they are 'jazz fans' and only listen to smooth jazz - it is 'culture light' - it just 'sounds cool' to say your are a fan). if simply wearing the clothes were so inherently wrong, then would it also be wrong for you, if you are not of european ancestry to wear clothes that come from that 'culture'? to wear a tatto of Celtic or Druid design? of Adinkra symbology? to dance to salsa? to listen to reggae?The concern in this 'cultural gestapo-ism' is that while it preserves the symbol in its purity, it deprives it of vitality.The 'kimono' is Japanese and Japan is a living culture. The kimono should be allowed to 'live' and grow or else its functional beauty will be relegated to historical glass cases and it will die of neglect or become fossilized.Respect is the key. Respect the culture and its symbols. It seems to me that the Japanese treat the harajuku 'culture' as somewhat of a joke or 'silly fad' - like chia pets.I share your concern that many Americans won't see the distinction between 'harajuku girls' and Japanese girls in general. Much like many 'cultures' outside of the US (including in Asia) have a hard time distinguishing between 'hip-hop gangsterism' and black people in general.Tell the girls to treat themselves with a little respect.Imitation is most sincere form of flattery; mimicry on the other hand...
Look, my argument is NOT that it's inherently wrong for someone to wear clothing from another culture. But I think it's wrong in *certain* contexts, such as someone pretending to be Asian for Halloween. What's up with pretending to be another race? That's whack.Now, if this kid has a kanji character tatoo and can read it and understand it, then great. But I suspect the majority (not all, just a lot) of non-Asian people with "asian" tatoos can't read them, don't really know what it says, just thought it was cool. And that is not cool. Personally, if I were going to get a tatoo with writing, it would be in english, because that's the langauge i communicate in.
Anna, pull back on the stick, you are kind of boring in much to narrowly. My point is that it is difficult to exist in the 'modern world' without 'borrowing' from other cultures on a daily basis. this aspect of 'the modern world' almost blurs the dividing lines between cultures.as an aside, in my opinion, pretending to be to be 'asian' for a day is undefined. what is an 'asian'? do yu mean japanese or hmong? both from asia but each with distinctive cultures? would you say 'pretending to be african' or would you say zulu' or xhosa or woloof? if one would say 'asian' and expect that one's 'representation' as asian would be able to encompass all of asia, then i agree wholeheartedly - it is wrong. if you did the same for 'african', it would be just as wrong. is there a singular american 'culture' that can be defined by clothing? hairstyle? religious practices? i suggest not.back to the point - this borrowing is rampant and alomst unavoidable especially in the USA. so if you are going to be here, then expect to 'borrow' and be borrowed from. the key is knowledge and repsect. without proper acknowledgement of the source point is wrong. I don't really see how some non-asian person could 'pretend' to be asian for a day...or anything else for that mattter.
Two years ago I dressed up in one of my kimono for Halloween. I don't see how this is considered being racist. I'm completely white, yes, but I am only dressing up because I feel it's fun and I think the kimonos I own are beautiful. It's not demeaning anything. I'm just expressing the fact that I love the Japanese culture and admire the style that they used to dress in.That said, this last Halloween, I dressed up as one of my favorite J-Rockers. Again, I'm just trying to show how much I adore the culture and the music. What's so wrong with that?Anyway, isn't the whole point of Halloween to dress up and to maybe "pretend" to be something you are not for one night?
harajuku girls are the best they are soo cool i am going to a dress up day at school as a harajku girl
Well questioner as you know I live in Japan. I had a chat with my wife. the question I had for her was, what the hell is a Harajuku girl. I think she said Harajuku is a fashion district near Shibuya or something, or one of Tokyos many districts that was internationally known for fashion and this was a spot were a lot of Young Japanese Girls into fashion and like to shop and Socialize. Ill have her explain it to me again and give everyone a more accurate statemant. Any hoot, Ive seen the Japanese Hip Hop Crowd. Ive been all over Tokyo and Yokohama. Ive seen Japanese girls go as far as to taking pills to make their skins dark to look black, braids i their heads and even Afros. I mean i think its kind of tacky, but this is something that they luv and no they dont understand this hip hop culture they formed their own style. So im not offended, as far as Japanese people being offended by Gwen Stefani. Ill tell you folks it really not an issue over here. Just in America. Ofcourse Americans we know more about other people culture than they do. from My understanding from living here in Japan a Kimono is only worn for very special occasions and its very expensive to own one.
this is what my wife wrote about the Harajuku girl, read below.i don't know. harajuku is a town near shibuya and it's fashionable place for kids like junior high or elementary school. shibuya is town for senior high, and omote sando is for college or over. harajuku's some part is close to omote sando and sell most modern clothes, some are used, hip hop, etc. so i don't know it's meaning. it should be created by foreigners.well there you all go, from someone that lived in the area all her life
Blackdude, ummm...i am not quite sure why you addresed you reply to me. i am aware of the Harajuku 'scene' (and that is pretty much what it is as I see it). it is not significantly different than the 'hippie' style of 'the Haight' in SF or the 'downtown Village' scene of NY. I think the harajuku thing is a bit more stylized than those. it doesn't seem to be nearly as 'core' to the Japanese culture as kimonos.i think the use of chemical treatments to change skin color is not a wise move from a health perspective, but then again people have been frontin' artificial tans for years...and many of then STILL don't want to be truly 'Black'. there is a big business in 'skin lighteners' in India.
I was just talking about certain Japanese girls that imitate a certain culure, which is hip hop. Braids, Afros, Hip Hop Clothes, short Hair cuts, Dark skin. See where im going with this. Just those that are into that scene, its truly evident. Those that are into the other scenes wouldnt dare do it. the question above wasnt singling you out, we just Chatted before somtime ago.
Anon, i was responding to ABLACKDUDEINASIA's comment which did single me out. Now I've got no problem with a debate, but I didn't post anything that used words similar to his post. And yes, I am aware of the pseudo 'Black' scene in Japan. I think it is stupid and just about as offensive as non-Japanese dressing up in thick glasses and looking for Godzilla. Equally based on stereotypes which ignore the real complexities of people and cultures. I suppose the next Japanese trend will be to eat fried chicken and watermelon and saying 'sho'nuff boss!'. Do you see where that is going?
What if I told you its already happening. He He.... Japneses do eat Fried Chicken and Watermelon. Im a Black dude and I drink Mizou Soup and Green Tea. I eat more rice and beef than lord knows who. Ive been over here for 4 years and my apetite has a crave for Asian dishes. When I first landed here, I hated Sushi. GUESS WHATS MY FAVORITE DISH IS? SUSHI, I will eat Sushi like there is no tommorrow. Well real Sushi. So who knows what the future brings. talk to you later. "mata ne"
excuse the bad spelling
you know, i kind of anticipated you would say that. it is no surprise to me that fried chicken and watermelon are being eaten in Japan. These foods are enjoyed by many millions of people daily - most of whom are (probably) NOT African American. It is not the food itself, but what it 'represents'. I was being a bit more metaphorical (which seems to have been lost), not literal.INDEPENDENT of what anyone eats, the Japanese are NOT becoming African American no matter how much they dye their skin, perm their hair, listen to hip-hop or eat whatever and this is not because of DNA, but because CULTURE is carried in more than 'fashion' or music and they cannot 'be' African American without growing and living in the culture just as African Americans cannot be Japanese without growing and living in that culture. The concern is that when 'cultures' are reduced to very simple stereotypes which ignore nuance, those 'watching', either in support of, or disgust with, tend to de-humanize the subject of their attention. The culture becomes charicature and cartoonish and the expectation is that it (culture) is not 'taught' or refined but passed on like a genetic trait. (Like "boy, don't those colored folks have good rhythm!" or "watch that Jap! He knows karate!")If you are going to appropriate, then at some level you must assimilate to show the proper level of respect for the source.The simple act of you eating sushi and enjoying it will not 'make you Japanese'. I love sushi, sashmi and and sake too, but I am not Japanese.I contend that the 'Nurture' aspect is more important than the 'Nature' aspects - how, where and 'what' you live like is more important than your DNA to establishing your culture. Please try to consider this at a level larger or more broad than your specific and individual existence....and I'm out!
I think you are missing the point a little. I never said I was Japanese, or trying to be Japanese, but I appreciate the culture. My wife as you know is Japanese and we have a son. Furthermore, I live in this country, My Japanese is broken, but when I attempt to talk to people, its a gesture of respect. Some of the young Japanese you are fascinated with certain cultures. European Electronica, Hip Hop, R@B, Jazz. You wouls think the MTV garbarge would be the most popular over here because mainstream America shoves it down the world throats, but its not.
Heres a exmple. You just moved to Japan, Its Saturday. One of the Hottest clubs in the Tokyo/ Yokohama area is Matrix, "Use to be a Hip Hop Club in Yokohama". This being your first time there and prior to this all the Asians you ever encountered in America had more in common with the Britney Spears crowd than JZ, I hear a lot has changed since I left America, but any hoot. You get to the Club and there is a Line wrapped around the building and the club is already full. You see Japanese girls wearing all the latest Hip Hop styles, to your amazement even trying to act like Black girls and young Japanese dudes trying to clown walk. Naturally, These type of girls have a big attraction for the western Black Dude. I guess the question is what are they trying to be? I never saw this in America, I was shocked to see how larged Hip Hop was in Japan, to be honost the club was better than most American clubs. Are they Japanese girls imitating a Culture, or are they trying to be something they are not. When I go to a budhist temple on new years eve and make a wish am I trying to be something I am not? or is it OK. This is one crowd, European Electronica is eqaully as Popular, But J-POP is the largest. which consist of a lot of Japanese Hip HOp artist. From my experienceHip Hop and European Electronica are the 2 most western art forms Popular with the Youth, Latin Music is fastly growing. If these Japanese youths want to Imitate it then so be it. If there is a stereotype then we, or they are doing it to themselves to a degree
Look, you shouldn't criticize non-Japanese people for being interested in, mimicing, etc the Japanese culture when the Japanese do the same thing. People sometimes like and are interested in cultures different than their own. People shouldn't try and tell one another to not enjoy that culture and try to be a part of it. Saying you have to stick to the stereotype of your own culture/race is just silly.
In some ways I want to tell youall to stop wasting your time onsuch a pointless topic. But hereI am posting cuz i have nothingbetter to do. Probably the same aseveryone else.Halloween is a holiday where one hasfun dressing up as the OTHER.unfortunately, one man's fun is anotherman's offense. I'm sure if someonedressed up in drag, some crossdresserwould get offended. The intentof halloween is that it is all in FUN.of course there is a line where itbecomes tasteless and poignantlyoffensive, such as dressing up asa one legged tobey from ROOTS orlaying sprawled on the ground asa holocaust victim. But honestlysome people find that entertaining,and there's nothing youc an do aboutit except bitch.Everyone here is so caught up indrawing lines of distinction thatthey conflict with the lack ofdistinction by people who don't knowany better. Halloween is thetime when people can dress upas sluts, and not be called a slut,cuz its fun. People can dress upas a black man. People can bewhat they are not, or what tehywill not allow themselves to be.Everyone here is looking to judgethe faults or actiosn of otherswithout looking at the intent orthe basis for it. pretty stupidif you ask me.
I saw people in rasta dredlock wigs, it was not offensive, it was just a costume. I don't think that wearing a kimono or whatever is offensive, it's just a costume. Traditional clothes in many countries have become costumes, it's not offensive.If a Chinese guy wanted to dress up as a Pilgrim with the buckles and tall hat it would be fine costume. You're grasping at straws here, especially since you actually dressed up as a Japanese woman. Your argument seems to be that dressing up like Asians on Halloween is racist unless you do it your way. That's absurd.
I think what I'm doing is not the same. I'm not dressing up as a Japanese person. I'm dressing up as an Gwen Stefani Harajuku girl to comment on how ridiculous Gwen Stefani is to parade around with 4 Asian girls trailing her all the time like they're pets. That woman has a fetish.If you (or anyone else) want to dress up as a Pilgrim, fine. If you want to dress up as Samurai, fine. That's because there are no Pilgrims or Samurai anymore. That makes it clearly a costume. Pretending to be another race, having another race as a mascot, that's a whole other thing, and that's what I find offensive. Perhaps this distinction is lost on you.
Hi im doing a project on japanese street fashiona nd i need to interview someone who is a REAL harajuku girl from Japan. If you are willing please send me an email. thnks xxx :)
Sean, There are plenty of people who find dreadlocks on whites offensive, so I'm not sure why you're drawing a comparison. Traditional clothes in home countries aren't costumes in the same sense as Halloween costume. They're used in rare, special occasions and have a distinct meaning. People don't dress up as Pilgrims because it's not all that interesting, and that is the problem -- it's not just a costume; it has a purpose. Appropriating traditional clothes for Halloween does several things: 1) shows a lack of respect for what the dress means, 2) portrays an ethnicity as a novelty, and 3) relies on stereotypes. It's essentially the same problem as Indian sports mascots. We're people, not characters. I'm not sure you understood why that's different from the social commentary on how Gwen Stefani's appropriation of Japanese culture and presentation of Japanese girls as slaves is wrong, by showing they escaped and are finally able to speak out. The world isn't just black and white, and there are valid costumes and situations in which to wear them. Anyway, wish I could have seen that costume, Melissa. It certainly would have made my day. Me, I dressed up as a zombie. An Asian zombie.
I dressed up as a white guy once, a frat boy to be specific, because when I ask myself, "what do I find scary?", frat boy is on that list. Unfortunately, people don't really go for scary costumes any more, especially conceptual ones- most thought I was just too lazy to put together a costume (probably at the same time wondering how such a normal guy showed up at an indierocker party). True enough, I wasn't carrying any beer (I did have an opener), belched only a few times in the course of the evening and generally refrained from insensitive comments or grinding myself against any unwilling ladies. The good and bad thing about dressing up as a white person is that no one seems to notice. Or maybe they are appreciating that I am referencing a specific type instead of making a generalization. (Oh, I'm making a generalization about frat boys? No, I'm actually just winding you up).
The people I saw in rasta dreadlock wigs were black people.
I was a Department of Homeland Security officer this year. (A slutty Homeland Security officer at that -- but that's a whole other conversation, like why is Halloween an excuse for being scantily clad?)At first, my friend -- who is a young Muslim man -- was going to go as "a terrorist", with a long beard and a turban but then we just thought that was too straightforward, even though that picture of a terrorist is so ridiculous. But then he ended up going in a George Bush mask with a bullet hole in the forehead, with a turban and traditional South Asian clothes. Needless to say, being a Brown Security officer who had captured the biggest terrorist in the world was a big hit.Personally, I think being just a "Puerto Rican" or a generic Asian person is just boring and unoriginal, along with the other glaring aspects of it being offensive. If you are going to be offensive, you should do what my housemate did and be Laci Peterson with plastic fish stuck to her arms and a dead baby coming out of her (cotton-balls stuffed in panty hose) pregnant belly.
Sean, that just reinforces my point about appropriation -- black people can't appropriate what's already theirs. Locks and braids are a little different from dress in that it has more to do with conforming to white concepts of beauty and the legacy of blacks as "others". It's a deeper topic than I'd like to get into on an APIA site, so I'll refer you to this excerpt from Greg Tate's new book Everything But The Burden. You can't really draw comparisons between what would offend us and what would offend you, so don't even try to think of analogies. We have vastly different experiences, as well as a markedly different history as peoples in this country. Don't make a fundamental attribution error -- you really have to put yourself in our shoes to understand why this is offensive.
in other news, there's a website/blog dedicated to freeing the harajuku girls.http://gwenihana.blogspot.com/
Dreadlocks are associated (in their original context) with Rastafarianism, so they are NOT uniformly or inextricably linked to 'black people'. (The 'hair thing' has its roots in orthodox Judiasm ala the Hassidim - no cutting the 'locks) In Africa (original home of Black people amongst others), dreadlocks were not a 'traditional' or customary hairstyle until they became 'fashionable' in the West. So, a 'white person' in dreadlocks is not inherently objectionable if he or she is 'Rasta' - but most probably they are not. This will be true of most 'dreaded' folks in the US. So to Rasta, they are 'wolves in sheeps clothing'. I think Seng's comment about dressing up as a 'white boy' but no body noticed is important. I think the reason it goes largely unnoticed is that it is expected to be the 'norm', so it is not 'surprising'. You can't shock folks by being what they are.Also, the 'zombie' concept does not exclude Asians, such that it is worth noting you are an 'asian zombie', Jose. Anybody that can be 'dead' can be 'undead', unless such death is righteous if you believe in that sort of thing. Call upon Jah as the Duppy Conqueror for help. Seen?So on the 'traditional' wear issue, if I go to Japan today, the majority of women WON'T be wearing kimonos - not unlike most of the folks in Boston won't be dressed as Pilgrams. So what is 'traditional' and what is not? When does a 'tradition' that is no longer practiced, except from a historical preservation standpoint, become 'open' to 'costume-ary'?Isn't 'Harajuku' more a style coming from a 'fashionable' area of Japan - a hot shopping district? So, in that light, is it a 'tradition' of Japan or is it no different than a 'California' girl or Malibu Barbie or 'grunge' dressing borne of a Seattle birthed musical style?As for Gwen Stefani's 'minions', I am willing to bet that they are not drugged (involuntarily) or otherwise unethically coerced into hanging out with Gwen. Maybe they have a fetish too! (Maybe its bankin' fat duckets or they LOVE blond white folks - wouldn't be the first time!)What will some do to become famous and dandy (just like Amos and Andy)??As to why the Castro on Halloween? So people can be titillated without really admitting that that is what they want to do - "I was just walking down the street, when all of a sudden..."
There are white people with nappy hair.How can people not see that this is offensive?They don't care. It's not as though if they realized it WAS offensive, they'd be very sorry and stop. They don't give a rip, and "political incorrectness" is their excuse to be assclowns.
Here we go again, god this whole WEBSITE IS RACIST! It's singling out asians! hahahahahblack people can't appropriate what's already theirsWTF! ARE YOU A COMPLETE RACIST MORON JOSE?? You are basically saying all black people are rasta and have dreads. Guess what, they don't, YOU are perpetuating a stereotype.That's like saying blacks can't be racist because they are the victims of racism. hahah IT'S BS!Castro is boring during halloween, it IS just an excuse to act slutty, but someone dressing in another person's traditional dress is not putting them down. It's halloween, and since those in SF seem to forget it stands for All Hallow's Eve, (the night before all saints day), and rely on the more popular notion that it's a night to Dress up and party... well that's what they were doing. Dressing up in something that they would not normally dress up as and partying. that's all. HOW MANY PEOPLE DRESS AS NUNS OR PRIESTS?? Isn't that offensive? But not on halloween. IT's dress up time. That's all. Stop Finding racism where there is none. The thing about humans... we can find anything as long as we look hard enough... even if it really doesn't exist. Let go of the racism if you can, or keep on milking it for your own gain.Your choice, it's a "free" country.
i just notice that you wrote "and asians, whatever, they're apparently all the same" in parenthesis. i just want you to know that is very offensive because we are not all the same. think about it.
Dear Angela, It's called sarcasm. Think about that.
I'm Korean and I would find absolutely NOTHING offensive about someone dressing up as a Korean for Holloween.. Are you caucasion? B/c only people who actually don't have other people dress up as them usually say stuff like that. NEWSFLASH!! Intelligent people wont get offended by something as stupid as fashion!
Hi, I'm doing a project on stupid people doing stupid projects and I need to interview someone who is REAL stupid from America. Please send me an email. :)
Monika, this isn't just about fashion. Ingelligent people probably realize there's more going on than just fashion.If you think that's all it is, then you're blind. Asians who think there's nothing racist against Asians in this country are putting blinders on. And just because someone finds something offensive that you don't doesn't make them stupid either. Everyone's threshold is different. You have your right to say why you think something isn't offensive. And other people have the right to say why they think it IS offesnive."Are you caucasion" (sic). Who are you asking? You're on a website for an Asian American magazine. What do you think?
isn't it a bit of a stretch to imply that Monika doesn't believe that there is anti-Asian racism in the US because she doesn't find the Harajuku girls (or similar 'over-the-top' dress-up play) particularly offensive? so what IS going on with Stefani and the Harajuku girls if it isn't just 'fashion'?
Well ok, admittedly this is a stretch, however, Monika's tone of voice reads that way to me, like she is one of those people who finds lots of things not offensive and is basically saying, "chill out and stop being so sensitive about everthing. it's just a joke, it's just for fun." well, things that are for fun or a joke can still be racist. a lot of people fail to realize that. and i *really* hate it when someone says "i don't find this offensive and you shouldn't either, and because you do, you're dumb."also, i wasn't talking specifically about Harajuku girls. i was talking about dressing up in other people's cultural clothes for Halloween, and i agree alot with what Jose has to say about it above.as to Stefani, she may think it's just about fashion and she is on the one hand saying "Harajuku is so cool" but it also seems like she's saying "It's so cool and I discovered it and brought it to the mainstream." i think it's one thing to admire it and dress like that, but having 4 Asian girls follow you around everywhere like acessories is kind of creepy. that makes it not just fashion. tt makes it objectification as well.
Well, i'll admit that it is annoying when someone says "you shouldn't be offended! I'm not offended!'. it's kind of like saying "I like Boston Cream pie, so YOU should like Boston Cream pie!"The problem I have with 'cultural clothes' is that it seems to me that ALL clothing is at some point 'cultural' - some may be more wide spread than others, but if it is created by a person and worn in a 'culture', then it is 'cultural'. So when you see kids in Japan with their hair permed out, sportin' ridiculus looking 'tans' and jewelry and outfits that attempt to mimic being 'black' (as they perceive it) do you get pissed at them too? What about some kid in Kenya walking around with a earlobe plug, chin stud, skateboard and a Nirvana t-shirt looking 'grunge'? is he appropriating and insulting a 'cultural clothing' style?Is the distinction the degree of 'attention' paid to the wearer? (i.e. Stefani is a 'public figure' so she gets press, whereas some kid in Kobe or Kalamazoo does not) If you wear a leather bustiere, skirt, high heels and carry a whip on Halloween, but you aren't a real FemDom, are you biting on the BD\SM culture?This becomes the proverbial 'slippery slope' that is greased even more by our ever-evaporating 'borders'.And what about the Harajuku girls themselves? The ones walking around behind Gwen - what culpability do they have in being 'objectified'? They can always vote with their feet - yet there they are, hamming it up in the photo. Is it creepy? Yes - but no more so than P. Diddy's always having an entourage a few paces behind him (or damn near any other 'star' for that matter). Now if Gwennie starts to pimp slap them and say 'they love you long time' - now we've got a serious problem. But the Harajuku girls should step up for themselves first if 'insult' is how they take it.Shucks! I was going to get one of those neat hats they wear on the Age of Warriors! Better not do that, huh.
The problem I have with 'cultural clothes' is that it seems to me that ALL clothing is at some point 'cultural' - some may be more wide spread than others, but if it is created by a person and worn in a 'culture', then it is 'cultural'.
we're talking about what goes on in the usa, not anywhere else, so let's stick to that.kimonos and such are traditional clothing that have both an ethnic and a national implication. they're clothing that has changed through time with different fashions, but have retained certain basic components, because of their importance as an ethnic and national symbol.there simply IS no american equivalent to this because europeans have only been in the US for four hundred years. there's no one ethnic identity, even for white americans. american-style costumes are regional and "tribal" and relate to SUB-identities (cowboy, pilgrim, soldier, etc.) like employment, religious affiliation, region, etc.so, although you can sum up and simplify being japanese with one costume, there is simply no way, in america or anywhere else, to sum up and simplify being white american.being able to sum up and simplify an entire culture, history, people, gives you power over it. you can dismiss it, look down upon it, mock it, even worship it. you deny it complexity, modernity, relevance. you make it small.
Is the distinction the degree of 'attention' paid to the wearer?
i think it's a false distinction, but to follow your question, the distinction is not the degree of attention paid to the wearer but the degree of cultural power the wearer has, compared to the culture they are wearing. gwen stefani is white, and the closest thing america has to an aristocracy (arguably). she has a great deal more cultural and economic power in the world than a japanese harajuku girl has (who probably has to hold down two service jobs to afford her getups.) and she has infinitely more power in the united states than a harajuku girl. stefani's appropriation of harajuku girls is a gross display of power, plain and simple. she does it because she can, and because it pleases her.you'll note firstly that it's been a while since a mainstream performer has taken a subculture and performed dominance over it in such direct terms. i think the last one was madonna, and she was doing it with bdsm subcultures, where displays of dominance are appropriate.secondly, stefani racializes her dominance by not permitting "her" girls to speak english (even though they all can), by hiring girls who are significantly smaller than she is, and by differentiating herself from them in her styling: she wears western style hair and makeup: eye shadow, full lipstick, jean harlow bottle-blonde waves etc., while the "girls" wear stereotypical asian-y big-buns in their hair and rose-bud lipstick and white face-powder.
And what about the Harajuku girls themselves?
culpable. but does that mean that they deserve to be diminished and insulted? and just because these four have no self respect, does that mean that all japanese girls deserve to be minimized and insulted?
So when you see kids in Japan with their hair permed out, sportin' ridiculus looking 'tans' and jewelry and outfits that attempt to mimic being 'black' (as they perceive it) do you get pissed at them too? What about some kid in Kenya walking around with a earlobe plug, chin stud, skateboard and a Nirvana t-shirt looking 'grunge'? is he appropriating and insulting a 'cultural clothing' style?
the japanese and the kenyan kid are claiming a tribal affiliation with american -- or global mainstream -- "cool" tribes. it's not ethnic at all. it's fashion. the usa rules the world economically and is culturally imperialist. just like middle class, educated asians (like gandhi and sun yat-sen) wore suits and ties at the turn of the century to claim cultural affiliation with an economically and technologically advanced global class, kids today all over the world spend their excess money on western fashions that declare them to have risen above their immediate circumstances and connected to centers of power.yes, they've been colonized, but how are you going to fault a kid with less power for imitating the fashions of the powerful? how are you going to call that racist? the one difference between these two is that the japanese kid has a real chance (if he's good in school) of joining a power elite. but japan, despite manga and anime and all the technology and the harajuku girls, still doesn't lead in mass fashion. the usa does.
well, i see this set you off, but:we were talking about gwen stefani and her 'girls' who travel all around - they aren't restricted to the USA and neither is their image. Neither is the image of so many 'cultural' styles.What is the national 'implication' of kimonos other than that they are 'from' Japan? Does their 'ethnic' implication trump their national one? other than having a historical root in japan, how are kimonos important to being japanese? the same question could be asked of 'jeans' (quintessentially american) - are jeans 'important' to the definition of 'america'? can japanese-americans or japanese-peruvians wear kimonos even if they've never been to japan? don't speak japanese? what are the limits of their national affiliation? when do they become where they are from and not where their ancestors are from? (see Jennifer's 'Asian American guy with a bad haircut' post)Does this 'linkage' you suggest work as well for lederhosen? clogs? do we insult the dutch by making clogs standard fare (albeit, in plastic) for hospital staff?'western' style men's suits have changed with time but retain basic components. the reasons for the retention are probably beyond us. maybe because they are deemed 'practical' for that culture. Not unlike japanese kimonos.So maybe the 'american' cultural clothing of which you claim there is none is actually european and its roots are older than 400 years.are kimonos universally worn by all japanese irrespective of class, occupation or other 'distinction'?you make a blanket statement about 'american-style costumes'. the US is large, there are many regions. Japan is not nearly so. clothing responds to weather, available materials, etc. every culture, including japanese, have specific 'uniforms' for specific 'jobs' (soldiers, priests, farm workers, etc).personally, i don't think you CAN, nor did I imply or say it was possible to 'sum up and simplify' being japanese with one costume - you seemed to feel that this is possible. Nor can you do that with being 'american' and being american does NOT equal being white."being able to sum up and simplify an entire culture, history, people, gives you power over it. you can dismiss it, look down upon it, mock it, even worship it. you deny it complexity, modernity, relevance. you make it small."If this is true and I assume that you think it wrong, why do you think it is possible to do for the japanese? (which you appear to have done)gwen stefani has only the power we give her. personally, i don't think about her except for the fact that she was mentioned on this blog. had it not been posted, i would have never known of her 'fetish'. she is hardly 'aristocracy' here - you really must overcome your fear\awe of white folks. they are just folks, no smarter, no better. as for economic clout and power - yes, qwen has more juice than the girls that trot around behind her, but the CEO of Sumitomo Bank could buy gwen stefani and her band with his pocket change. so the big fish is eaten by a bigger fish.gwen got game here (USA) - she would be gameless there (Japan) - unless she speaks japanese.if a harajuku girl feels that her best course of action is to buy ridiculous, overpriced clothing that greatly outstrips her income, that's her bad. my observation of many japanese college students is that they have phat dollars - but that is a very 'selected' sample.the fact that they are here going to school 'pre-selects' the better off class over the working class."stefani's appropriation of harajuku girls is a gross display of power, plain and simple. she does it because she can, and because it pleases her."she hasn't 'appropriated' anybody. she's hired them and they are cashing the check. Does MC Jin's sideways baseball cap, sweatsuit, sneakers and medallion wrongly 'appropriate' a style he did not (nor his ethnic ancestry) create? What about Yellow Rage's vocal riffing in the style made popular by Amiri Baraka or many of the black 'spoken word artists' (before there was such a term) of the 60s, 70s, 8u0s?"you'll note firstly that it's been a while since a mainstream performer has taken a subculture and performed dominance over it in such direct terms. i think the last one was madonna, and she was doing it with bdsm subcultures, where displays of dominance are appropriate."do you equate the culture of japan (which has an ethnic, historical and national lineage) to the culture of bd/sm? I think that an insult to japan (no offense to those in the 'scene' but it is not the same as a country and its people!). The bd/sm scene has japanese 'players' - it has no ethnic or national 'borders'. the only criteria for membership is a desire and willingness to 'play'."secondly, stefani racializes her dominance by not permitting "her" girls to speak english (even though they all can), by hiring girls who are significantly smaller than she is, and by differentiating herself from them in her styling: she wears western style hair and makeup: eye shadow, full lipstick, jean harlow bottle-blonde waves etc., while the "girls" wear stereotypical asian-y big-buns in their hair and rose-bud lipstick and white face-powder."I know nothing about the limitations on employment that gwen places on her 'girls' (how disgusting it is to refer to them as 'her girls')."culpable." then they should quit.and you should dog them out just as harshly as you dog gwen. they make it possible for her to insult them. I think Tracy Morgan's roles on SNL were an abomination and insult to black americans, and as annoyed as I was at SNL's producers for putting it on, I am even more annoyed at Morgan for playing the roles. He (and the harajuku girls) can always pull a 'Nancy R' - just say no. the only japanese girls referenced by this schtick is harajuku girls - a distinct subset of japanese girls - not all.I contend that the japanese kids dressing 'black' are NOT "claiming a tribal affiliation with american -- or global mainstream" and that it IS ethnic - or racial.The 'wannabe' dark skin and 'wannabe' 'afros' are not mainstream. they are black and most notably 'urban' black - which in america (and most elsewhere) is hardly accepted as 'mainstream' - in fact, it is the antithesis of mainstream. no better way to affirm your 'rebel' status than 'hang in the hood' (faking the funk).the earlobe plug and skateboard does cross 'genres' - some grunge, some kid's in Amsterdam's suburbs or Sao Paolo or Sydney or ... so I'll concede.the issue of the US' eceonomic or cultural hegemony is not a part of my discussion. I never claimed we (yes, we, and that includes you!) were NOT the 800 pound gorilla. so when China becomes dominant (as is claimed a certainty on other threads of this blog page), will it be acceptable for those of us being dominated to appropriate styles from the 900 pound gorilla? maybe gwen's been reading this blog and is trying to stay ahead of the curve."...but how are you going to fault a kid with less power for imitating the fashions of the powerful? how are you going to call that racist?"umm, i don't believe i faulted any colonized kids or called anybody a racist."...but japan, despite manga and anime and all the technology and the harajuku girls, still doesn't lead in mass fashion. the usa does."so when some american (white for you) kid gets a tattoo of chinese characters and wears kente cloth will eating sushi and perogies sitting on a tatami mat, while you then chastize him or her for inappropriately bitin' on shit he has no right to touch?