0 Items | £0.00

VIEW BASKET

Gyaru Power

Wednesday 21st November 2012

Daniel Robson on the rise and fall of girly fashions

GyaruJapan has always had a male-oriented culture. Even today, men get paid better than women, have more opportunities, demand more respect, and are the prime target of the entertainment and sex industries.

But it is getting better. And one reason for that is the efforts of the gyaru.

The term “gyaru” is a Japanese transliteration of the English word “gal” and these days is kind of an umbrella term for style-conscious young women who worship high-street fashion. But its various subcultures and factions have helped shape the perception of the fairer sex in Japan over the past two decades in weird and wonderful ways – sometimes for the better but ultimately... Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The first gyaru began to appear in the early 1990s. Unlike most fashions, the kogyaru (“young gal”) look was not spread by mainstream media, but supposedly grew organically with young girls from affluent families sexing up their school uniforms before going out with their friends. Kogyaru would raise the hem of their skirts, wear floppy “loose” socks and show off a little flesh that was lightly tanned at salons. Think Gogo Yubari, Chiaki Kuriyama’s character in Kill Bill.

Around this time, Japan was heading into a frugal turmoil as its economic bubble burst – but the kogyaru were upper-class school girls with money and no responsibilities, so they bucked the trend by spending big on fashion.

The marketers took note. Before long, Shibuya’s then-ailing 109 department store was repurposed as the ultimate shopping destination for kogyaru, a status it retains to this day. And as the money rolled in, specialist magazines such as Egg, Popteen and Cawaii! became dedicated to covering the kogyaru craze, soaking up the advertising revenue in the process. They filled their pages with amateur models and purikura (print club) photographs sent in by readers. The whole thing was totally grassroots – for a while.

Gyaru

Now that kogyaru style was in the eye of the media, it exploded in popularity – and not just among young girls. Every dirty old man and his dog knew that Shibuya was now the place to spot hot young things who dressed increasingly like Julia Roberts’ high-class prostitute in Pretty Woman.

As the fashion spread to less affluent girls, reports began to appear in the media of enjo kosai, or compensation dating, whereby girls would go out with older men for money in order to buy clothes. Actually it’s unclear just how many of these compensation dates involved kogyaru, but in any case many led to sex, and the kogyaru began to attract unwanted attention from men.

And that’s when things got extreme. The hardcore kogyaru who had been there from the beginning were generally not interested in boys, and certainly not in old perverts. They’d been dressing up for themselves and each other, and no one else. And so in the early 2000s, the style made a shocking evolution.

Ganguro was that rarest of things: a fashion that was actively intended to not look sexy. While the fake tans favoured by kogyaru had gradually been getting darker and more exotic, the ganguro (and even more extreme yamanba) took it a step further, getting fake tans so deep they were practically burned to a crisp, at salons with names such as Blacky. Remember that in in Japan, pale skin has traditionally been the benchmark of beauty.

In addition to the blonde or ash hair colouring favoured by kogyaru, ganguro often went neon. And to ensure their features would stand out from their impossibly dark skin, they used white or silver makeup, painting their faces in almost tribal styles, or like the Joker in negative.

The effect was pretty startling. The specialist magazines went with it – after all, many of the original kogyaru were now ganguro and some even worked for these publications. The boys were repelled as planned, except for the hardier ones who developed the parallel gyaru-o style of effeminate clothing and overblown Bon Jovi hairdos that remains to this day.

But eventually the advertisers were repelled, too. Similar to the early punks in London some 25 years earlier, the rebellious ganguro were considered so repulsive by the mainstream that no one wanted to emulate them. By the middle of the decade they were all but extinct.

Gyaru have changed,” says a barmaid at 10sion, a new theme bar in Shibuya staffed entirely by gyaru. “They used to have really dark skin and they were kinda dirty, but now there are all kinds, from very girly, fluffy girls to tough girls with strong tans.”

Indeed, gyaru has become the default mainstream look for young women today. In trying to keep their subculture for themselves and going ganguro, the hardcore gyaru were shunned; but the buying power remained in the immaculately manicured hands of girls.

Nowadays foreign and domestic brands such as Forever 21, Samantha Thavsa, Cecil McBee and Peach John do big business selling affordable style – not high fashion – to girls around the country. Avex singers Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki became gyaru icons; the kyabajo subsect took big hair and glamorous evening gowns to hostess and “cabaret” clubs everywhere.

Remember, gyaru is now an umbrella term that includes many subsets, but the common style notes include things like short miniskirts, preppy camisoles or T-shirts (often with English slogans on them), long fake eyelashes and even longer clickity-clackity nails, light-coloured hair with ringlets, stocking suspenders, slightly visible bras and, more recently, a discrete tattoo.

Because of their look, gyaru have also remained highly fetishized. While compensation dating is a thing of the past, there is strong demand for gyaru pornography, in which the stars are often debased in lurid ways. And at “girls’ bars” in every major city, men pay by the hour to indulge in conversation with gyaru, in a set-up similar to hostess clubs.

10sion is an obvious evolution of this, pitched somewhere between a girls’ bar and a maid cafe. Though it advertises itself as a place for likeminded gyaru to come and hang out and swap make-up tips with the barmaids (girls get in free), the clientele when I visited in July were all men, paying 1,000 yen per hour plus drinks to chat and flirt with the staff.

You might expect that sex is involved in an establishment like this, but it very rarely is. No, these places attract men in their droves because the women behind the counter are different kinds of objects, obliged to listen to their conversation, no matter how banal, and to flatter their egos. Their job is to smile and look pretty.

The fact that a place like 10sion can open in 2012 should tell you that the gyaru failed to make their subculture their own; their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But then again, the original British and American punks now sell butter and car insurance on TV, so who are we to judge?

Yes, gyaru are exploited now by marketers, by pornographers, by letches and salarymen. But they are also probably the strongest group of consumers in Japan today, with brands vying for their every yen. And when you consider that the trend had consumerism and materialism (plus a scoop of rebellion) at its very heart, that’s a big deal.

Gyaru Power

MANGA UK GOSSIP

One Piece (uncut) Collection 8 (episodes 183-205)

£26.25
sale_tag
was £34.99
Lightning bolts rain from the heavens and cloud-dwelling citizens run for their lives as Luffy and Eneru go toe to toe to determine the fate of Skypiea! The rubber-man is determined to make this exceedingly evil villain pay for his sins against the innocent, but Eneru won't be easily defeated. With his electric ark chock full of gold, the heinous holy man sets in motion a petrifying plan to obliterate life on Angel Island!
Luffy is ready to rumble, but his shipmates are falling one by one, and his punching power bottoms out after Eneru encases his hand in a giant ball of gold. Only one hope remains: Nami and Luffy must risk their lives in a desperate attempt to ring the sacred bell of Shandora - and chase away Eneru's looming cloud of death!

FEATURED RELEASE

RELATED BLOG ARTICLES

One Piece. Pieces of Hate

Been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt....
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.

One Piece: Strong World

The Straw Hats Pirates come together for an adventure like no other...
Written by One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda himself, Strong World leads the Straw Hats into the deadly path of Golden Lion Shiki.

One Piece - ninja or pirates?

Matt Kamen turns video pirate!
“Ninja or pirates?” While Naruto – representing the ninja corner, of course – has proven hugely popular, UK fans have long been unable to weigh in on the other side. With the long-awaited arrival of One Piece on DVD this May, that finally changes.

One piece: Crew Manifest #1

Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
Monkey D. Luffy: The founder and captain of the Straw Hats, Luffy is a carefree soul who wants to become king of the pirates. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gained an elastic body, making him near-invulnerable and able to stretch but paradoxically making him unable to swim.

One Piece: Crew Manifest #2

Back at sea for volume two of One Piece
Before you set sail on the second round of voyages for One Piece, brush up on who you’ll be encountering in this latest volume of nautical nonsense

One Piece music: TOMATO CUBE

Tom Smith on One Piece’s TOMATO CUBE
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.

RECENT FEATURED POSTS

Chinese Zodiac

Jonathan Clements on Jackie Chan and the Garden of Gardens
Jackie Chan’s films have often smuggled in the odd political nudge and wink behind the tomfoolery, but Chinese Zodiac puts it all front and centre. Rather nobly, it shies away from issues of race or one-sided nationalism, making greed itself the great unifier – ensuring that Europeans and Chinese can be found on both sides of the battle.

Hideaki Anno Interview

Evangelion's director on Gerry Anderson, fandom and his latest project
This is not the Anno you may have read about, the one portrayed as an awkward, gangly, neurotic geek. Maybe Anno was like that once, but the cream-suited director we meet is sleek and authoritative, composed and confident, quite at ease talking to foreign hacks like us. He doesn’t adjust his glasses intimidatingly, but it still feels like the onetime Shinji has quietly metamorphed into his father Gendo.

Attack on Titan vs Akira

What about a world of kaiju zombies...?
"Anger is what really links Akira and Titan. Teen rage is at their core, driving the action in spectacular ways."

Guilty Crown Goes Dark

Andrew Osmond on anime that turn to the dark side…
If it sounds like Guilty Crown’s getting dark, it is. In particular, there’s been a lot of comment on how dark some of the main characters get, in a series that seemed relatively light, even cheesy, in its first half. Star Trek used to have episodes set in a so-called ‘Mirror Universe,’ where the familiar cast could be really bad. Guilty Crown does something similar, without the mirror.

Parasyte

Andrew Osmond catches the live-action premiere of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Kiseiju
The Tokyo International Film Festival closed with the live-action Parasyte, a superb blend of SF, comedy and primarily horror, where the levity of the early scenes freezes into a drama with an ice-cold alien grip.

Cosplay: Amaterasu

Paul Jacques rounds up the best dressed fans
Here comes the Sun! Christina Calver cosplays as Amaterasu Omi Kami, the Japanese Sun Goddess.

Cosplay: Pokemon

Paul Jacques has gotta catch'em all at the London Super Comic Con
Lisa Moffatt and Natasha Fountain spread their wings as Moltres and Articuno from the unstoppable Pokemon franchise, snapped by our roving photographer Paul Jacques at the London Super Comic Con back in the spring.

The Yellow Peril

Jonathan Clements reviews a new account of Fu Manchu
The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & The Rise of Chinaphobia (sic) is an enjoyably traditional work of gentlemanly erudition, with research in dusty archives accompanied by a slew of lunches with bigwigs and interviews with associates, as our polymath hero Sir Christopher Frayling examines the origins of the infamous mastermind from Sax Rohmer’s once-popular novels.

Anime Streaming Sites

Legal ways to mainline your Japanese animation
The new Manga Entertainment podcast includes a discussion of legitimate anime streaming sites – in other words, the ones that send money to the Japanese studios which make anime, thereby supporting the industry. (Rather than the other streaming sites, which just steal anime and make it less likely there’ll be anime to steal in the future.)
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. Gyaru Power from the UK's best Anime Blog.