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THE NEW SUBCULTURES: JAPANESE HARAJUKU

For over 5 decades Dr. Martens have been known for supporting youth subcultures around the world. Our iconic boots are practically synonymous with subcultures such as Punk and Grunge, and to this day we pay homage to those cultural movements as well as supporting new and emerging ones who want to wear Dr. Martens in their own way.

We’ve teamed up with YOUTH CLUB a youth culture archive in the UK, to identify new youth subcultures across the globe. Over the next few months we’ll be introducing you to new waves of fashion and creativity from the USA, UK, Africa and Latin America. This, our first instalment, takes us to the streets of Japan. To look at the colourful world of Harajuku…

For several decades, the young people of Japan have become synonymous with an inventive and otherworldly street style. This unparalleled evolution of Japanese street style has graced the streets of Tokyo and Osaka since the 1980s, with the neighbourhood of Harajuku becoming known as the epicentre for outlandishly dressed youth.

The mecca for street style, Harajuku, started in post-war Japan when American soldiers were stationed in the area and shops selling Western goods became popular with curious local youths, plus the cheap rents in the area meant that young designers and artists started migrating there. In the 70s cars were banned from the streets of Harajuku on Sundays, creating a Hotoken or ‘Pedestrian Heaven’, which established the area as the breeding ground for youth style tribes. This square mile within the sprawling Tokyo landscape has become synonymous with street style.

Harajuku style tribes draw from Western culture, as well as elements of traditional Japanese dress -combining and customising them through a powerful DIY aesthetic. Japan harbours a melting pot of micro-subcultures, each as unique and indistinguishable as the other. The different style tribes and subsections (the Gyaru and Ganguro Girls, Lolitas, Goths and Visual Kei, and Kawaii) are constantly changing and reinventing themselves but the common thread of all Japanese street style is the over-the-top nature of the outfits; a world where conventional ‘good taste’ is thrown out of the window for a crazy, kooky and kitsch style.

All these styles are audacious, bold and bright; with strong cross pollination and overlapping – underpinned by an individualistic attitude and disregard for conventional fashion. From this eruption of styles, there is continuous evolution and a pushing of boundaries – people appear as if Snapchat filters have been eerily brought to life.

The man that helped bring Harajuku and its incredible youth tribes into the limelight is Shoichi Aoki and his magazine FRUiTS. Originally documenting the streets of London and Paris, he realised that Japan was where the really interesting fashion movements were happening and started photographing the youths of Harajuku. Since then the magazine has garnered a cult following and appearing on its pages is an honour for Harajuku youth.

If you’re on the hunt for Harajuku’s best-dressed, many can be found working in the independent boutiques of Tokyo, flaunting their style. In the 90s retail staff slowly gained cult celebrity status amongst their customers and became known as ‘charisma clerks’ – there not just to sell clothes but offer tips on styling and act as brand ambassadors. Working in one of Tokyo’s independent boutiques is a sought after role that consolidates your reputation as one of the city’s best dressed.

Today social media has helped to bring Harajuku youths to a bigger audience. In the changing digital age, as with many other youth movements, many of today’s Japanese youth tribes are self-publishing themselves through Instagram channels where they can amass millions of followers and influence the course of fashion. Harajuku style tribes continues to push the boundaries of fashion whilst championing the power of self-expression with worldwide acclaim. As Shoichi Aoki puts it quite simply, Harajuku fashion will ‘never die’.

For the images there are three credits:

Shoichi Aoki, FRUiTS Magazine
Yoshioka, FRUiTS Magazine
Mico, FRUiTS Magazine

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