Subcultures of Japan: Fashion conscious or just plain bonkers?

Japan has a rich diversity of subcultures, some of which are unique to its shores. Others are influenced by Western fashion and history, including western subcultures such as Rockabilly. I have selected a mixture of the most distinctive, and the most popular to talk about. A lot of these subcultures are viewed as extreme even in Japan and don’t represent the mainstream any more than subcultures do here.

Lolita – Before it became the name of a fashion subculture Lolita was a book first published in 1955 about a man who becomes obsessed with a 12 year old girl called Lolita, which makes a sinister backstory for such an innocent fashion genre. The point of Lolita for the girls/women who wear it is to feel cute, innocent and childlike, not sexy. The style of the clothing tends to be reminiscent of Victorian fashion, with lots of petticoats and flouncy lacy sleeves, sometimes even bonnets and parasols.lolita

Gothic Lolita – Very similar to Lolita style, just dye everything black. Your’e trying to look cute yet creepy, for that audition for the lead in Tim Burton’s new movie.

Decora – Decora translates as decorative so it is no surprise that the key for this subculture is to cover yourself in small decorative objects. These objects should be colourful, cute, and innocently childish.decora

Fairy Kei – Defined by pastel colours, a love for cute toys such as My Little Pony, Care Bears, and Barbie, and inspired by 80s pop; Fairy Kei is a sickly sweet subculture. Lolita, Decora and Fairy Kei can all look quite similar, cute, colourful, lacy, girly, lots of accessories. The 80s influence is what stands out in Fairy Kei.fairy-kei

Mori Kei – A fashion subculture born in 2007, Mori is the Japanese word for forest, this style is also known as Forest Girl. The intention is to look as though you are living in a forest, presumably in an ethereal, beautiful way rather than homeless or shipwrecked. It should look natural, with earthy tones, lots of baggy layers. Flowers, leaves and berries make popular accessories for this style.


Visual Kei – Visual Kei is inspired heavily by the Japanese rock music scene. Their are specifically Visual Kei styled bands who set the trends for fans. However there are as such no style rules to this look, although the clothing tends to be dark. There are elements of Punk fashion with rips and tears quite popular, as well as accessiorising with chains and buckles. Goggles, rags and handcuffs also make good, if more extreme decorations.vis-kei

Gyaru/ Gyaruo – In Japanese Gyaru translates as ‘gal‘, and is one of the longest sustained fashion subcultures (2 decades or more), in a country that expects such trends to last no more than a few years. It has gone through many changes and adaptations over the years, but the fundamentals remain the same. The Gyaru favour big hair, that should be dyed blonde or auburn, clothing should be tight fitting and sexy, and attitude should be ‘wild’. Our equivalent would be the ‘Essex girl‘ type of look.

Yamanba – A very rare sub-species of Ganguro (Black faced girls), who take the look to the extreme. They paint their faces to look deeply tanned, with white make up around the eyes and mouth. They dye their hair blonde or bright colours, and wear it big, long and wild looking. They wear neon colours, which clash with one another, and their appearance is generally shocking.


Cosplay – Cosplay is short for costume play, does what it says on the tin really, people wear costumes to look like their favourite fictional characters. In Japan people only tend to wear cosplay for conventions and other related events. It is rare for anyone to cosplay on a day to day basis. A lot of manga and anime are set in schools, so a lot of cos-players are just wearing school uniform, but others are more elaborate. A friend of mine once attained a giant Styrofoam skull (it was Halloween), which he used to create a cosplay of Brook from One Piece complete with moving jaw.


Stu as Brook from One Piece


For more information have a look at these sites:

Fairy Kei Japanese Fashion style guide

How to wear Visual Kei clothing

The History of the Gyaru – Part One


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s