A guide to alternative Japan with focus on special interests (“otaku”), this time, everything dark and mysterious. Featuring music and fashion (Gothic/Lolita/Visual Kei) and generally places with a darker backstory. This post is under construction (as are all the others) and will be fleshed out with detail later on. If you have any recommendations or favourite places, leave me a comment! Tech/games, eco/vegan and anime/manga guides are in the pipeline, too.
Introduction – Gothic/Lolita/Visual Kei
Firstly, I’d like to point out that Lolita/VKei/J-Rock culture is not a mass phenomenon or even totally unique. Rather, it is a distinctly Japanese way of expression that blends music, clothing, art and social dynamics. No matter how widespread or well-known in the west, it’s still a subculture, albeit one well represented in popculture, that in turn draws a lot of inspiration from the latter – and other subcultures. It is not that dissimilar from German goth oder British punk culture, but perhaps more widespread. Also, dressing up on the job (in terms of subculture gear) is certainly far less accepted in Japan than it is in some parts of the West. Speaking of work, the Japanese are quite fond of uniforms, rather than merely representing social and professional functions, they define the overall role of the wearer. So opting for alternative ways of expression is also about creating an alternate persona and defining it yourself. This is not as metaphysical as it sounds – the result is something along the lines of “Ayako the Lolita” supplementing the roles of Ayako the Daughter and Ayako the Office Girl, where as members of other subcultures might view their style as expression of their (one) “true self” or a mere creative outlet, but not a distinct role. By the way, don’t forget that Japan has a huge percentage of countryside as well, and subcultures generally thrive in cities, so the reception of e.g. VKei stuff by people in rural areas will be rather similar to the reaction gracing a Bavarian village wearing a black Victorian dress coupled with spike-studded boots will elicit.
Even other cultural staples like anime/manga, are less pronounced as many visitors have been led to believe, they are simply part of standard lifestyle for the Japanese and certainly not exotic. Think of it this way – you probably wouldn’t talk about Western “soap opera culture”, either (unless you’re a sociologist), it’s just what’s on TV.
Also, a quick note on cultural appropiation. It might be considered such if a non-Japanese wears e.g. a kimono. That may be true, but needn’t be viewed in a negative light or deemed unacceptable. The Japanese themselves take these elements out of context, especially when it comes to clothing styles and martial arts. Of course, being the owner of said culture, they are free to do that, but obviously the historicity argument doesn’t work here. Assimilating aspects of other cultures is a normal process – and yes, always coupled with the risk of misrepresenting them – but doesn’t neccessarily mean disrespect. Instead, I believe that the majority of those who incorporate elements of foreign traditions are doing so with a high degree of appreciation. By researching the culture, they learn a lot about it, a process that is valuable in it’s own right. Certain cultures can’t help influencing or actively strive to be assimilated into international consciuousness, as was the case for French culture a couple of centuries ago and holds true for US culture nowadays. Others can only be actively “appropiated” because they simply (for historical or psychological reasons) lack reach and sense of mission. Their traditions aren’t “open for grabs”, but respectful appreciation isn’t a bad thing, is it?
Let’s others have a say on the actual definition of some alternative cultures:
Now, for some inspiration, shopping and travel advice:
La Carmina Shopping guide, bar scene
Visual Kei Venues scene info
Fashionate Traveller shopping inspiration
Leyla Fashion shopping inspiration
Adventurous Kate shopping inspiration
TeaTwoSugar shopping inspiration
Alyssiumbaby shopping inspiration
TeaTwoSugar shopping inspiration