In week 11 we looked at fashion – and it was, in particular, the Japanese fashion that stood out to me. I have been slowly becoming more and more interested in the culture of Japan, as I have been a fan of Japanese anime for a while and have started listening to Jpop songs and watching Japanese movies and the like.
In 2004 Gwen Stefani released the song ‘Rich Girl’, in which she sang the lyrics ‘I’d get me four Harajuku girls to/ Inspire me and they’d come to my rescue’. This was the first time I had ever heard the word Harajuku, and, curious, I went looking to know what it meant. As I learnt, Harajuku is a street name in Japan, but more specifically the name of a fashion style found prevalently in this area (and named after the street). The style consisted of wild clothes and colours ‘determined to break old stereotypes that cast the Japanese as bland and uniform’ (Wisegeek, 2013).
Gwen Stefani obviously was very inspired by this style of clothing, basing her own clothing line on the style – ‘the Western world became far more aware of Harajuku girls following the popularization of the culture through the music and cosmetic lines of pop singer Gwen Stefani’ (Wisegeek, 2013). It’s possible Harajuku would have made its own way into western society in time, however Stefani gave it a boost. Basing her clothing range on the Harajuku style has allowed girls of western society to embrace the foreign styles, promoting, if only by a very small amount, multiculturalism.
However, Stefani’s back up dancers, a group of four Asian and Asian-American girls
known as the Harajuku Girls, have received backlash for their stereotyping of Japanese culture. Korean-American comedian, Margaret Cho feels a ‘Japanese schoolgirl uniform is kind of like blackface.’ She resigns, though, to the Harajuku Girls’ presence that reduce Asian women ‘to silent submissive stereotypes’ (Cho, 2005), saying she doesn’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the ‘minstrel show’. She says ‘I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get.’
It’s a shame, then, that Stefani has received such a negative response to her appropriation of the Harajuku style, as it’s offering a window for people of western society to learn more about Japan. Patricia Streeter does point out that, while she is making money off the style, that no girls in Japan are seeing any of it. ‘Tokyo’s real-life Harajuku girls might wanna think about organizing themselves to trademark their signature look—which is obviously making someone a fortune’ (Streeter, 2012).
I know I, when learning about Harajuku, went out of my way to learn more about the style from the source in Tokyo, however I was influenced by my already budding interest in Japanese culture. For this reason it’s probably safe to assume not many people in western society would bother to do research like I did and simply accept Stefani’s image of the Harajuku Girl.
Cho, M. 2005, ‘Harajuku Girls,’ Margaret Cho Official Site,
Streeter, P. 2012, ‘Are Harajuku girls Modern Day Geisha?’, Magnify Your Style,
What are Harajuku Girls?, 2013, Wisegeek, Conjecture Corporation,