Harajuku, Japan

Harajuku Girls by Gwen Stefani

Harajuku Girls
You got the wicked style
I like the way that you are
I am your biggest fan.
"Harajuku Girls" is Gwen Stefani's ode to the cutting edge cultural district in Tokyo infamously known as the Harajuku district. This is the place where teenagers, young adults, and those who want to feel, look, and be different from the everyday grind of traditional Japanese culture hang out and literally let their hair down - or trick it out in some fancy style, whatever works. Fashion trends with names like Visual Kei, Gothic Lolita, and Decora come out of Harajuku. And if the fashion is breaking boundaries, you know the music isn't far behind: plenty of underground Japanese rock and pop groups have roots here, with the various bands performing side by side with punk, rock, and techno. If this sounds like your scene, put "Spend a Sunday afternoon in the Harajuku district" on your bucket list.

You can't exactly create it with urban planning, so how did this strange and intriguing place come to be? It used to be considered a home to the US military right after World War II, and then for the athletes during the Olympic games in Tokyo in 1964. Because of the international influences in fashion and culture from the Olympics, the district became the "different" center in the late 1960s starting with the hippies, and then moving on into the 1980s with street performers and other crazy tends who would gather mainly on Harajuku Bridge on Sundays.

Real Harajuku girls<br>Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/joseanavas/4392005371/" target="_blank">Jose Antonio Navas</a>, Flickr, CC 2.0Real Harajuku girls
Photo: Jose Antonio Navas, Flickr, CC 2.0
But who exactly is the Harajuku girl that Gwen Stefani sings about in the song so aptly named for her? She would be that young Japanese girl or teenager who is hip and involved in these fashion trends and hangs out daily in the district with her own style and attitude, sporting the latest fashion trends and a wardrobe cobbled together from a mix of thrift shop and high-fashion stores with a nod to the Japanese '80s pop band Shampoo.

Gwen really took to the Harajuku culture, and even launched her own fashion line inspired by the district. For a while, a gaggle of Harajuku girls went wherever she did and often performed with her on stage. This makes Japan cool in America, right? Well, not everyone thinks so. The comedienne and activist Margaret Cho was not too happy about Stefani and her Harajuku "fetish." She felt that the girls were being used as props and exploited for marketing purposes. You know, that stereotype of the submissive Asian woman being exploited by the white majority. Another theory is that Gwen liked appearing with the Harajuku girls because it made her legs look longer.

It was a little weird: Stefani had a 4-girl entourage that went where she went, and appeared as kind of a silent accessory; a group of modern-day Geishas who would only speak Japanese in public. They were also given new identities: Love, Angel, Music, and Baby, as inspired by another one of Stefani's song's that references the girls.

Here's the part where we defend Gwendolyn. Long before she hit it big with her Harajuku girls, she was very much inspired and hip to the Japanese fashion scene when she visited the country with No Doubt in the mid-1990s. She found a trend and brought it to America. That's what celebrities are supposed to do.

Pete Trbovich
November 12, 2011


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