Sunday, April 18, 2004

Japanese women are quite concerned with fashion. It's a kind of hybrid passion wavering between traditional Japanese aesthetic and America brand name or, as the Japanese say, "brand goods" materialism. On any given afternoon, it's not unusual to see any number of women showing off the same Burberry, Coach or Gucci handbags or other merchandise. Nor is it difficult to find a Japanese woman looking at a mirror, applying her makeup on the subway or rouging her cheeks in the park on a sweltering, humid afternoon. Having lived here for a few years now, it's a bit difficult to understand if the same mania exists in the states or whether it's really just a Japanese phenomenon.

Louis Vuitton has taken a particularly firm grip on the Japanese, selling merchandise which appeals to both sexes. I've seen so many briefcases, datebooks and wallets in the hands of men who pluck and shave their eyebrows more than women, I wouldn't be surprised if every male in Japan owned something with the familiar brown patterns.

And Japanese men aren't far behind their biological opposites in their portrayal of what is fashionable. It's not uncommon to see men wearing the latest designer labels and sporting the newest briefcases, bags and shades. Their hairstyles rival the women they parade around with in the subways. I call it Anime hair, which resembles the characters in many of the popular comic books (Manga) the men addictively read.

I live in, perhaps, the alternative fashion capital of Japan. The fashion in Osaka, famous for its unique sense of style, some might describe as willy-nilly. Some ensembles are simply impossible to describe accurately.

The magazine stands, the harbingers of fashion as much as anime, are lined shoulder-to-shoulder with Japanese, everyone thumbing through the glossiest issues of the month. It's the Japanese answer to reading. Many will stand for hours just perusing the thousands of periodicals on the rack, a kind of self-inflicted torture for the cool. As someone who has tried for years to obscure the sources of my own personal fashion from the rest of the world, I might be obsessing over these cultural habits. I could also just be wrong.

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