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In order to comprehend the role of street fashion images in creating such alternate or fantasy spaces, two non-institutional fashion movements that both emerged in the wake of profound societal changes in the past have ingrained themselves into the world’s collective memory of Japan and further contributed to the reputation of the country’s capital as a city known for fashion innovation and revolution. 

Known for its diversity and boldness, Tokyo street fashion has relentlessly evolved and changed in nature throughout the years –– from the preppy, casual karasu-zoku or “crow tribe” styles of the 80s, to bodikon (body-conscious) and shibujaki (Shibuya Casual) trends in the 90s that counteracted the previous year’s DC fashion, it is undeniable that Tokyo street fashion has continuously rewritten and paved the way for newer ideas of fashion techniques and rules of street style in the fashion realm. 

Post-quake Ginza

Image Credit: Curbside Classic

When the Great Kanto Earthquake first emanated beneath the floor of Sagami Bay in 1923, the city of Tokyo lay in ruins and rubble. From fires that roared through the wooden houses in Yokohama and Tokyo, to a 40-foot-high tsunami that swept the buildings and streets, the tremblor destroyed Japan’s two largest cities, traumatizing the nation in the process. However, just seven years after, a new city was reborn: novel avenues, modish automobiles, and a brand new Tokyo that exemplified a big, modern, 20th-century city following Western ideals. 

The shopping district of Ginza did not fall short of this change. Adopting the Yankee ways, Ginza streets took the form of Western models with the addition of hundreds of new cabs and cars. Even structures that have been emblematic of Tokyo appeared, some of which are still visible even today. 

Bridges over the Sumida river that have been destroyed by the earthquake were rebuilt, The Tokyo main train station was restored, and even the world-famous kabuki theatre in Tokyo, the Kabuki-za, was refurbished and fortified. Style and fashion also became an important aspect of Ginza. As representatives of modernity and the Westernization of Japanese society during the Showa period, the youth who dressed more liberally and relegated their traditional outerwear to the back of their closets were then often labeled as hedonistic delinquent youngsters and given the names moga (modern girls) or mobo (modern boys). 

Wajiro Kon: Father of Modernology

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Also renowned as the father of “modernology,” Japanese ethnographic documentarian Wajiro Kon (1888-1973) examined and delved into the changes that took place in the shopping district Ginza following the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Through illustrations and writing, Kon’s pictures and written observations of material desires and interactions between individuals and space then became a historical record of Tokyo’s material culture at the time, also earning itself an important mark in the formation of Japan’s national identity.

After the earthquake, Kon oversaw various studies on housing and fashion, where he saw the youth equipped with “disposable income” dressing more and more like Westerners. As such, Kon’s research thus contributed to the recognition of Ginza as a key area for the establishment of culture –– one that has persisted in influencing fashion trends even up until today. 

Recession-era Harajuku

Image Credit: Racked

Since 1949, Harajuku has been a place that is unique from any other Tokyo neighborhood and district. After Harajuku was reconstructed following the war to serve as an American Army base for troops and their families, Japanese citizens were not permitted to even step foot into the district. 

However, thanks to its foreign residents and imports, affordable rent, and the car-free Sundays that started on one of its main roads in 1977, Harajuku gained a reputation as a hub of counterculture and rebellion that supported youth-led subcultures, artists, and fashion designers including Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto.

The area would then become a Tokyo street fashion haven, a place that allowed young people to experiment with different dress trends and reinvent themselves in the region during their formative or developmental years. Some would even go so far as changing their attire to something more fitting for the neighborhood before stepping off Harajuku train station.

Shoichi Aoki: Aoki-machi

Image Credit: TOKION

In the mid‐1990s, Japanese photographer Shoichi Aoki spotted a new self-styling craze among young people in Harajuku and started photographing these individuals clad in this new way of dressing. He then started publishing these pictures in a monthly magazine called “Fruits,” which was launched in the aftermath of the 1980s boom economy, often referred to as the “lost decade” by economists. This was a moment in time when young Japanese people felt hopeless and uncertain about the future, leading them to distrust established institutions and look for alternate forms of consumption.

Aoki participated in the emergence of this new style of self-styling by actively categorizing the people he saw on the street by choosing some of them to appear in his magazine. His writings served as a means of legitimizing the new kind of self-expression that was emerging in Harajuku. Aspiring subjects would then engage in a practice known as “Aoki-machi,” in which they would imitate the clothing style featured in Fruits and wait for Aoki in places where he frequented.

Japan’s artistic and creative cultures then grew as a result of the adjustments made following the consumption-driven postmodern culture of the 70s and 80s. This led to closer ties between local fashion item consumers and producers, which aided in the emergence of distinctive location-specific dress culture.

The Kon and Aoki Influence

Image Credit: Alo Japan

Both Kon and Aoki have played significant roles as Tokyo street fashion documentarians whose memorialisations of recession-era Harajuku and post-quake Ginza have shaped both the collective memory of Tokyo and consequently, the identity of the whole country.

Witnesses to societal changes and shifts and stimulated by intuition, these street fashion documentarians went on to produce some of the most significant photos of Tokyo’s dress culture and fashion. The images they captured and created during the most crucial and pivotal points in Ginza and Harajuku serve as documentation of an alternative location and an accurate, personal account of a particular period of time. Back then, a common Japanese consumer might have easily gained access to these areas by purchasing the periodicals in which they were published. The spread of these writings and pictures would then give the people legitimacy and forge an impact on the development of the new culture being photographed.

Despite the differences between modern‐day Ginza and Harajuku from how they were when Kon and Aoki first examined them, the identity and reputation of both districts have served as a place and center where cultural influence remains and continues to blossom through time.