It’s been a while since I thought to write anything on here. The summer’s almost gone and perhaps the reason is that so much has happened in the space of three months. Sometimes it’s more important to enjoy the moments, to live, and let it all happen before you know what’s worth recording and writing about.
First things first – I am no longer a student. The last few posts I wrote were published on the day of my hand-in deadline. After all the hard work, the stress exploded from all of us in the form of celebrations and indulgences of all kinds – everything we denied ourselves for months we got to dive into in the space of a few weeks. In a sort of preparation for the exhibition which opened the week after hand-in.
Oh it was so good to not be worried anymore. Well, of course I was worried. I had the most dreadful feeling about my assessment, mixed with the most liberating sense of freedom. Nothing can hold me back now. I was free to focus on the ideas I wanted to focus on, the way I wanted to focus on them. All that with a massive pinch of excitement about my family coming to Cardiff to see the show. (MASSIVE)
Some important questions (to myself) answered:
Was I happy with my final works?
I was as happy I could be – it was a project I had worked on for longer than any other and it was one which morphed into so many different forms throughout the time I worked on it. The core idea remained, despite the change in the translatable meaning. I was well aware I was capable of something monumentally more substantial though after the last decision to change the project, I effectively stabbed myself in the back and capped my result to something satisfactory to myself rather than something outstanding.
Did the result surprise me?
Not really. I was expecting a low grade but at the same time I was well unhappy about how I was judged. The unfairness of the whole situation was the most frustrating aspect of it, feeling like I’m being completely misunderstood when all I try to do is bring people’s attention to ideas and issues every single person thinks about at some point or other, without a doubt. Somehow it would’ve been better if I had focused on a mundane issue with little if any whatsoever deeper existential meaning, as it seemed like that’s the type of topics which the tutors fancied the most. I have no regrets at all. I just wish people appreciated deeper thought processes a bit more (and appreciated personal expression).
Would I have done it differently if i had the chance?
Yes and no. Yes – I would’ve stuck with my gut and done what I meant to do since the very start without changing my idea a thousand times throughout the year. I would’ve had a lot less tutorials than I did, as it seems to me that’s what messed up my process in the first place (and I ended up being accused of not having enough tutorials… excuse me??). And No, I wouldn’t change my idea and what I wanted to communicate – my research has become an invaluable part of my philosophies and personal beliefs, and I still believe what I was trying to say id incredibly important in our day and age.
To conclude, in this one week before the show, the tornado inside my mind dissipated and suddenly I could see with clarity all the details of the wasted landscape. All in place, maybe not in the place they initially were, but in place nonetheless – exactly where they should be. It took the most devastating of storms to set things right for myself as a person and as an artist.
Part of our professional practice included creating an online portfolio which could also be referred to as our personal website. We had several tutorials with Dan Peterson about what works, what doesn’t, what we should look out for, how to make it easy to navigate, visually appealing and all sorts of bits and pieces of the sort. He was showing us examples of both successful and relatively unsuccessful sites that we could learn from and get ideas of how we wanted our own site to look, as well as suggesting possible platforms and site-building websites.
Even though we were advised to start working on it as soon as possible I found myself constantly busy with everything else and ended up making it a few weeks after Within/Without. Not that it was an issue, we weren’t pressed for it – but I realised when we made our business cards that I’d have to put my wordpress blog onto them instead of a web address. No harm in that, I have linked my blog and website now as best as I can. The next step would be reorganising the blog menu, but more of that some other time.
When I decided to finally start working on it I had a little investigation of my own – a number of friends spoke of the wonders of Wix, so I had a look for myself. It was brilliant. With so much freedom to design to your heart’s desire, there were infinite visual possibilities. So I got to work.
Deciding what images I wanted to put up and how I wanted them to be placed took some time. I wanted to organise a substantial amount of projects as well as odd pieces and the most time consuming part was actually finding all the work and having to scan and edit it – for some reason my first and second-year self hadn’t thought to make her future life easy and just scan things in instead of just taking photos.
It took longer than I anticipated but in the end I was incredibly happy with the result and felt an awesome rush of excitement as I pressed the publish button.
Creation Myths and the Hint of Higher Understanding
Creation Myths are the explanations of the origins of our world/universe, and no matter where or when, they have existed since the dawn of Reason.
In creation myths, there are ideas explored through the imagination of our ancestors thousands of years ago, and through the logic and facts of science nowadays,
which ideas, strangely enough, are strikingly similar to one another.
Is it crazy to think that there may have been some higher knowledge involved, a collective consciousness?
In terms of space and time, myths and the people who told them had little if not nothing in common, and often didn’t interact as they developed separately, on different continents, divided by vast impassable oceans.
So what could have enabled them to have the same ideas if they had nothing in common?
There may be more than a thousand stories about how our world and our universe as well as ourselves came to be, yet they all rely on the same basic principles.
~ At the beginning there’s nothing/darkness/infinite emptiness and chaos. ~ Then the egg cracks/there’s an explosion of light/the emergence of consciousness or the primordial creator god. ~ Then the creation of the heavens and the earth/night and day/celestial bodies. ~ Then the humans, made of clay/mud/dust/washed up wood…
– What was there before the Big Bang? – The Big Bang, the giant explosion, which marked the beginning of time. – Matter takes new shapes and configurations/gas clusters/stars /planets/galaxies. – Humanity as the product of an evolutionary process, moulded throughout time to what we are today, with the same chemical consistency as the earth we live on….
Could we claim that it could be one and the same story seen through a prism? A different language bringing the story down to understandable terms for the different cultures?
Science gives us yet another explanation (this time based on fact and logic, rather than imagination and logic) and that is still almost the same story, excluding the narrative and the humanised creative forces called gods and goddesses.
Can scientists say what was before the Big Bang? They may still speculate but one thing is certain and that is the black void which lies beyond our cosmic horizon. (Not entirely void, as there is still energy emitting from it, so there must be something in that infinite darkness which is believed to have been billions and billions of years ago, before the BB. FYI: TED Talks, Distant Time and the Hint of a Multiverse)
Another interesting comparison:
In Ancient Egypt they had Nut and Geb, the Sky and the Earth, as lovers in a tight embrace until they were separated by Ra, the sun deity.
In Norse mythology after the death of the giant Ymir, his head was separated from his body so his skull could become the dome of the sky and his body the earth, and the skull was held up by four guards – East, South, West and North. Chinese myth tells the story of Pan Gu, the giant who was asleep in an egg shell and once he awoke and the shell broke, heavier bits that came out of it became the earth, the lighter ones became the sky, and fearing that they’d mix once more, he held them apart, growing simultaneously as they continued to separate.
These three bits of the respective creation myths clearly emphasise that the earth and sky were once mixed, or really close together.
As if playing on the idea that at the dawn of time temperatures were much higher, and matter was much denser. Closer together. And that’s scientific fact: The universe is expanding. It’s cooling off. We have scientific studies right here, explaining to us that simple yet fundamental idea which actually existed for thousands of years beforehand.
So when we say “the universe is expanding, it used to be much denser” our ancestors would have said things like “the sky and the earth were once so close together that there was no room for light and air, so [insert name of god here] came between them and pushed them away from one another”.
Of course, when talking about the universe and the creation of the world, we must think in a much larger scale or time frame, which is one of the things that would have been unfathomable for our ancestors.
– Pan Gu held the sky and earth apart for 18,000 years as he grew and matured.
– God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them in 7 days, according to the old Biblical texts.
But what if those are just the understandable measures the concepts had to be translated into?
– The official age of maturity around the world is most often 18.
– A week consists of 7 days (6 to work and one to rest).
So perhaps these creation stories are metaphors for things we are already aware of… but if we’re aware of them already what is the point?
Could we not have discovered some scientific truths much earlier if only we had paid attention? Instead of denying people’s faiths and calling them pagan and their gods false, and burning people at the stake for their radical ideas which could put the authority of the church in jeopardy, where could we have been today if we had been even a little bit more receptive of external knowledge and ideas?
Because of such a violent history between science and faith, it is understandable why these two fields wouldn’t really look for common ground, but as we advance (and at high rates as well) we can start to see how boundaries between spheres of knowledge are merging and producing the most astonishing results which drive us even further on.
So why is it so difficult for science to work together with mythology towards the possibility of a higher understanding of our universe, and perhaps even discoveries waiting to be made?
Pointless? Nothing is pointless if you know how to look at it.
All scientific advances have been for the purpose of a higher understanding, but so have creation stories. Just as science works with facts and figures, myths about creation were built on the basis of people’s immediate surroundings, the recognition of possible cause for specific effect. They weren’t ‘foolish’ or ‘crazy’ at all when they talked of giants, gods and magical creatures. They just had different tools to work with, and different terminology, most widely recognised as metaphor.
If you showed an iPhone to someone a thousand years ago, it would have been perceived as magic and you would have been accused of witchcraft and burned. We would call that stupidity and blindness, but magic is just the word for science we don’t have yet. Communicating across oceans was an idea beyond belief and yet today our friends or family on the other side of the world are just a phone call away.
Interestingly enough in Tarot, The Magician card, number I, represents just that: someone who can do what they do so well and with such knowledge, that others believe it is magic. That’s how illusionists work, they keep your attention while they do their tricks without you even realising, until you find yourself amazed and in disbelief.
Yes, there is magic in myth. There are creatures made up of different animals; could that be the first notion of genetic modification?
Yes, there are gods of unimaginable power, but what is the meaning behind? A ‘god’ would be a masculine energy, a physical force, a catalyst for action and often destruction. In the same sense, a ‘goddess’ would represent the feminine energy of creation, a mental force, a representation of connection and protection…
Why is it so strange and hard to remember such simple concepts? We end up taking everything so seriously that we lose sense of that transcendent aspect of what these stories are meant to teach us.
Creation stories are the roots.
They are the beginnings to entire mythologies, which in turn became the foundations of religions and different belief systems today.
Cults, religions, worship are all culture-specific. And cultures more or less differ in accordance with territory and population.
Yes, it is the people that make the culture, and yes, it is the people that choose their faith but it’s actually a mirrored effect – it is the culture hand in hand with the faith that moulds the individual. When you place two mirrors facing each other, you just get an infinite loop, much like this one; we are who we are, thanks to our knowledge and experiences, thanks to the culture we grew up in and what we have faith in on a spiritual level.
But does anyone ask themselves the simple question: What if?
What if I wasn’t born where I was?
What if I was raised by a different family in a different country of different a different culture, with different traditions and faith?
I would have had a different upbringing, different associations to things, perhaps even different views on what’s right and wrong.
And maybe I would’ve been blind enough to think that other places, cultures, peoples, have it all mixed up and don’t know the truth…
“Truth is singular, its versions are mistruths.” –Sonmi-451, Cloud Atlas How can we deny what others believe to be true?
When it comes to the material world, it’s easy, just look at the facts. But when it comes to spiritual understanding, that’s where things get tricky.
Religion is a form of identification, just like nationality and language, but where these are focused on territorial background, religions, or faiths, represent a spiritual kinship, a bond beyond the immediate familiarity. To believe in the same thing as another, creates an unmatched connection which is the foundation for collaboration and advancement. We move forward because we move together for the same purpose, in a sense.
But when we look at religion today, do we just see a set of rules for a ‘sinless’ life? Regulations and commands of what to do and what not to do in order to secure a good afterlife in heaven? In order not to be punished and sent to hell to suffer for an eternity? Really? Is that all it comes down to?
Let’s do good things so we don’t go to hell? How is that moral in any way? Isn’t religion meant to teach morality, compassion, love and acceptance rather than fear?
And what happened to the metaphors? We have people all over the planet, believing that there’s a place in the clouds waiting for them after they die, but what if that, like all religious and mythological teachings, is too a metaphor?
Do good and you’ll go to Heaven.
Sin and you’ll go to Hell.
Do good and good will come to you, and you’ll feel good after.
Do bad things and you’ll feel horrible about it after, not to mention the vengeance and/or justice that would immediately befall you as a result of your actions.
Are those ideas trying to teach us that there’s such a thing as cause and effect? Perhaps this is just the contemporary slang for it, or I’ve gone mad, thinking that there might be a hidden meaning behind religious texts… right.
By saying all of this I don’t deny the existence of a Heaven or Hell, I simply try to understand concepts for which there is no physical proof. Or at least no physical proof on our frequency.
Is it possible that our world functions like a radio or a TV? With radios you get different frequencies or different stations – when you change the frequency from A to B, A doesn’t disappear, but we simply stop hearing it. Instead we can only hear station B. It’s the same for channels on TV, they don’t stop existing just because we’re not watching them. And we can’t watch or listen to one channel/station while we’re occupied with another.
In this sense, could our world be a layer of such frequencies, with us only existing on a specific one? Could those notions of Heaven and Hell and other realms actually be scientifically plausible if they existed on a different frequency?
Another example could be light. A light spectrum is the many different wavelengths of energy produced by a light source. Light is measured in nanometers (nm), where each nanometer represents a wavelength of light or band of light energy. Visible light is the part of the spectrum from 380nm to 780nm, which make up a tiny fraction of the spectrum – we can’t physically perceive ultraviolet, x- and gamma rays, which are lower than 380nm, and neither can we see infrared, radar, FM, TV or AM waves (above 780nm). Sound is almost exactly the same – we simply can’t hear anything outside of the sonic range, anything below is infrasonic, and anything above is ultrasonic or even hypersonic.
And yet we are aware of these wavelengths, there is proof of them even though they are unperceivable. Can we become aware of new frequencies of existence in the same way with the right tools?
What if right now we are simply blind to something which is right in front of us, right under our noses, that we just haven’t realised we can perceive?
What if we are able to transcend the barriers of our physical bodies and consciousness by simply changing our own frequency? Our way of thinking? Our mindset?
Could we be truly unified? Cooperating, understanding, caring, and loving? Working together towards a higher purpose, a higher knowledge, a transcendence of sorts?
Try and imagine what we could achieve if we only stopped dividing ourselves – gender, race, nationality, language,… religion? How come religion, which is meant to be the most unifying factor of all end up as one of the most severely dividing one? And this isn’t even about the mistrust and downright hatred between different religions and faiths, this is about the subdivisions within a single faith such as Christianity – it is not just that anymore, you have to be specific when you refer to this religion as there are so many ‘denominations’ of it…
There’s Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Restorationist, Nontrinitarian… It’s like each one is its own different religion. How can we say we’ve changed so much since ancient times, when, really, we haven’t changed one bit – everyone still believes whatever suits them best, with major disregard and/or denial of everyone else’s belief systems. “My Truth is the only Truth, and everyone else is just wrong”, is this what we truly believe?
How crazy is it that all those different religions and faiths are just the different sides to the same pyramid, all leading up to the same Truth? The Truth which is transcendent of all else?
In order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you are. There are countless ways to get to London for example but depending on where you are, those can vary drastically. In the same sense, religions and such could just be the different paths to the ultimate Truth that we are all aiming for. Why would we deny or accuse a path of being wrong, if it leads to the same place?
Mythologies nowadays are widely regarded as outdated, as ancient stories and fables with some moral value. They are in fact the results of cultural particularities; different territories, languages, population, habits, etc. Our ancestors told the stories in understandable terms, they made do with what they had in front of them to go by, what they knew from their own experience and surroundings. That makes general myths difficult to compare (although the well known Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, is told in almost the same form in Japan where it’s about the creators of the world, Izanami and Izanagi). This makes Creation stories much more appropriate for such an attempt of pointing out similarities hiding in plain sight for thousands of years.
No matter who you are, where you’re from, how you live your life and whom/what you worship, you have come across or pondered at some point the notion of how everything began. Where did we come from, what made us exist, what made or world the way it is? It’s the type of story we should expect to hear most answers to, and yet as many Creation Myths and Stories of Genesis there are, they all build on the same basic concepts, regardless of where or when they were told.
The matter of Creation is probably one of the most significant questions contemplated, and further studied by scientists, since the dawn of humanity, and it may just be one of the most important things we have not yet fully understood.
“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who knows that he doesn’t know, knows. For in this context, to know is not to know. And not to know is to know.”
—Power of Myth , p.55
Easter in Bulgaria (or any other Orthodox Christian country) is like nothing you’ve seen or experienced before. It is probably the most important religious holiday we have (some may say more than Christmas, and they’d be right) and traditions are traditions.
Even though no one really takes Lent seriously (doing it right is giving up a lot of foods that the normal Bulgarian can’t cope without… mainly meat) there’s very specific rules around Easter. This year, by the Orthodox Church, Easter was on the 12th of April (last year it was on the 20th), Sunday. Before sunday there’s a few vital things that every self-respecting christian needs to do.
1. Sweetbread – either from the local bakery or homemade, it is a very important part of Easter morning and there’s always queues that go on for miles in front of the bakeries that whole week. People go crazy over that bread.
2. Eggs – That chocolate egg hunt… forget it. It’s a made up thing to feed chocolatiers after Valentine’s day. In reality what we do makes much more sense… (don’t be offended, friends, I’m just saying :D) Either on Thursday or Saturday before Easter Sunday (has to be specifically one of these days) we get a bunch of eggs, white-shelled, ideally, and we boil them. Easy as. White hard boiled eggs. What happens after, though, is the much more interesting and fun part. With little packs of dry paint (biological, so that we don’t get poisoning.. obviously) mixed with a bit of vinegar for stickiness and hot water, we put the eggs in to soak in the dye. What we get in just a few minutes are richly coloured eggs! They are perfectly good to eat after a day (Easter) or two or five…. or even…
3. The red egg of health and prosperity – it’s a very important tradition. The first red egg that is ready is taken by the oldest person and they put little dots on the youngest people’s faces – one on the forehead, one on the chin, one on the left cheek, one on the right, in the shape of a cross. That is to ensure the health and prosperity of the youth throughout the year.
4. Last year’s egg – somewhere on a high shelf in the house (for some reason with us it’s always in the kitchen) rests the first red egg from last year. Exactly right, from last year. As it has been hard boiled and dyed it doesn’t stink and it still looks nice and red (or at least it should, if it doesn’t you’ve done something wrong). The egg is then broken, to see what the inside of it looks like. The better it is, the better the house’s well being. Then it’s place is taken by the new egg, which will endure for the next year.
5. Good Friday – The Orthodox Bulgarians call it ‘Razpeti Petuk’ (Разпети петък) which comes from the word ‘razpyatie’ (разпятие) – crucible, so it’s not really Good Friday but more like Crucified Friday. As the story goes, Christ is taken down from the crucible and on the third day (Sunday) he would resurrect. On this day, Friday, people go into churches for a special service where they are blessed, they eat something given by the priest and then they go underneath a table and cross on the other side. I’ll be honest, I don’t completely understand that tradition but it is really funny to watch the people struggle (and I know how bad that sounds, but everyone’s having fun with it anyway).
6. Saturday night, midnight – The beginning of easter. Churches are filled with countless people and exactly at midnight the great service starts where everyone starts circling the church or chapel or whatever temple they’ve gathered in singing a specific traditional song, holding candles and some eggs to start the big egg battle royale.
7. The Greeting – From archaic Bulgarian, the phrase would literally be translated as ‘Christ resurrected!‘ To which whomever you said it to (which is everyone) answers ‘Indeed [he] resurrected!‘ For about a week from Easter, anyone you see you need to greet in this way according to custom. This year it wasn’t as bad as previous years, where everyone got about a thousand calls and texts and messages all saying that exact phrase.
8. The Battle – Easter morning, you wake up for some delicious warm sweetbread and then you get to choose your chapion, the egg you will fight with against everyone else, while you try to find the hardest, strongest egg out of all. the rules are simple. Every egg has a top and bottom – cupping the egg and leaving the top bit clear, you or your opponent tap one egg with the other. Obviously, the one that breaks loses. But all is not lost! Then the same thing is done on the other side. If the result is tied sometimes you can play top with bottom for the final score. By the end there’s about 10-20 broken eggs, ready to be eaten with breakfast or sliced up and put into the green salad for lunch. Which brings me to the final, most delicious part of Easter…
9. The Lamb Roast…. – it speaks for itself. Everyone that day no matter where or how, eats lamb for lunch and/or dinner. Traditionally it’s garnished with potatoes and there’s the green salad (salad, lettuce, radishes, sliced hard boiled eggs, cucumber and spring onions… or whatever but that’s the general idea). It is utterly incredible.
And that is how you get yourself a nice, proper, Orthodox, Bulgarian Easter. Something I believe any foreigner has to experience at least once, and I’ve got a few to to back me up on that. ;) Now, as we are artists, let’s see the most interesting and creative and artistic bit of the entire story.. the egg painting.
My nan has always had us over to dye eggs at hers (she lives in a nice remote house up the mountain) so it’s always a very pleasant experience being in their home. Usually they let me paint over the eggs, being artistic, but I never had enough time to do as many eggs as I wished. This time I had so much help I was worried we were going to run out of plain non-painted eggs. We had to use gouache (or tempera paint as they call it around here) and markers which I supplied. It was such an incredible experience having two of my closest friends there during this pure family experience… It made it seem more of a family! And getting to teach someone about how all this works really did help me see it all with new eyes.
So let’s hope next year it would be the same people there to break the house egg! :D
In this essay I have investigated different aspects of the Harajuku street style, focusing on what shapes the fashion and what drives the people of Harajuku to look the way they do. In my research I found out that the two most influential factors are the kawaii, the cute, and the Western trends. The Japanese obsession with cuteness exists in both mainstream and underground cultures and, depending on how it’s displayed, it is therefore praised or disliked by society. During my research on Japan and the West and their influences it became clear that both sides take from one another, rather than just one being influenced by the other. The West is just as big an obsession in Japan as Japan is in the West. We live in a system of constant style-swapping where ‘nothing is purely innovative or imitative and the process of repetition always introduces an element of metamorphosis’ (Groom, 2011). The Japanese have proved to exceed at changing the meaning and mixing and matching items which do not suit one another at a first glance. Like their city, they combine East and West, past and present with a skill which speaks of an un-rushed intensity.
Obsession: the Drive of the Harajuku Subculture
an essay by Sara Christova
lecturer: Cath Davies
When visiting Japan, Tokyo is stop number one and in Tokyo the Harajuku area, Shibuya and Shinjuku are some of the most interesting places to see. As the epicentre of street fashion, they can be considered stages for the unprofessional enthusiasm of the Japanese who have been branded as the weird, the strange, the quirky; the deviants of Tokyo. The Harajuku subculture, if we could call it such, can be easily recognized by the vivid, unorthodox outfits of its followers, which are personally, carefully designed to stand out. Although when we refer to it as a single subculture we make a mistake, for the different styles, fashions and trends within it are too distinct to be filed under the same category. Each subculture is centred around a certain idea, an idea which has become the obsession of its members – the kawaii, or the ‘cute’ of the Decora, the anime and manga of the Otaku, the lace and Victorian-era clothing of the Lolitas, the leather and crazy hairstyles of the Punk. The subcultures of Harajuku, however different from one another, also possess similar qualities – they all have a complicated web of connotations, enforced by the numerous layers, accessories, colours and patterns that they use, where each and every item or piece of clothing comes with its own meaning and personal value. These items are specifically chosen, mixed and matched with others and placed in a distinct way in order to give a certain impression or invoke different thoughts or emotions.
The un-rushed delicate intensity with which the Japanese go about their everyday lives is what makes the style what it is. Picking and combining the right accessories is a time-consuming practice which proves the dedication and reverence with which these people regard their style. The trends are religion, the accessories are relics and the best dressed people are deities.
Kawaii, the Fatal Attraction to Cuteness
Ever-changing, ever-growing and developing, the Harajuku fashion is dictated by its own followers. This is the place where the fashion icons aren’t the models on the billboards but the very people on the streets we walk on. It is common in Tokyo to be approached by photographers who want to take pictures of you for one magazine or other. It’s what drives these teenagers to dress the way they do. The brighter you shine, the better your chance is of being noticed, of being recognized as different. Like most young adults in the world, that is one of our strongest drives – the wish to be seen as unique but also to be accepted as such. Harajuku is a place that is in a way dedicated to that purpose. As a part of Tokyo, the Harajuku style is strongly influenced by, the kawaii, or the ‘cute’, as it is an obsession that goes from the most commercial mainstream circles to the deepest underground communities. The idea behind it may be twisted and represented in different lights depending on the individual preferences and ideas of each person, but it exists everywhere.
Kawaii usually translates to “cute”. Whenever a girl sees something she really likes and/or finds cute, she would exclaim that word. Whatever you may think, kawaii isn’t a brand or a style in which something is made. Kawaii is, according to a girl in the Shibuya district “a state of mind and a lifestyle. My whole life is about being kawaii. I’m always thinking about how I can make myself even more kawaii.” (Kawamura, 2006, p795) Kawaii cannot be exactly defined but ‘a feeling’ is a good way to describe it. You can’t explain it, but when you see it you’ll immediately know.
Mary L., 18, who is familiar with the Japanese culture and subcultures from firsthand experience, explained that the people of Harajuku are viewed as degenerate and appalling by the non-Harajuku Japanese. There is a parallel between Harajuku and kawaii, but there is a thin line separating what is acceptable and what isn’t, since kawaii is part of the mainstream culture as well as the Harajuku subcultures – it is expected of Japanese girls to be kawaii, and if they aren’t they are considered too masculine. If they have ‘too much kawaii’, like the Decoras for example, they are frowned upon. Just like how you have to be weird to fit in at Harajuku/Shibuya/Shinjuku, you have to be normal to fit in everywhere else. It is incredibly uncommon to see a person dressed in Harajuku fashion outside their designated territories and it’s slightly less uncommon to see a person like that on a weekday during work hours anywhere, even in the defined Harajuku places (except for the people that work in the industries catering to these styles, like the shops on Takeshita Dori).
Obsession with Style
A former managing editor of Tokion, a fashion and art magazine in Tokyo, Alex Wagner, says that “Japanese culture is very ritualistic. They get hung up on one thing and then it becomes this feverish race to get as many of those things as possible’ (Kawamura, 2006). Once they decide a certain person is a fashion icon, they religiously keep up with every little piece of information – like the latest Tweeter posts, Instagram photos or Facebook status updates. In a world dominated by technology, social networking has become one of the easiest ways to get the latest info on the newest items and the freshest trends.
The world of Harajuku, just like any other, is ruled by clique exclusivity, and different styles occupy different territories. Upon closer inspection you see a division between the members of the subculture. In Shinjuku people mostly dress up as Goths and Lolitas; in Shibuya the leading fashion is western subculture fashion (Punk, B-boy, Emo, Mod, Skinhead, etc.) either on its own but exaggerated, naturally, or fused with newer, more popular, sometimes even more mainstream, fashion. The result can be stunning and frightening and sometimes both at the same time.
While people (foreigners or locals with less knowledge of the subcultural trends and tendencies) often refer to the three parts as the singular Harajuku, the actual Harajuku area is where the most interesting and creative mixes often appear. The streets there are the home of the Shironuri (or ‘whiteface’) and Decora (from ‘decoration’). Both being very similar in their over-decorative tendencies – Shironuri and Decora just can’t get enough accessories! Hundreds of pins, bracelets, socks with different patterns, lengths and styles, countless pins and key chains, and earrings, and ribbons, and hairbands, and every possible mini-accessory; they’re just not enough. The only significant difference between the Shironuri and the Decora for us, the unenlightened, is that the faces of the Shironuri are painted in white.
Minori is a very famous Shironuri in Harajuku, who, despite her unearthly appearance, is an ordinary 23 year-old girl with exceptional skills as an artist (she is her own makeup artist, her own designer, decorator, she makes her own clothes and works in her own style to create series of conceptual photographs starring her in different artistically captivating outfits, also an illustrator in the meantime). Not everyone will appreciate the lengths to which this girl is willing to go in order to maintain the image she has created for herself in society – she wears amounts of makeup that even actors and clowns don’t wear, and she does that every single day just in order to feel like herself. It sounds hard but when someone’s obsession is how they look, they will do whatever they can to feel comfortable and if that includes wearing a ton of makeup and unorthodox, flowing dresses and gowns, and looking cute, then so be it.
Apart from the Shironuri and the Decora, there are a lot more fashion groups that roam the streets of Harajuku. One of them would be the people who dress in the latest western fashion, but of course, that comes with the Japanese specialty of mix & match. Harajuku-type hipsters and people who look like they could model on the pages of world renowned fashion magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire or Elle walk casually, waiting for people to go say hi and talk to them, and appreciate each other’s kawaii-ness. There is actually a series of photos of some Harajuku fashion innovators, which were originally shot for Vogue.com, during the Tokyo Fashion Week in March (Tokyofashion.com, 2014) and as we know, to say that Vogue is a leading influence on Western fashion would be an understatement.
The East/West Obsession Paradox
In 1954 Frank Lloyd Wright said: ‘I have never confided to you the extent to which Japanese print per se has inspired me. I never got over my first experience with it and I shall never, probably, recover. I hope I shan’t.’ Japan and the Western cultures have a long history of artistic influencing. ‘Japonisme’ is a word which best describes that relation. It was ‘coined’ by the French author and collector Philippe Burty ‘to designate a new field of study of artistic, historic and ethnographic borrowings from the arts of Japan’. To eyes sated with Neoclassicism and the Gothic revival, Japanese art was far more than a refreshing visual novelty (Lambourne, 2005). So where does that leave us today? “A Ping-Pong match between Eastern and Western” (Stefani, 2004) is a very exact way of putting it.We can see a lot of influence from Eastern street culture and a very obvious example is Gwen Stefani’s album, Love.Angel.Music.Baby. from 2004, where the Harajuku style is openly praised, especially in the song Harajuku Girls. Another very clear example would be Avril Lavigne’s new song Hello Kitty, where she exclaims “k-k-k-kawaii!” between every verse and is dressed in what seems to be a Punk/Lolita/Decora mix fashion. The interesting part in this case is that people weren’t surprised by the style itself, because it is something we’re all familiar with, even if remotely. The big surprise came from Avril’s choice to engage in that subcultural style. The music industry today, being as dependent on appearances as it is, has started popularizing unconventional looks and behaviour, which is best represented by Lady Gaga’s unnatural and frankly shocking costumes and performances, followed by Rihanna, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj’s exaggerated looks, along with Paramore lead singer Hailey Williams and her sugary new style, shocking, unnatural and unorthodox ways of dressing have become something more usual and familiar, and therefore something easier for us to comprehend.
Just like the popularization of the Japanese comic books known as manga and their invasion in the Western market, this style breaks the boundaries of the two cultures. By influencing each other, they reach a state of constant style-swaps. They’re almost trying to outweird each other, like Johnny Depp once said about him and Helena Bonham Carter. Donald Richie writes in his book Tokyo that “…Tokyo insists on its modernity. It always has. For a century now Tokyo has been known as ‘the city of contrasts’ or ‘the capital of the old and the new’. Ever since its opening to the outside world in the middle of the last century, Tokyo has with increasing skill combined East and West, past and present.” The evidence of this statement can be seen not only in the architecture, technology and culture (sports and arts) but also in fashion, both on the billboards and in the subcultural underground scene.
Tokyo’s street fashion innovators flawlessly combine traditional Japanese items like the “kimono, obi belts, kanzashi hairpins and geta sandals” (Aoki, 2001) modern avant-garde, Japanese couture, contemporary and retro Western fashion (Groom, 2011) and thus create completely new trends (such as Wa-Mono) and original looks that are meant to be unique, innovative, interesting, and most importantly, to stand out.
Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku are doubtless interesting places to see and valuable artistic resources, no matter what people say. While the West views Harajuku as a street fashion heaven and a stage for even the weirdest of tastes, the non-Harajuku Japanese see it as a degenerative and unpleasant place. That fortifies the idea of the Harajuku subculture. Although we refer to it as a single item, the different styles, fashions and trends within it are too distinct to be filed under the same category. Harajuku can be best described as a subculture comprised of a number of different subcultures, sublimated and Japanized but subcultures nonetheless. It is undeniable that the subcultures of Harajuku possess similar qualities – they all have a complicated web of connotations, enforced by the numerous layers, accessories, colours and patterns, where each item comes with its own meaning and personal value. These items are specifically chosen, matched with others and placed in order to give a certain impression or invoke a certain thought or emotion.
The un-rushed delicate intensity with which the Japanese go about their everyday lives manifests itself in a completely different light in the hands of the teenagers who run the streets of Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku. As they pay attention to every little detail, picking and mixing the right accessories is a time-consuming practice. This shows how dedicated and motivated these people are and how much they rely on the outer appearance. The trends are religion, the accessories are relics and the best dressed people are deities. The people of Harajuku obsess over the trends, over accessories and people. Obsessing over things is a daily routine. Obsessing over something that is kawaii, or cute (Decora), over animes and manga (Otaku), over painting your face white (Shironuri)… The obsessions of the followers are the fuel of the subculture. They are what drives this sea of colour, this kaleidoscope of fashion (Stefani, 2004), this hyper-reality that is the Harajuku street style.
Aoki, S. (2001) Fruits, Phaidon Press Limited, London
Cooke, L. and Wollen, P. (ed.) (1995) Visual Display: Culture Beyond Appearances, Bay Press, Seattle
Elliott, D. and Ozaki, T. (2011) Bye Bye Kitty!!!, Japan Society Inc., Yale University Press
Groom, A. (2009) Fashion and Identity in Harajuku. In: Craik, J. (2009) Fashion: The Key Concepts, Berg Publishing, Oxford, pp159-161
Groom, A. (2011) Power Play and Performance in Harajuku, New Voices Volume 4, University of Technology, Sydney
Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Routledge, London and New York
Hume, N. G. (ed.) (1995) Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader, State University of New York Press, Albany