When most western men think of Japanese style, their mind is immediately filled with stereotypes of a few kinds; (a) the Japanese company man, which is a corporate robot where everyone looks essentially the same or (b) the historical style of Japanese Samurai or (c) the camera-toting Japanese tourist snapping photos incessantly at Mickey Mouse in Disneyland.
It may come as a shock to Westerners (non-Japanese) that the Japanese fashion on display in Tokyo is as vibrant and diverse as anything you might see in Paris or New York. In fact it is by many considered the place for fashion in the world second to Paris, Milan, and New York.
The reason for this is that fashion has been a one-way output globally for so long. In general it flows like this (1) Paris, (2) New York, (3) Tokyo in that order. That does not mean that influences in men’s fashion do not flow back. However, usually the only ones that bring Japanese fashion to world prominence are the designers in Paris (or Europe – Italy is France’s unwanted step-child in Europe, yet still highly influential) that co-opt the Japanese style and make it a new part of the global fashion trend.
Japanese fashion has little to offer men in the traditional suit and tie areas because basically all they do is copy Europe and USA and then water the looks down to fit in to rigid Japanese corporate culture. If we are looking for inspiration in classic men’s fashion (suit and tie) we will not find it in Japanese fashion.
But the same dynamics that cause conformity in Japan for classic men’s wear have also sparked rebellion. The youth in Japan, especially in Tokyo, have essentially gone wild, not unlike the explosion of the Mod fashion trend in Britain around the time of the popularity of the Beatles. The expression in color, dress, and design in Tokyo for the young generation in fashion is without bounds, and it is also extremely fun too.
Imagine going to the hottest nightclub dressed as your favorite video game character and fitting in. This is every night in Tokyo, not just on Halloween which they don’t even celebrate. You can emulate any of the super cool Manga characters even in the wildest ways and be perfectly fashionable. Manga, for those of you who don’t know, are the full size cartoon books that are popular not for kids in Japan but for adults.
You can also go to the “dance park” in Tokyo and join about ten thousand people on any Saturday night in the summer that are doing their version of Who’s Got Talent? Anime (Japanese animation) is a worldwide phenomena and it has its specific fashion look as well. The freedom for young men to express themselves in fashion is at its peak right now in Tokyo. You would have to see it to believe it.
Everywhere else in the world is extremely sedate compared to this. There was a time when fashion was an expression of wildness and fun in the USA and the UK. This was many decades ago. In those times it did not seem that anyone really cared to be serious. That was the best of it. Even we all knew what we were doing was probably ridiculous, we did not care because we were having fun.
This is the state of affairs for the young man who happens to live in Tokyo right now and chucks the corporate warrior outfit of standard dark suit and tie when he gets home, to put on an outrageous set of clothes to go out for a night on the town.
Hendrik is the founder of http://www.bows-n-ties.com/ – a retailer for mens ties and much more. There is also a blog with Mens Fashion Tips.