Dempagumi.inc: Akihabara’ kawaii-guru idols

by Samuel Thomas

Special To The Japan Times

Dempagumi.inc have become the faces of a new generation of Akihabara pop music, as well as a force to be reckoned with in the fashion world. From the members’ humble beginnings playing daily at the DearStage bar in Akihabara, to appearances as models and muses on the catwalk of Tokyo Fashion Week, Dempagumi.inc have played a key role in bringing idol culture to the mainstream without compromising their distinctively energetic performing style.

At the KAWAii!! MATSURi on April 20, Dempagumi.inc members Yumemi Nemu, Aizawa Risa, Naruse Eimi, Mogami Moga, Furukawa Mirin and Fujisaki Ayane, offered some thoughts about their influence on Japanese fashion.

You recently performed in countries that don’t have a history of idol culture. How did they respond to you?

Risa Aizawa: The first overseas place we performed in was Taiwan, and we were really worried about it. But during the concert it became clear that fans understood idol culture, and they cheered us on with glow-sticks just like an audience in Japan would.

Your fashion has always been very progressive, and you modeled at Tokyo Fashion Week. How did that relationship with fashion come about?

RA: We’ve been working with Mikio Sakabe on our stage and music video costumes for some time, and everything we’ve done has been a joint project.

Eimi Naruse: As someone who loves anime, I found it great to work with someone who makes anime-inspired fashion. I’m so happy that it’s recently become more and more popular — even the more extreme Akihabara fashion has become more visible.

AR: Sakabe produced a line of T-shirts with illustrations of our faces, drawn by Ai Madonna, which become very popular in Harajuku. Really cool people started wearing them, which was funny because at the end of the day they are still idol T-shirts — something fashionable people normally wouldn’t wear. That was a great moment for us.

What is your latest fashion venture?

EN: As an Akihabara x Harajuku crossover, we have collaborated with Spinns (a Harajuku-based street-style brand) on a series of clothes all in the six colors of Dempagumi.inc. We’re hoping that people from Harajuku will think they are cool, but that fans from Akihabara might also see them as otaku (nerdish obsessives) goods.

Do you think otaku culture is becoming a credible influence on fashion?

EN: Absolutely, I don’t think it is embarrassing to be an otaku anymore. More and more people are allowing anime and manga that they like to influence their style. It’s become normal in fashion, and it’s started to affect how fans express themselves in Akihabara, too.

Given that you have modeled for fashion shows, do you see yourselves as idols or models when it comes to fashion?

Nemu Yumemi: I think we have a very different relationship (from models) with our audience. Sometimes male fans who are not interested in fashion at all will message me via my blog saying that they’d like to wear the same brand as me.

Maybe they do it to feel closer to me, but the reaction is similar to the way some people take style cues from models.

It strikes me that the distinction between model, idol and artist is starting to become more blurred. What do you think of that shift?

NY: Maybe it is just me, but I hope that distinction never goes away. I think the mixture of cultures can be exciting, but I don’t want to lose Japan’s unique idol culture.

Do you have a message for your foreign fans?

EN: I hope all our fans abroad will wait patiently for us. We are coming as quickly as we can.