ALL HARAJUKU'S A STAGE

Quick-change teens strut ‘visual music’

by David Larking

When Naoko Kamui leaves home on Sunday mornings, her parents have little idea of how their 14-year-old daughter will spend the day. Certainly, they would not recognize her among the hundreds of youth who flock to Tokyo’s Harajuku every Sunday.

Having left home wearing the typically demure clothing a child her age would wear in her parent’s presence — a longish skirt and conservative blouse — the sight of Naoko festooned in skimpy black leather shorts complete with chains, fishnet stockings and thick white makeup would come as a shock to her parents, as would the way her image transformed from that of an innocent child to a rebellious youth.

“I wear normal clothes on the train and change in a phone booth at Harajuku,” she said, indicating a nearby box offering little protection from prying eyes.

“Many of us change in phone booths or public toilets because they are convenient.”

“I wear the clothes because it’s a good way to meet people with similar tastes to me,” she said.

The inspiration for her outfit comes from “visual music,” a cult genre that is evidently more about outlook and image than lyrics and melodies.

According to Mirei, a 20-year-old follower of a group called Diren Gray, devoted fans often mimic the band members’ clothes and parade their sartorial splendor for the admiration of their peers.

Mirei said the music is ancillary to the costumes and attitude of the musicians, adding that the name Diren Gray is itself indicative of the genre’s attitude toward their music.

“Black is guilty and white is innocent. Gray is in the middle — like the music,” he said. “The bands don’t want to be called hard rock or punk or any other label. They don’t want to be typecast.”

Mirei’s reasons for coming are basically the same as others who flock to Harajuku every Sunday — to meet people who share similar tastes and to experience something different from the typically “colorless” Japanese society.

The group gathers at the end of Harajuku Station near the entrance to Meiji-Jingu Shrine. The ever-present security guards — an older generation who provide a stark contrast — often look on in bemusement at the antics.

“They’ve been coming here for the past three years,” said one shrine security guard who wished to remain anonymous. “They’re mainly young people from outside of Tokyo who don’t get a chance to express their individuality at home. They come here to be themselves.”

He said that he supported the idea of young people having some release from the conformity that is so heavily stressed in Japan, but added that he would be upset if his own son participated.

Still, he said, despite appearances, the revelers are for the most part model teenagers. “The young people here never cause any trouble. They always obey the directions of police or security guards and they are always polite.”

A member of one of the popular bands among this group is Appi, a 20-year-old professional musician who goes around in an outlandish clown outfit and offers a musically accompanied spoken-word performance.

“I wear these funny clothes because I want to make Japan a happier place,” he said. “I think Japan is very dull and people always conform in their clothing and hairstyles. I want to change that.”

Appi said that he and his friends are “the future of Japan,” adding that they will be great guardians of the country. While this could be seen as an indication of political acuity, Appi’s interest, at least, is restricted to a more banal nature.

“If I met (Prime Minister Yoshiro) Mori, I wouldn’t know what to say, but I know what I would like to do,” Appi said. “I would rape him.”