Gals cultivating that sultry bar hostess look

by Yo Nakai

Kyodo News

Japan is witnessing the birth of another new tribe of young women, called “agejo,” identifiable by their pale skin, large eyes and over-the-top hairdos.

They are now omnipresent on the streets, following in the footsteps of the once popular “kogyaru” — “ko” as in high school student plus the English word gal transliterated into Japanese — who were instantly recognizable by their deeply tanned faces.

Despite a recession in the magazine business, a monthly advising bar hostesses on hairstyles, makeup and fashion has been a hit since its inception about three years ago. Koakuma Ageha (Little Devil Swallowtail Butterfly), published by Inforest Co. in Tokyo, sells about 300,000 copies a month.

Models in the magazine are called agejo, a word derived from the magazine title plus “jo,” or young woman, and many of them work at nightclubs. Such female nightclub employees are also known as “butterflies of the night.”

The agejo ideal is white skin and eyes made to appear larger with the use of eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara and false eyelashes. Topping off the look are curly locks. The style is believed to have been influenced by singer Ayumi Hamasaki but has since developed in its own unique way.

The Lip Service store in the 109 fashion emporium in Tokyo’s Shibuya district is popular with agejo. On display are revealing clothes with open-top sleeves, low-cut backs and plunging necklines.

A public relations official said, “When the agejo introduce their outfits as their own private clothes in the magazine, it generates a big response.” Women find the clothes “erotic and pretty.”

Tetsuya Hineno, an observer of street fashion, said, “(Agejo) are like products produced by computer graphics. There is an ambiguous line between professionals and amateurs. They develop by incorporating the mood of the times. Like ‘yamamba’ (mountain crone) gals (an extreme look popular in the 1990s), the agejo are the ultimate form of gals.”

In the magazine, the agejo talk frankly about their jobs and relationships, which seems to resonate well with readers. Many women living outside the greater Tokyo area, such as Hokkaido and Hiroshima Prefecture, mix local fashions into their particular styles.

A 19-year-old vocational school student in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, who reads Koakuma Ageha, said, “Unlike entertainers and professional models, I feel close to agejo. We like the same things.” She works part time at a hostess club to earn money to pay her tuition.