A nonexistent Japanese style trend turned into Internet meme this past week, thanks to a New York Times blog, the online version of The Guardian and other news websites. If the report — which was passed verbatim from site to site, tweet to tweet — was to be believed, the latest craze among Japanese schoolgirls was a colorful dental accessory: flashing LED lights, held in the mouth. The Japanese artists who created the device, however, say it’s a stretch.

On Jan. 21, Nick Bilton of the New York Times Bits blog wrote that the glowing LED lights “are quickly becoming a sought after accessory.” The post also displayed a video, which it says shows “Japanese schoolgirls” with the blinking lights in their mouths walking on a Tokyo street.

The Guardian later took the same tack: “Since being featured in an ad for a clothes shop, LED smiles have become the must-have accessory in Japan — among the more adventurous or bicuspid-challenged at least.”

The initial report snowballed on Twitter, with retweet after retweet giving credence to the so-called fashion trend. A quick Internet search for “LED smiles” reveals that the misunderstanding is spreading as bloggers pick up the thread and post it as being the latest wacky Japanese fashion — when it was, in fact, a promotion for a Tokyo store’s sales event, and nothing more.

The ad mentioned in The Guardian was actually for the Laforet fashion store, which has become known over the years for slightly unusual advertising campaigns used to promote its biannual “Grand Bazar” bargain sale. This winter’s campaign was titled “Geee Face,” and earlier this month, large posters showing Western models with green and blue glowing teeth covered the flagship store in Harajuku. In one TV commercial for the sale, the models danced with eyes closed and teeth aglow, while in another, titled “Geee/Harajuku Love Story,” a young Japanese couple were surrounded by a crowd of smiling people with the flickering LEDs behind their teeth.

The two creators behind the visuals are Tokyo-based artists Daito Manabe and Motoi Ishibashi, who were approached by Laforet to make the “Love Story” commercial.

Manabe played down the media coverage, telling The Japan Times in an e-mail, “I have seen many articles saying (the LED smile) is popular, but in fact the video (as seen on the New York Times blog) was filmed with female actors,” not schoolgirls.

“I got many inquiries from reporters who mistakenly think having glowing teeth is popular among schoolgirls,” Manabe tweeted Friday.

Ishibashi also said in a tweet he had received many e-mails from people overseas wishing to distribute the LED fashion item. They are searching in vain, however, because the products don’t exist, nor does the trend.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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