It is a truth universally acknowledged that Japan dislodged itself from the present and now exists in some kind of space-time future. Things that can be found on a normal stroll through Tokyo include: vending machines full of beer, vending machines full of underwear, vending machines full of mp3 players, buildings that talk to you (and then laugh at you, as you walk by), and should you need to stop for a pee, toilet seat warmers (each public stall complete with its own automated sound machine playing the looping sounds of rushing water, lest your defecating neighbor hear your business, or vice versa).
All of this was complete news to me the first time I visited. Japan was my next-to-last stop on my round-the-world journey, a journey that previously took me from the top of Table Mountain to the depths of the Cu Chi Tunnels. “What are you going to wear in Japan?” my inquisitive roommate asked. “Um, what I normally do, I guess,” I responded, thinking of my Merrill hiking boots, white t-shirts, and rugged jeans that accompanied me all the way through my four-month journey.
“Amanda, don’t you know that Japanese fashion is like two years ahead of fashion in New York or Paris?” she asked. I had no choice but to believe her, after all, she was from New York City. The only response I could conjure was “Oh no.”
Below, my findings from my week in various parts of Japan, taken as hastily and sneakily as I could.
In Harajuku, the street style was crazy but not too over-the-top:
This last picture is my favorite. I’m clearly trying to capture the style of the girl in the far right side of the frame, but instead I catch a lot of the street and my friend’s shoe.
In Japan, you’d kind of run into what I can only describe as a bunch of different schools of fish in one big sea. In Harajuku, the fish were bright and colorful, expending all of their effort to be unique and stand out. In other parts of Tokyo, however, the style was a lot more standardized. I’m talking about, of course, the swarms of men in business suits:
And look, there I am! Clearly trying the best to be as fashionable as possible. White lacy top, blue jeans, a pair of $2 Old Navy rubber flip-flops (those flip-flops and my hiking boots were the only two pairs of shoes I had packed for my trip). I’m employing a classic American style trick: roll with the basics. What could go wrong?
A few days later, I would find that EVERYTHING can go wrong when you are walking across a country wearing Old Navy flip-flops. If I could impart one piece of travel wisdom on all of you it would be NEVER WEAR OLD NAVY FLIP-FLOPS, unless the total distance of your travels is from your beach front hotel to the edge of the ocean. NEVER EVER employ them for city travels.
But as it turned out there is no better place to be than Kyoto, capital of geisha culture, when the Old Navy flip-flops finally become unbearable. Because ONLY in Kyoto is it acceptable to wear socks with flip-flops. (Only in Kyoto is it possible to find socks that will even accommodate flip-flops.) So, much to the delight of my travel companions and the chagrin of the whole fashion world, I worked this look for the rest of the week (OH GOD WHY!):
One thing that I am genuinely happy to report is that Japanese fashion is not in fact two years ahead of American fashion. During my travels in 2007, the ubiquitous trend on women was shorts coupled with knee socks and high-heels.
I noticed none of this really going on in 2009, even though I braced myself and my short chunky legs for this to happen. I guess only time will really tell if this trend is yet to be, and only then will we truly know how far ahead in the future Japan really is.
Until then I will have to live with the knowledge that even Japanese children dress better than me: