Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japanese Fashion Deserves More Credit at Home
KOKUBO Tamaki / Reporter, Mainichi Shimbun newspaper

December 22, 2006
"Now that I'm in Tokyo, I want to buy clothes in Harajuku" – the words did not come from a Japanese youngster visiting Tokyo from the local provinces. They came instead from a French high school student, and amazed an acquaintance of mine who was hosting the teenager. But this was no news to me. Just as the Japanese once dreamt of "Paris, the fashion capital of the world," young people everywhere in the world now look to "Harajuku" as an important center of fashion.

While street fashion championed by the younger generation may cause adults to raise their brows in Japan, foreign designers are united in their lavish praise of such wonderful and creatively stimulating sensitivity. Designs inspired by Japanese street fashion have been presented at the Paris Collections.

Six decades have passed since World War II, and in fashion Japan has reached a point of maturity yet to be attained by its politics or democracy, to a level that is earning the world's respect. Alas, it is the Japanese who remain ignorant of the fact. As a reporter covering fashion, I find this grossly unfortunate.

Japan followed a unique path in developing its culture of Western clothing. In the wake of the Meiji Restoration, clothes were imported along with various systems as a means of modernization in the form of business suits and army or high school uniforms, serving to indicate rank or wealth and existing side by side with the kimono up to the early Showa period (1930s). Then came Japan’s defeat in World War II accompanied by the U.S. occupation, which dramatically accelerated the pace of westernization in Japanese lifestyles, overwhelming the kimono within in less than a decade.

Clothes are basically cultivated and created over a long period, reflecting the country's climate, natural environment, aesthetics and technology. However, in postwar Japan western clothing was introduced without such roots in ready-to-wear manner, consequently making the country a center of production and consumption that values foreign fashion trends and brands above all.

Some Japanese designers have certainly been a great success in the postwar world of fashion. Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake made a considerable impact on the world of fashion in the 1970s with work based on their uniquely Japanese sensitivity. Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, still very much active in the Paris Collections, have won worldwide acclaim. Even so, the Japanese are unaware of the value placed in these names, in comparison with their recognition of names such as Chanel, Vuitton or Dior.

Likewise in the area of materials such as fabric, where not a few Japanese makers have won global recognition. "Mokuba," a ribbon maker that won the Mainichi Fashion Award last year, is an example. Ribbon designer Watanabe Keiko creates ribbons that have become an essential part of foreign brand products, though the fact is little known in Japan.

Each time I come up against this reality, a certain event recurs from memory – a banquet thrown by the Crown Prince and Princess of Belgium during the World Cup Soccer games co-hosted by Japan and South Korea in 2002. The royal couple brought six of Belgium's leading designers to Japan and held a fashion show during a banquet attended by members of Japan's Imperial Family as well as major politicians and businessmen.

This is precisely what impresses me whenever I report on foreign collections and designers. Compared to Japan, where fashion tends to be treated as a superficial, frivolous undertaking, in Europe and America it is natural to find a conscious effort to support the country's fashion as a lifestyle and as an industry.

However, there are signs of change in Japan as well. Last year, the government listed fashion, along with cinema and cuisine, as an example of "cultures Japan can proudly present to the world," and decided to actively communicate their value overseas. While branded foreign goods certainly possess the value and quality based on tradition, a fashion market that consumes one trillion yen worth of such items appears quite distorted. If only a hundredth of that money were spent on aspiring Japanese designers, we would undoubtedly witness much more talent come to bloom.

The writer is a Fashion reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

國保 環 / 毎日新聞記者

2006年 12月 22日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japanese Fashion Deserves More Credit at Home