Tokyo lady street style and infantilization culture

BY ONEIKA RAYMOND

The possible implications of ladies’ fashion in Tokyo.

Tokyo lady style: let’s discuss.

I saw the following on the streets of Tokyo.

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tokyo shoes

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Tokyo lady style is more “Little Bo Peep” than grown woman and I don’t like it. “Little girl style” reigns here and many adult females actively try to look half their age. I’m of two minds about this.  Yes, us ladies should be able to dress any which way we like, and yes, pastel colours, pigtails, knee socks, and Mary Janes are cute.  But what is the impact of this continued infantilization of women in a country that already struggles with female subjugation? (Read up on the “Maid Cafe” phenomenon to see what I mean.)

Rabble rousing feminist I am not, but I’d be lying if I said the style of dress here didn’t bother me.

Thoughts? Am I being too harsh?

SHARING IS CARING

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75 Comments

  • I never would have thought about it from this perspective… partly because I’ve never been to Japan and don’t have the exposure that you do and partly because I always thought Japan’s *thing* was “cute”.

    Reply
  • I totally understand where you are coming from! While this fashion did not take off in Indonesia while I was living there. In fact, Indonesian girls are more like ‘the tighter the better’. This does not help certain stereotypes of Asian women.

    Reply
  • You are spot on with this. I read a blog The Nomad’s Land, a South African in Japan and she often remarks about how women are seen/treated there.

    Reply
  • I am a feminist and I also lived in Japan for over two years. I’m very much of the mind that women can wear whatever they choose, and if women want to wear Minnie Mouse t-shirts and frilly socks, I think that’s their prerogative. I’m not trying to say that fashion isn’t part of the conversation of female subjugation in Japan, but one person’s idea of what a grown woman should look like might be different in another culture. Also, dressing this way is only one part of Japanese female fashion; in fact, I found the fashion to be one of the most fascinating things about the country, and felt that many women used it as a way to express their creativity, individuality, and, in some cases, their feminism. While I do think that hostess clubs and maid cafés are creepy, there are a growing number of host clubs (males catering to female customers) as well as gay and lesbian maid cafés. Basically, there are many, many layers happening here. The Great Happiness Space is an eye-opening documentary on host clubs that was filmed in Osaka, for anyone who is interested.

    I wear white ankle socks with maryjanes, and I’d kill for that pink coat in the sixth photo down. When I lived in Japan I frequently shopped at local stores and was often influenced by the fashion of my female friends, coworkers, and students. Again, I’m not saying that fashion isn’t a part of the problem (or that the problem doesn’t influence the fashion), but I think we really need to hear from all sides before judging women on what they choose to wear.

    I’m absolutely not trying to have a go at you, Oneika, but I am very passionate about this and I think that it’s a great topic for discussion!

    Reply
    • Hey Brenna!! Thanks for your comment! Love getting your perspective since I was only in Tokyo for a few days and didn’t travel to any other part of Japan. My comments on the style of dress I saw were meant to engender debate so I’m glad that you shared your thoughts on the matter, especially since you actually lived in Japan. As a woman, I am all about choice. As I said in my post, us women should be able to dress any way we like. But I was taken aback by the amount of women I saw dressed in what is, in my point of view, a really “childish” style. Of course, what I feel is based on “my” cultural context, I readily admit that. But combined with the maid cafe thing, prevalence of skewed gender roles in Manga and Anime (many idealise male dominance and female submissiveness), and the recent phenomenon of “Yaeba” (cosmetic procedure to make teeth crooked, accentuate canine teeth in a bid to appear more childlike), I worry that what some may deem as a harmless style of dressing is actually part of an active sexualisation of a childish appearance, or, in other words, an attempt to increase sex appeal by looking like a kid. I am NOT okay with that. My observations in the post were less about condemning women on how they choose to present themselves in the world via fashion and more about the whether or not the fashion reflects something much more deeper and sinister than mere aesthetics. I hope you understand what I mean. Thanks again for your insights!!

      Reply
  • I’m with Brenna. Especially when she says “dressing this way is only one part of Japanese female fashion…and felt that many women used it as a way to express their creativity, individuality, and, in some cases, their feminism.”

    There are different styles of Japanese fashion, and I think you may have only seen part of it. When I was in Tokyo I didn’t see an overdose of cuteness (and I don’t believe that women liking cute necessarily suggests infantilization), rather I saw more onee-kei, gyaru and a few Lolita and visual-kei styles. I personally love onee-kei and certain kinds of gyaru. I also saw a lot of women dressed in boring office suits. I think what style you see depends on which part of the city you’re in. I never saw any maids when I was in Tokyo for example.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your insights! See my comment to Brenna above. As I was in Japan for only a short time and restricted my travel to Tokyo I am not well placed to make sweeping generalisations about the country. But as I mentioned to Brenna, I worry that this type of dressing contributes to sexualization of the child. Of course, this is just my feeling and I could be wrong, it could be harmless. Just being honest!

      Reply
  • I see why you would think that way, but I don’t mind the style. I think it’s important to remember that the way we, westerners, perceive the style and the meaning we attribute to it, is totally different from how they see it. It’s a style that evolved from their popular culture, you might even call it a movement. I believe it has little to do with female subjugation. I personally wouldn’t dress this way -unless for a dress up party- but it’s part of the reason why I find Japan so fascinating…

    Reply
  • I’ve just come back from Tokyo, and while I saw women dressing as those posted above, the majority of women I saw were so impeccably and elegantly dressed, I would say they rival any Parisians. I could tell from afar that the quality of clothe was great and it seemed that each piece was deliberately chosen. I felt very shabby, indeed, in my running clothes, but then again, I was there to run a marathon.

    Reply
  • are these young girls or grown ladies…the fashion is not bad perse but then again I wonder why they fancy these barbie, childlike looks alot…whatever works for them and you are not harsh just voicing your opinion.

    Reply
  • No, I don’t think you’re being too harsh. That said, I think it’s a matter of preference and cultural influences. Fashion trends differ throughout the world and Japan just happens to have one of the more – Um, how do I say this – “forward” trends. I personally would not dress that way (ever, costume party or not), but good on them for being so creative in their choices. Good discussion topic, though, and nice pictures!

    Reply
  • In a country that has so many strict norms and that is fairly conservative I see this as a form of rebellion. I can see why people don’t like it, but I like it if people dress more individually and outside the norm. Good on them for being so creative.

    Reply
  • Hi Oneika, I love your articles and these photos are amazing but I’m going to have to disagree with you here. Japan is quite a conservative and monocultural country where people tend to follow norms of tradition. I like the fact that these women are fighting back and dressing and looking different from the masses. Why not? The life of a modern woman is about choices. I love the platform shoes, pop-socks and wacky fashion. I even have a few myself. 🙂 Very Spice Girls!

    Reply
    • Agree with you about choices! Which is why I say that I’m of two minds about the whole affair. I’m really sensitive to child abuse and child pornography and am therefore uncomfortable with the equating of beauty/style/attractiveness/sex appeal to looking like a little girl.

      Reply
  • I didn’t comment on this post the first time I read it because, never having been to Japan, I didn’t feel qualified to, so I was really interested to read the more recent comments. I totally understand your concerns but I also agree with the above posters that it’s all about cultural context. One thing I am wondering though, is whether this style is considered in any way “childish” or “childlike” in Japan i.e. how are the children dressed? Perhaps it’s us that’s got it all wrong, thinking that buckles and ruffles are child-like even if they’re attached to sky-high platforms and miniskirts! Or, if these aren’t childish features in Japan, maybe they only see the sexy aspect?

    On a bit of a tangent, if there is an infantilisation culture in Japan, I think it’s also become quite a trend in the west as well – all these products aimed at grown women with “girly” designs in pretty pink weren’t around ten or fifteen years ago … now my commenting is sounding middle-aged, so I’m going to stop!

    Reply
  • I’m just will no longer certain where you’re having your details, on the other hand terrific subject. I can commit a bit mastering much more as well as knowing more. Thanks for amazing info I became hunting for this information for my assignment.

    Reply
  • I just want to say I agree with you. “Infantilization” is the perfect word for this style, and it is disturbing to me as well. It’s not like there are only a few women dressing like this. It’s common, so they’re not being “different.” They’re certainly not fighting back against anything, in a country where about 70% of women have to quit their jobs after they have kids. Dressing very childlike only makes them seem more submissive. I live in Korea and I feel like the women here are infantilized but, looking at these photos, Seoul is nowhere near as bad as Japan in this regard.

    Reply
  • Hi Oneika, I totally agree with you and it’s refreshing to see someone write so frankly “I don’t like it” hehe. I also think it hurts the female image and makes women look like kids and not serious.

    Reply
  • You raise some valid points.
    The craziest part is that they probably don’t even realize they are under this sort of pressure. Frog-in-a-slow-boiling-pot-syndrome, I guess.
    It makes me wonder what a foreigner might be able to gather about our society based on something as superficial as the way we dress.

    Reply
  • Greetings Oneika, Interesting topic.

    While I believe anyone should wear what they wish appropriately, I do agree that some forms of the juvenile style may be deeper than fashion and actually subjecting to an underaged fetish. While I like anime and certain Japanese/Asian styles there is a fetished sexualized “little girl look” agenda that crosses the line as to invite and serve pedophiles.

    As I always found a passion in reporting any suspected type of child trafficking/porn online, I’d see some Asain women with the large pupil contacts, pig tails, etc. Dressed as the little school girl and these ads were for porn- click bait, ads on dating sites, some shopping sites for kids/teens, animation-porn movies, live cam models or any online revnue listed under “barely legal” when the pictures with “girls” holding teddy bears-etc. suggest they are not legal at all. I reported all of them whether it became dead leads or not. *Some were legal and just wanted to make money off the fetish/crime illusion whether willingly or not if they had a contract to fulfill by their “agent.” (Forced undercover prostitution)

    Also there are also arranged marriages with certain men-especially non-Asian who request underaged brides, some of which the women just look to portray that illusion. Anyway there is in some parts of the look a sinister meaning and with how monsterous this world can be you, as well as anyone have the right to feel concerned. And if we think there’s a situation where the underaged dressed woman may actually be a subjected girl, by all means contact the FBI, online divisions that investgate these crimes, or any local law inforcement that have a dept who investigate human trafficking and willing to follow through to help thouroughly. Gather as much information as possible and pictures or screen shots to give a good lead on any suspecting purpetrators.

    Of course this is the extreme and not always the case, but better to be safe and have your concious clear than to just let it go. Many of those girls do not know it’s illegal or they should have a choice or rights.

    Reply
  • Excuse the typos, now that I’m reading my your site gives no option to edit. *Asian. *Perpetrators, etc.

    Reply
  • Interesting perspective. Personally, I’m all about creativity and self-expression and I’ve long been a strong advocate for people doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. Tokyo street style has fascinated me for years. If we’re going to make a commentary like that, we also need to look at women here in the United States who wear shorts so short their butts are hanging out, or Islamic women wearing headscarves. I believe every culture is different and looking at something from the lens of another culture makes it easy to come to these sorts of conclusions, but honestly I think women the world over are judged too harshly for what they wear. If you’re too conservatively dressed (i.e. headscarves), you’re subjugated. If you’re dressed in a skimpy manner, you’re being objectified, if you’re dressed in a childlike manner as these Japanese women, you’re initialized. If you’re dressed up, you’re trying too hard. If you’re dressed down, you don’t care about your appearance.

    Again, not trying to jump all over your comments here because each perspective is unique and brings something new to the table, but personally I feel that women should be free to dress however they want and people really shouldn’t judge so harshly.

    Reply
  • Hey, Oneika, just wanted to chime in as someone who has studied Japanese street fashion and cultural trends for years. I won’t deny that there is an abundance of misogyny in a lot of Japanese media, and certainly no lack of pedophilia, as horrific as that is, but there is also incredible pressure in Japanese society to conform, and women who wear these cutesy fashions that stand out often say that they do so out of self-expression. In fact, some say they wear such hyper feminine clothing in a feminist way because they think being that cute is off-putting to men, but they still choose to wear it to make themselves happy. Certainly not everyone agrees with that take, but I do think you’re approaching the subject with a distinctly non-Japanese perspective, and I would encourage you to read up on the history of kawaii culture and feminism in Japan. Or, if you find yourself in Japan again, try asking the women themselves about what they think of their style, if they seem receptive to conversation. There are many aspects of design that we Westerners look at and immediately think “infantile” and therefore inappropriate or reminiscent of child pornography when we see them on adult women, but that is not always the case in Japan. And due to the exposure of certain types of Japanese media in the west, many Westerners have a skewed idea of what the vast majority of Japanese people would be tolerant of regarding child abuse and pedophilia. I guarantee that, even though youthful cuteness is the name of the game there, just as many adults there would be absolutely repulsed by what they perceive within their culture as infantilization or child pornography as adults in your country and culture.

    As for another comment postulating that Japanese citizens aren’t aware of the social pressures of their own society: they very much are. Modern Japanese street fashion is and has always been largely an intentional rebellion against that pressure.

    In no way meaning to be harsh! I’m someone who is very much against the objectification and infantilization of women, and I completely understand your visceral response to these clothes. And some Japanese feminists do agree with you, but the topic is more nuanced than it may first appear.

    Reply
  • Apparently people are missing the point of this article. She NEVER attacked the women personally for dressing in cute clothes (I wear this style btw). It’s the fact that the “childlike style” may play a part of subjugating and sexualizing “child-like” qualities in women. It’s just not in Japan and their beauty standards, the west is guilty of this too, especially with waxing, having hairless bodies, labiaplasty, and anti-aging treatments. Society has taught us WORLDWIDE, that women should appear ageless forever and fight against what we have naturally, which is body hair and wrinkles. People might respond, “well, you’re just looking at it at a western centric way”. Well, I KNOW Japanese and studied their culture for years and their modern pop culture, is mostly inspired by western culture, especially French, American, and German culture.

    Reply
  • This is an incredibly harmful view? Just because the standard of beauty is different (i.e., youthful, pastel, frilly) compared to the “mature” image of western culture doesnt mean this is promoting “infantilization” of these women. It’s not a 1:1, no matter how many mental gymnastics you do to compare these two. This will lead to a wrong understanding of culture and context and people will immediately think that cuteness is sexualization of child like characteristics. Ive certainly seen this happen often on twitter where mostly westerners have a bias and skewed view of how asian women should express themselves in beauty.

    Reply
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