Japanese culture and lifestyles through the eyes of NHK WORLD personalities
Misha Janette operates on the front lines of fashion. She's a stylist, designer, journalist and founder of a widely read fashion blog. On NHK WORLD, she cohosts Kawaii International.
I'm just going to say it; Japan has the lowest rate of fashion crime in the world.
Right. You see, when we think of "fashion crime" in the west, we might think of something like someone committing a "faux pas" or wearing something that might be considered wrong or out of place. But I have come to learn of a different kind of fashion crime that is committed around the world, and that is when a person might get grief or called out by strangers out on the street just because of what they are wearing. That's when things can be embarrassing or even a bit dangerous in some parts of the world.
You see, I recall several incidences while abroad, when I`ve taken my wardrobe of unmistakable Japanese street-style with me (think: wild mismatched colors, big hats, and an adventurous, happy-go-lucky...nee, naive attitude) only to run into some trouble. There are times when people are just curious, kindly asking where it all comes from or why I'm even wearing it, to other times where strangers will shout out insults or even deign to touch me or my clothes without permission. It's always going to be a bit of a risk when one dares to draw attention to themselves through their clothing.
Compare this with my daily grind in Tokyo, which includes trips on packed trains, down crowded boulevards and inside retail establishments, where everyone is also a stranger to me. And yet, I have never experienced any sort of unwanted or negative attention because of my street-style clothing.
This is not a new phenomenon, it is a part of Japanese culture on the whole and it doesn't really have a name. They might say "tanin-goto wo ki ni shinai", which means "We don't bother strangers." People really do "mind their own business" in practice, and not just in theory.
It's because of this laissez-faire attitude that has allowed fashion subcultures such as those found in Harajuku to thrive. We wouldn't have the lolitas, goth-girls, decora-kei, or shironuri (white face) if they felt they could be in danger. In this way, people who are both strong-willed OR shy can dress up and be free to express themselves out on the streets during the day. Overseas, many subcultures are born from the night clubs where it is safer to let loose and dress wild, but in Tokyo the subcultures are paraded out during the sunny hours outside.
With this said, if you do plan on going to Harajuku or Shibuya to glimpse at some cool fashion, make sure to remember not to commit any fashion crimes of your own: don't touch, don't stare, and many will happily let you take a photo if you ask. Here's to keeping the crime rate low and seeing more and more amazing new fashion subcultures thrive!
After moving to Tokyo from the USA, Misha graduated from the prestigious Bunka Fashion College which counts Yohji Yamamoto and Tsumori Chisato as graduates. She is now a fashion journalist at The Japan Times newspaper, a stylist for Japanese and worldwide artists and brands, and is the founder of lauded fashion blog Tokyo Fashion Diaries. She hosts several TV programs in Japan, including Kawaii International on NHK World. In 2014 she was named as one of 500 people shaping the global fashion industry by the Business of Fashion.