August 16th, 2009


She said "Don't make us suffer for stereotype"

This person caught my attention on the Style from Tokyo street fashion site (bigger picture here). Spotted last week in Harajuku, this is, we're told, the organiser of DENPA, a "fun event featuring Japanese pop culture". His name is Tentosen and he's 25.

I like the picture for lots of reasons -- the dual picture plane which divides the photo into a flat leafy stairs area and a receding street perspective, the group of more normally-dressed kids coming up the street, the epicene quality of Tentosen himself (he's shaved his eyebrows and grown his hair), the way he's both young and old, contemporary and ancient, and the way he combines something trad with something rather punky, trashy and pop.

"Japanese motifs are being seen more often in Tokyo these days," Rei Shito, who writes Style in Tokyo, tells us under her photo. "This is not Japanese style as seen by Japanese, but Japanese style as seen by foreigners. There are deep differences between how we see ourselves and how others see us."

That quote is interesting, because it seems to suggest that stereotypes are more inspiring to people interested in style than realities. The very thing that makes PC types decry stereotypes is what makes arty types interested in them: the fact that they're lies. But lies can be more interesting than the truth, as anyone who's actually thought through my "every lie creates the parallel world in which it's true" dictum can attest. The scenarios you create in your imagination when you misrepresent are so much more interesting than the ones you create when you simply represent. They're more creative.

This may be why young Japanese are more interested in what foreigners are projecting onto Japan than what Japan actually is. The wrongness of foreigners about Japan might be more inspiring -- more able to shape the future of Japan, perhaps -- than any rightness about its present ever could be.

If you go to the Denpa website you learn that this is a regular club event happening every two months at Shibuya Axxcis. It's been going two years. "DENPA is wild club party which fuses Anime with Fashion and Noisy Electro," runs the description. They also have a motto: She said "Don't make us suffer for stereotype." I'm not sure who the "she" is there, but for me that's a proposal that we enjoy stereotypes without guilt.

For me, the style of the DENPA club itself is less interesting than the style of the guy who runs it. Ultra-fast BPMs, robo-voiced maidens, acid-coloured lights, anime fashion, throwbacks to early German 90s techno, a whiff of Perfume, the Nakata Yasutaka production sound, Aira Mitsuki-style pop and Drop-style fashion characterise proceedings. Tentosen -- who attended St Martin's in London -- drew some inspiration from Kashpoint too, and from S&M style.

DENPA looks fun, but the stereotype factory being used here is mostly anime, exported to the West and re-imported to Japan with its misunderstandings intact. But I find Tentosen more intriguing outside on the street, in the pale light of day -- an anime character who's wandered out into reality, challenging it. A stereotype, skewed but shameless, made flesh.