It is said in Taos that sometimes you just have to get away, so I went to LA’s Little Tokyo on the 4th of July weekend. The 3rd Annual Little Tokyo Harajuku Fashion Walk and then at night the VisualKeiFest was taking place at Nirvana Club and I wanted to be there. Now, after writing many pages about Japanese Harajuku Street Fashion and the music behind Visual Kei j-rock, I’ll set that aside and try to make that long story shorter. Why I have to get away and why I come back.
I’ve been following the Japanese fashion and music scene for about two years now. It started right after Sandy Hook when I came to realize America was hopelessly dysfunctional and getting crazier by the day. I really wanted to leave America, but that not being possible, I decided I’d just imagine that I lived in Japan so I turned Japanese.
In Japan I found a world where kids could laugh, have fun and truly care about the society they were part of. In Japan I discovered a music scene that was strangely familiar yet fresh and exciting. I started to only listen to music coming out of Japan and Korea, started watching only Korean and Japanese dramas on Netflix and Hulu, drinking Soju, eating ramen with chopsticks and learning to cook Japanese dishes. With the transformation I found a new direction for my artwork. My only connection to my new culture is the internet, Youtube, blogs, Fan sites, Facebook pages and a lot of Google searches. I don’t understand the language but I couldn’t care less and prefer it that way, I’ve come to realize that there are far more words in the world than there are things worth saying. I love the sound of the Japanese language, I love the way Japanese people look, the way they act and the way they treat each other. For me, I don’t feel bound by tradition or culture and can chose what I want to assimilate into my life and leave the rest.
When I heard about the Harajuku Fashion Walk on a Facebook page I follow, and the VKfest happening in Little Tokyo on the same day, I got tickets for the show, made reservations for the train and booked a room in the Hewitt Hotel. I had gone last February to LA to see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu who was on her second world tour so I knew exactly where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do while I was there. A weekend in LA is just what I needed.
As the time to go approached I had things to prepare. Color my hair with a lot of blue and purple, pick out my clothes to wear for the Fashion Walk AND the VKFest. Quite a stretch? Maybe not, it’s more about expressing your own style. As I read in a Wikihow page, “In Harajuku, mixing different styles and mismatching colors and patterns is encouraged — you can do anything you want, as long as your outfit is a thoughtful expression of your individuality.” Well, I have that, I was a ‘hippiepunkrockergoth’ once and some of those clothes I still have will work well for my so-called self-expression.
Finally, on the 4th of July, I’m off to Albuquerque to catch the train. The train is late of course but then you’re on train time so just relax and ‘you’ll get there when you get there.’ All you have to worry about is trying to get to sleep sitting up in a train seat. Still in a Taos mindset, I am open to conversation. The person next to me is from Chicago with a 6 month layover in Albuquerque. He’s on his way to Portland for work and hoping the woman he sent all of his clothes to is still there. In between getting vodka tonics in the club car convenience store we talk a lot. When I finally get away I just listen to J-rock and the audiobook I had downloaded on my iPod, “Tune In Tokyo,” a story about a guy who got so bored he packed up and moved to Tokyo just for the culture shock. I could relate.
In the early afternoon the train arrives at Union Station and I am psyched to be in LA again. After dropping off my bag at the hotel I walk around the corner to a hair salon were Yudi works. The cute young Japanese girls remembered me from last time I was there which was surprising. You don’t expect that in a big city, but then again, they are Japanese. I book an appointment with Yudi to style my hair on Sunday before the walk and then head over to the Village. I wanted to say Konnichiwa (Hello) to the very nice girls who have organized the Fashion Walk at the Fairytale Boutique. I met them last time I was in Little Tokyo, and follow them on Facebook. With the Anime Expo also going on in LA, the Fashion Walk and the general atmosphere of the Tokyo Village, the day was full of color, Cosplay, Decora, Goth Lolita, Punk and beautiful people of all kinds of fashions. Families with happy children, couples holding hands and happy faces everywhere. It was almost like being in Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon.
The rest of the day I walk around, and check out the Nirvana Club. There is a $20.00 minimum for credit card sales so 7 shots of Soju’s (a popular rice alcohol from Korea and Japan) and a tip puts me there. After that I’m not sure what I did, but I do remember waking up in my room and then heading off to the Japanese bakery for chewy buns and a coffee. At one o’clock it’s back to Hewitt St to Yudi’s salon for hair styling and then the hotel to get dressed.
Little Tokyo Fashion Walk
At 3:30 everyone arrives at the Fairytale Boutique, talks with their friends and graciously poses for anyone who wants to take their pictures, of which there are many. All walkers get their wrist bands if they meet the two requirements: you come dressed in Japanese style, which is wide open for interpretation, and no cosplay. I guess with the Anime Expo and all the Cosplay in town it would have looked more like a ‘Cosplay Walk.’ Harajuku is more about creative self-expression than acting out anime characters.
So the whole group lines up and takes off down San Pedro St., down 1st St. to Central Ave, up 2nd St. and back to the village. There are stops for pictures — a Japanese film crew is there to film the whole thing for Japanese TV. Everyone groups together for photos and yells “International Harajuku Hooray” for the TV crew. Back at Tokyo Village there are more group shots, interviews and just hanging out. A young girl dressed in a Sweet Lolita style complimented me on my look and thanked me for coming out. I am definitely the oldest person there by far and I think of these kids as my cultural grandchildren. From Ben Frank’s in Hollywood and Haight St. in San Francisco in the 60’s, I can remember how youth always express themselves with fashion. It warms my heart to know another generation can create their own style and express it beautifully. Seeing kids smiling and not being afraid to stand out gives me some hope for the future. If you think this is weird all I can say is you just don’t know how f**ked up everything really is.
Let me explain a little bit about what this fashion style is about. Basically, it is about wearing whatever you want to wear without caring whether you look attractive, cute, or sexy. Many times, people who wear aomoji-kei fashion tend to switch between different styles a lot just depending on whatever they like and what they think is fun, so that’s why it may seem like there’s no definitive look for it. Aomoji-kei fashion is a girly, casual fashion that isn’t meant to curry favor with men. In Tokyo Fashion there are many different styles but the important thing is to be creative and have fun.
2014 Little Tokyo Fashion Walk
The Nirvana Bar and the VKFest
After the Fashion Walk is over, it’s time for the Nirvana Club, dinner, soju and some live music from Japan. The first group is actually from LA, called Lolita Dark, fronted by Rayko Dig. Up front two beautiful Japanese girls on keyboards, guitar, and vocals with three guys on bass, drums, and guitar. Next up is Anti-Feminism, very speedcore high energy punk rock. Lots of jumping and head banging. Kon from Cell performs solo with the band on tape. There is something about these Visual Kei artists — they have the presence of a Buddhist god in a Kabuki play. There was a fashion show from Shibuya men’s fashion and DJ Meirin and DJ Fumi Hilow played some new music from Japan. I’ve heard a lot of bands. but this was all new to me, I wish I had the play list. Tomo from The Rhedoric finished up the night and kicked it in true J-pop style. This was a small club with maybe 125 people there. It reminded me of the Mab and the Berkeley where I saw lots of bands in the 80’s like The Ramones, X, and the Misfits.
Visual Kei is not just a fashion or music genre, but a form of art, and a complete lifestyle. Mixing punk, glam, goth and ever other style there is, including ones they create themselves. It’s radical to say the least. Guys wear a lot of makeup with wild hair styles full of color and their clothes are just amazing, some dressed as the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. Each band has their own look and style, some are very humorous, some very dark and gothic, but whatever their style the look is extreme. The music is generally fast and rocks hard, the songs have great form and structure and the musicians — with their attitude and fashions, they bring everything rock was meant to be. No bearded men in overalls with banjos and guns here. This ain’t the blues, this is head on power rock.
You can check them out on YouTube:
Anti Feminism – Sayuu no Terrorism
The next day, I’m off to China Town for a Chinese jacket and some socks, lunch on Olvera Street, and to sit on the lawn with the homeless folks. I’ve done everything I wanted to do in LA, I’ve had enough of the city vibe and I’m ready to go home to Taos, so with 6 hours till the train arrives, I decide to just wait at Union Station.
On the train back to New Mexico I just want to decompress. I am in a bubble like everyone who lives in a city. I don’t talk to strangers — only crazy people speak to strangers, and if you speak to someone they’ll think you’re crazy. I’m able to avoid at least two crazy conversations by leaving my ear buds in and listening to the rest of Tune In Tokyo and more Japanese music. The train rolls through the desert and I feel the excitement of returning to the Southwest. The blue sky, the vast expanse of the landscape, the opening of the heart, mind, and soul. I feel part of the world again with a destination where know I am at home. When I make that emergence out of the gorge with that amazing vista, with Taos seated beneath the mountain and the gorge stretching out all the way to the Colorado horizon, I remember that Shangri-La does exist and it is Taos.
So why do we have to escape Taos and why do we return? For me there are things I don’t think I’ll ever see in Taos, like one of the great bands from Japan or Korea. Last year we did have a Harajuku Fashion Walk of sorts on the Plaza but that was a one-time event. Taos just doesn’t have everything I need, so I have to get away sometimes to find it. Of course it is different for everyone. Generally, what most people are into here like sports, classic rock, the blues, old hippie stuff, and nostalgia doesn’t interest me much. That’s OK, I always bring my own sound track and the bottom line for me is it’s a great place to live and create. I can pretend I live in Japan, dress like I want to and change whenever I need to. People may think I’m weird, but we all know everyone in Taos is a bit strange. We are all tolerant of others and accept it as part of what make Taos special. Taos is people-sized, we can talk to anyone, wherever we go we see someone we know and always greet them with a wave and a smile. Even if we don’t know them there is still a wave and a smile. When I need to get away I can go anywhere from here to find what interests me, but I will always come home. No place has it all but without a doubt Taos has a place for me.
If you are really interested in knowing more about Japanese fashion and music, keep in mind that a place like Tokyo with 38 million people is very diverse. There are thousands of bands and fashion styles and the more you explore the more there is to discover. Here are a few links of just a few of my favorite bands and images. Also here is a link from London Kitty Cane, who is a Harajuku fan from Mississippi, and a link to Visualioner who is a blogger from Sweden who knows a lot about the Japanese music scene and has thousands of links to band videos. Last there is a link to my latest work in glass inspired by the Japanese pop culture. The two body of works are called Visual Kei- Androgyne and Kabukimono.