Monday, January 23, 2012

Pulled From The Pages: What The Heck Are The J Pop Girls Wearing?

Watching TV in Japan often becomes a cultural education. But one particular phenomenon fascinated me—J Pop fashion. Some of the singers wear crazy clothes straight off the streets of Harajaku. And no one exemplifies it better than current sensation Kyary. Watch one of her videos and your eyes bug out from visual overload. She takes Hello Kitty cuteness to a whole new level. I had to investigate the appeal. All the cute kitty did for me was make me lose my lunch.

I could think of no better person to ask then my friend Midori. After all, she was a  Harajuku girl. A Fairy Kei to be exact.

“Can you tell me what’s the deal with the crazy video’s and clothes Kyary wears? Some J Pop just seems so over the top.”

“That’s the whole point. She’s dress up gone crazy.”

“No kidding. But why does she wear such bright colors, wigs and those enormous eyelashes. She looks like an anime character.”

“Exactly. She wears Kawaii style.”  

“Okay, but why do her pupils look so huge like a dolls?”   

“Oh, those are contacts. Like mine.”

I looked into Midori’s eyes. “Wow, I can’t believe I never noticed before.”

She batted her gigantic eyelashes. “I don’t wear them all the time. Just when I want to look extra cute kawaii.”

“Okay, that’s my problem. What’s cute about dressing up like a little girl and putting stuffed animals on your clothes?”

“Americans have a hard time understanding our ways.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll say.”

She grabbed my hand. “Come to my house and I’ll show you just how cute you can look.”

It took Midori almost an hour to complete my transformation from boring American college student to Kawaii Harajuku girl. She proudly stood me in front of the mirror. “See, you look super cute kawaii neh!” 

The person that looked back at me was some kind of cartoon character. I had on a giant pink wig with pigtails and a matching tutu skirt worn over pale pink tights and glittery high-top sneakers. The sweater I had on was covered in bows and little stuffed bears. All in shades of pink of course. I could barely hold open my eye lids as the fake lashes I had on were almost as big as butterfly wings. I twirled around in front of the mirror astounded by the transformation.

Midori beamed. “You’re amazing. Let’s go to Shibuya and show you off.”

I looked at her and smiled. “You’re right. I’m so kawaii! In fact I’m so cute I need to go to the bathroom and throw up.”   

So you can see J Pop craziness for yourself here's Kyary's video PonPonPon.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pulled From The Pages: New Years In Japan It's All About Ritual!

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year! May 2012 be a year filled with adventure and travel! 

 December 31st-January 1st

New Years, shogatsu, is a special time in Japan. People have three days off and do a lot of drinking and eating. Rituals are also a big part of the celebrations. Before the old year ends, houses are cleaned top to bottom. I like the idea of going into the new year with a sparkling house. But the actual cleaning part keeps me from enjoying the ritual.

I looked forward to meeting up with Keiko and having her show me what New Years eve in Japan was all about. She asked me to meet her at Zojoji Temple, right next to the Tokyo Tower. I waved when I saw her standing in a beautiful orange kimono next to the crowded Sangedatsumon Gate. The entrance to the large temple grounds.

“Happy New Year.” I shouted to get her attention.

She laughed. “Think you are as you Americans like to say, jumping the gun. We still have over an hour until midnight.”

“Okay so what are we going to do?”

Keiko gave me a sly grin. “Why eat of course!”

She led me to an area packed with rows of food vendors. “For New Years we have to eat a traditional dinner of toshikoshi soba, buckwheat noodles. They are for prosperity and longevity.”

The last thing I felt like eating was heavy noodles but who am I to buck tradition. “Great. This will guarantee I live to 100.”

Keiko handed me a plate full of noodles. “If that’s what you want you better eat them all.”

Me and my big mouth. I managed to eat half the plate and dump the rest in a trashcan when Keiko wasn’t looking. I rubbed my stomach. “I’m stuffed, what’s next?”

Keiko wrapped her arm around mine. “We better head over to the temple. I can’t wait to release my balloon.” 

“Balloon? That doesn’t sound very traditional.”

She laughed. “Well, it’s fairly recent as far as Japans history goes, but so much fun.”

Looking at the Tokyo Tower with it’s sparkling lights I guess a nod to modern times made sense.

Keiko handed me a paper. “Here’s your voucher for the balloon and a wish card.”

Wish cards. Now that was a tradition I knew well after doing my share of temple hopping. “I like the modern take.”

Keiko led me up to a beautiful girl dressed in a white and red traditional outfit. “Give the temple maiden your voucher.”
The girl smiled as she handed us our balloons. Keiko once again wrapped her arm around mine. “Better head in so we are in a good position by the tower.”  

The place was jam packed with people. I was used to the crowded streets of Tokyo but the temple grounds could give a sardine can or Times Square at midnight some competition. Tokyo Tower seemed to hover over the temple.

Keiko handed me a pen. “Write your wish and tie the paper to the balloon. Be sure to ask for something wonderful.”

Just before midnight the temple bells rang out tolling in the New Year. I frantically scribbled down my wish. Then the countdown started and I tied my paper to the string just in time.  The crowd of thousands shouted out, “Three …two…one….”

Thousands of balloons floated up in the air as the Tokyo Tower put on a fantastic light show that illuminated the balloons as they zoomed higher in the sky. The moment was absolutely magical.

The crowd pushed forward as the temple doors opened. Keiko pulled me to the side. I continued to stare up at the sky. “Thank you for bringing me here. I’ll never forget this amazing night.”

“You’re welcome. Did you wish for something wonderful?”

“Oh yes. And I hope it comes true.” 

Keiko nudged my shoulder. “Tell me what you wished for.”

“That I’d never have to eat a plate full of soba ever again.”