I was reading recently an article saying that one of the marks that make a newcomer in Tokyo stand out is that they feel their clothes are unstylish and out of fashion; the article was about newcomers from the provinces (this season is the beginning of the academic and fiscal year so people move for work or study) but I believe it’s true for everyone: generally speaking, people in Tokyo pay special attention to their appearance –even when they don’t do it with affectation- and they have a sense of style that most of us identify with Paris or Milan. And even though some times the elements that make up this style are quite diverse (and often unbelievably diverse) when you get familiar with their contradictions you realize that there I behind them an elegance rarely seen in people who don’t spend illogical amounts of time for their appearance.
One could say here that the Japanese are always very attentive to detail anyway so it makes sense that they would also care about what they wear –and one would be right- but what I see around me seems to be more intuitive: whether it is Western or Japanese clothing (and the distinction has substance since Japanese clothes haven’t become obsolete; on the contrary: I doubt there is one home that doesn’t have a few of them in its closets) most people seem to possess a natural sense of style even when their choices are extreme. And this is, I believe, the reason that street fashion has become recently one of Japan’s most popular exports but also the reason it can’t really catch on outside the country: something that looks good on the Japanese doesn’t always look equally good on Westerners –perhaps because the latter don’t have this special sensibility that the former do.
If the above are true –and personally I’m fully convinced they do- it’s worth wondering why. Even though I’m far from being an expert in sartorial matters (I always opted for practicality and comfort instead of style) I’d offer it is a consequence of the multiplicity of choices characterizing almost everything in this culture: since their historic beginnings, the Japanese have been influenced by the Asian inland (and later by the rest of the world) and they chose the elements that suited them best; with time, they thus developed a measure of what are the most remarkable elements and which is the best way to combine them so that they will both keep their value and show in the best (and most complimenting) light this measure –and by extension, the personality- of the person doing the choosing. At any rate, and regardless of the reason, the result beyond visual pleasure adds interest to even a simple walk in a shopping mall.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.