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Ruminations on Tokyo fashion

Towards the end of my year abroad, I spent a month interning in and travelling around Tokyo. With the emergence of influential Japanese designers such as Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto in the 1980s, Tokyo became an established fashion capital, home to top fashion schools and countless designer stores.  Naturally, I was excited to see the streetwear outfits I was so used to scrolling past on Instagram for myself on the streets of districts like Ginza and Shinjuku.

Globalisation and the impact of social media has meant that (amongst younger generations in particular) people tend to dress in similar styles across the world. In Japan, influences from Korean fashion are apparent in men’s fashion, and Western brands such as Zara and H&M are ubiquitous in shopping centres. Vintage stores boast extensive collections of American apparel from the likes of Carhartt and Levi’s.

At the same time, minimalistic Japanese styles as seen most often abroad with brands like Uniqlo and Muji remain popular. 

On one of my days off, I set out on a trip through Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most bustling wards known for its nightlife, skyscrapers, and confusing train stations. Considered one of Japan’s fashion centres, it’s home to many shopping malls and streets, including the famous Harajuku district. 

Coming out of one of the train station’s many exits, I headed towards my first stop, a department store named Shibuya 109. The tubular tower is hard to miss, boasting ten floors of clothing, beauty, and accessory stores. Upon entry, you navigate each floor in a circle as you advance to the very top. Here you can find almost every style of clothing you will see a young person wear in Japan – whilst the different stores are not fully separated, it is easy to distinguish them based on the variation of the products they have on offer. Getting off the escalator on the sixth floor, I was met with a classy-looking store displaying simple designs and plain fabrics, aimed at slightly more mature women. Next to it was an accessory shop filled with polymer clay-charm jewellery shaped into wearable miniature waffles, noodles, and coffee cups. Goth and Lolita-style brands were juxtaposed with athleisure stores, including an Adidas selling exclusively women’s pieces. 

After an hour in the dizzying department store, I left for the comfort of some slightly less overwhelming thrift stores. Usually located on basement floors, the average second-hand shop in Tokyo is often the same: concrete walls and open ceilings housing racks of clothes organised by styles and brands, which you could browse while listening to rock music blasting from the speakers. Sifting through racks of college sweaters, band t-shirts, and flowery dresses in one of these stores, I found an oversized white shirt which I ended up buying for £10. Pleased with my purchase, I stopped by a bakery in Ura-Harajuku for a hot latte and donut. Sat around me were groups of friends and couples chatting away with shopping bags beside them – clearly, we were taking a break from some serious shopping. Deciding that my day had been an overall successful one, I made my way back to my hotel through the cobbled streets of Harajuku. In contrast from the indie brands and vintage stores dotting the backstreets of Ura-Harajuku (literally translating to ‘the back of Harajuku’), the Harajuku and Omotesando districts boast big names and designer stores including Chanel, Coach, and Vivienne Westwood – all hugely popular in Japan. 

One of Japan’s most iconic fashion magazines was FRUiTS, a monthly publication showcasing fashion subcultures and street style photographed by the editor Shoichi Aoki around Tokyo. Founded in 1997, publication ceased in 2017 as Aoki claimed there were ‘no more cool kids to photograph’. The rise of fast fashion led him to question the future of fashion, but since then Aoki has stated that he has regained faith that young people can still express themselves originally through style, hinting at a possible comeback of FRUiTS magazine. Nowadays, fashion photographers have been sharing images of outfits worn by these “cool kids” on Instagram, including Shoichi Aoki himself, who has recently travelled around Europe, where the influence of Japanese style can also be noticed.

Walking around the streets where so many creative outfits have been snapped, and seeing the inspiration for fashionable young people living in the always-exciting and busy capital city of Japan, I hope that publications like FRUiTS do come back. Tokyo and its style have certainly left a deep impression on me, making me question the authenticity of my own style.

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