[Marxism] Japanese fashion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 21 09:27:53 MDT 2007

 From Dana Thomas's "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster":

"He is poor who does not feel content."

—Japanese proverb

Kyoichi Tsuzuki, a Japanese photojournalist and publisher, has spent 
nearly a decade taking pictures of luxury-brand-obsessed Japanese in 
their tiny apartments surrounded by their collections of clothes, ties, 
scarves, jewelry, handbags, and shoes for the Fashion News, one of 
Japan's oldest fashion magazines. Tsuzuki calls his subjects "happy 
victims" because, while they are victims of brand marketing, the items 
seem to bring them a sort of happiness. On a cool November morning in 
2005, I visited Tsuzuki in his apartment in Tokyo and, over cups of 
jasmine tea, he told me about these happy victims. There is the Hermes 
collector, a patent executive who lives in a tiny fourth-floor walk-up 
flat. He keeps all of his Hermes shirts, ties, and leather goods in 
their original boxes and bags, which are stacked up on his tatami floor. 
He spent half a million yen (about $4,000) on an Hermes briefcase that 
he carries with an Hermes towel wrapped around the handle to avoid 
damaging the leather with his hand perspiration.

There is a Buddhist monk who collects Comme des Garcons religiously. 
Once a month, Tsuzuki told me, the monk sheds his robes, dons Comme des 
Garcons' avant-garde constructionist clothes, and heads from his temple 
to Tokyo to pick up a few more pieces. He is so convinced of their 
miraculous powers that he says his delinquent sister cleaned up her act 
when she started wearing Comme des Garcons. There's an English teacher 
at a prep school who started wearing Gianni Versace's flamboyant designs 
to keep the attention of his students. After ten years, he had one 
hundred pieces of Versace as well as an impressive Bulgari jewelry 
collection. He lives in a shoebox apartment with his unemployed 
girlfriend, who spends her days organizing the collection. There's a Tom 
Ford collector (she has both Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent), an Armani 
man, a McQueen girl, and a Martin Margiela manic who is so fastidious 
about his collection that he never cooks at home because he doesn't want 
the clothes to retain the odors. The only thing in his refrigerator is 
eyedrops. "When he gets thirsty," Tsuzuki said, "he goes to a 
convenience shop and drinks there then goes back home. He does not want 
to put any kind of trash in the room."


NY Times, October 20, 2007
Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place

TOKYO, Oct. 19 — On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant 
and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs 
that she hopes will ease Japan’s growing fears of crime.

Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, 
lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in 
bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet 
open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman 
walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending 

The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of 
a vending machine. Ms. Tsukioka’s clothing is still in development, but 
she already has several versions, including one that unfolds from a 
kimono and a deluxe model with four sides for more complete camouflaging.

These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are 
actually declining in Japan. But the Japanese, sensitive to the 
slightest signs of social fraying, say they feel growing anxiety about 
safety, fanned by sensationalist news media. Instead of pepper spray, 
though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, 
others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.

Take the “manhole bag,” a purse that can hide valuables by unfolding to 
look like a sewer cover. Lay it on the street with your wallet inside, 
and unwitting thieves are supposed to walk right by. There is also a 
line of knife-proof high school uniforms made with the same material as 
Kevlar, and a book with tips on how to dress even the nerdiest children 
like “pseudohoodlums” to fend off schoolyard bullies.

There are pastel-colored cellphones for children that parents can track, 
and a chip for backpacks that signals when children enter and leave school.

The devices’ creators admit that some of their ideas may seem 
far-fetched, especially to crime-hardened Americans. And even some 
Japanese find some of them a tad naïve, possibly reflecting the nation’s 
relative lack of experience with actual street crime. Despite media 
attention on a few sensational cases, the rate of violent crime remains 
just one-seventh of America’s.

But the devices’ creators also argue that Japan’s ideas about crime 
prevention are a product of deeper cultural differences. While Americans 
want to protect themselves from criminals, or even strike back, the 
creators say many Japanese favor camouflage and deception, reflecting a 
culture that abhors self-assertion, even in self-defense.

“It is just easier for Japanese to hide,” Ms. Tsukioka said. “Making a 
scene would be too embarrassing.” She said her vending machine disguise 
was inspired by a trick used by the ancient ninja, who cloaked 
themselves in black blankets at night.

To be sure, some of these ideas have yet to become commercially viable. 
However, the fact that they were greeted here with straight faces, or 
even appeared at all, underscores another, less appreciated facet of 
Japanese society: its fondness for oddball ideas and inventions.

Japan’s corporate labs have showered the world with technology, from 
transistor radios to hybrid cars. But the nation is also home to a 
prolific subculture of individual inventors, whose ideas range from 
practical to bizarre. Inventors say a tradition of tinkering and 
building has made Japan welcoming to experimental ideas, no matter how 

“Japanese society won’t just laugh, so inventors are not afraid to try 
new things,” said Takumi Hirai, chairman of Japan’s largest association 
of individual inventors, the 10,000-member Hatsumeigakkai.

In fact, Japan produces so many unusual inventions that it even has a 
word for them: chindogu, or “queer tools.” The term was popularized by 
Kenji Kawakami, whose hundreds of intentionally impractical and humorous 
inventions have won him international attention as Japan’s answer to 
Rube Goldberg. His creations, which he calls “unuseless,” include a roll 
of toilet paper attached to the head for easy reach in hay fever season, 
and tiny mops for a cat’s feet that polish the floor as the cat prowls.

Mr. Kawakami said that while some of Japan’s anticrime devices might not 
seem practical, they were valuable because they might lead to even 
better ideas.

“Even useless things can be useful,” he said. “The weird logic of these 
inventions helps us see the world in fresh ways.”

Even some of the less unusual anticrime devices here reflect a singular 
logic. A pair of women’s sunglasses has wraparound lenses so dark no one 
can see where the wearer is looking. These are intended to scare off 
sexual harassers on Tokyo’s crowded trains, where the groping of women 
is a constant problem.

The same is true of some of the solutions for schoolyard bullying, a big 
problem in Japan. Kaori Nakano, a fashion historian, wrote a book with a 
chapter on how to ward off bullies with the “pseudohoodlum” attire. Her 
advice includes substituting a white belt for the standard black one in 
Japanese school uniforms, preferably with metallic studs or tiny 
mirrors, and buying short socks with flashy patterns.

“Japan is so fashion conscious that just changing the way you dress can 
make you safer,” Ms. Nakano said. “Culture plays a big role in risk 

Ms. Tsukioka said she chose the vending-machine motif because the 
machines are so common on Japan’s streets. For children, she has a 
backpack that transforms into a Japanese-style fire hydrant, hiding the 
child. The “manhole bag” was also her idea.

Ms. Tsukioka said her disguises could be a bit impractical, “especially 
when your hands are shaking.” Still, she said she hoped the designs or 
some variation of them could be marketed widely. So far, she said, she 
has sold about 20 vending-machine skirts for about $800 each, printing 
and sewing each by hand.

She said she had never heard of a skirt’s actually preventing a crime. 
But on a recent afternoon in Tokyo, bystanders stared as she unfolded 
the sheet. But once she stood behind it next to a row of actual vending 
machines, the image proved persuasive enough camouflage that passers-by 
did not seem to notice her.

She said that while her ideas might be fanciful, Japan’s willingness to 
indulge the imagination was one of its cultural strengths.

“These ideas might strike foreigners as far-fetched,” she added, “but in 
Japan, they can become reality.”

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