Sunday, December 23, 2007

Goth-Loli Girls, Massage Chairs, and a Gourmet Emporium: No It’s Not a Pasolini Pastiche

As the “Japan Is Weird” genre goes, this one is pretty tame. So let’s see if it works as a piece of straight reporting.

“With about 35 million people, greater Tokyo is by far the world's most populous metro area.”

I have a little trouble envisioning all of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, andIbaragi as Metropolitan Tokyo, but maybe it’s just me, so I’ll let this go. And Goth-Loli*, salarymen catching naps on massage chairs on display, and single urban commuters frequenting gourmet emporiums are all real.

But how does this “triptych of miniatures” “sharpen the focus”? Of what? And how do the “small stop-frames” “suggest the larger rhythms of life in the planet's preeminent urban space”? What do they serve to show, other than that Goth-Loli girls are polite, that salarymen take naps, and that it’s not fun to cook for one? Give us some perspective. How many Goth-Loli girls are there in Japan? How many electronic massage chairs are on display in metropolitan Tokyo? How many people actually shop at these gourmet emporiums? Out of “about 35 million people”?

This is not serious journalism; they’re impressionist sketches, means without an end, words without a song.

* “Goth-Lolita” doesn’t quite capture the flavor of the genre. “Goth” invokes a fashion style, but “Lolita” does not, does it? And the girl on the right does not quite look like a Goth-Loli, does she?


Janne Morén said...

I believe gothic lolita is actually technically correct, in the sense that it is the term used among goths for the distinct Japanese variant of the style - heavy on romanticism, light on grime and not really connected to the music genre any more.

Other than that, I agree with your take on the piece. It would make a passably interesting blog post, but doesn't have anything to contribute as an actual newspaper article.

Jun Okumura said...


You right, in the sense that Goshikku-Rorïta, i.e.Gothic-Lolita, is a less common but not unusal variant for this genre. I can't find any meaningful distinctions between the variations though.

W. David MARX said...

Trying to say the Goth-Loli girls - maybe 1000-2500 people max out of 35 million? - represent Tokyo is like saying that the guys really into playing Warhammer with miniatures are a way into understanding the New York Metro area. And they are too lazy to even try to tie together the fundamentals of goth-loli gathering as a metaphor/extension/model/product of Japanese social principles/structures etc. This is just, "Hey, everyone loves goth-loli! Let's give it 100x the coverage it deserves!"

Janne Morén said...

Marx, to be fair, any place description has to focus on what is different, not what is the same. If reports on Tokyo life - or London, Stockholm or Kuala Lumpur - focused on the existence of roads, trashcans and lots of people in business dress working in airconditioned offices every day, there would not be much point in writing anything.

And gothic lolitas are a rather visible feature of street life in the mostly trafficked areas of Tokyo. I'd expect any report on Osaka (even from Japanese media) to be somewhat heavy on Yakuza and perhaps on the "hosts" and assiciated people hanging around Doutonbori, few in number as they may actually be. They're visible and they're something well-known to exist here; it'd look strange to overlook it.

And if nothing else this may serve as a wakeup about media reportin in general. When you read articles about rioting in Paris (or street life in Paris for that matter); the vibrant club scene in London; immigrant alienation in Malmö; or whatever, just remember that you're reading the truth about those subjects in the exact same manner as you're reading about Tokyo life here.

Jun Okumura said...

I had to look up Warhammer and I still don't understand the reference to the New York subway. Dang, w.david, you make me feel old. I smell a Marxist plot.

Thank you, thank you.
*takes bow*

Seriously, I agree with Janne's initial assessment, that it's good enough as a blog post, nothing more. In Japan, we have the sandai banashi, a sit-down comedy, rakugo genre, where the rakugoka takes three items choice at random from the audience and forms them into a single comic routine on the spot. Stay tuned.

Speaking of which, Janne, when is the next Big One coming? We're waiting, you know.

MTC said...


What is important is not the content but the frame: for Blaine Harden, this was an epic piece of investigative journalism. It is, without a doubt, the best thing by him I have ever read.

We should congratulate him for trying so hard.

Jun Okumura said...

clap clap clap

Janne Morén said...

Jun, the next serious post (found some fun numbers about Japanese agriculture) will be whenever I have inspiration and some free time off work to look stuff up. Which, at the current rate, will be around 2020 or so...

Besides, you, Shisaku and Observing Japan is doing a way better job than me anyhow.

Jun Okumura said...

We post a lot, but none of us has done the kind of thing that you did with that three-part piece. I agree with Shisaku, it should be published.

Jun Okumura said...
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