Japan's post-quake kawaii cute movement

Japan's post-quake kawaii cute movement

Harajuku's colorful street-styles used to combat the quake crisis

6%DokidokiJapan -- gray, dull, conformist? Not likely!If you thought that the East Japan earthquake and tsunami would shake the cute off this country's young hipsters, think again. Harajuku, Tokyo's mecca for youth culture and fashion, is as cute and colorful as ever.

That's the message of the Mighty Harajuku Project, started by Sebastian Masuda three days after the disaster, and now entering its second phase as Masuda and others take their message that the Harajuku kids are all right overseas.

Masuda, founder of the ultra-kawaii 6%Dokidoki boutique and café in Harajuku, says Japan's youth aren't about to drop their love of kawaii (cute) because of the quake.

There’s much more to this cultural trend than a feeling for candy-colored accessories, he argues. "People who consider kawaii just one aspect of youth culture will begin to see that it’s an innate expression of the Japanese spirit," Masuda tells us.

"Without this spirit, we do not possess the energy, the driving force, to face this crisis."

Planet Kawaii

Masuda says the “happy anarchy” expressed by Harajuku’s colorful street styles is tied to the energy of the punk movement in the 1980s and the flower-power movement in the 1960s.

It’s about youth finding a place to be themselves, away from the judgmental eyes of the older generation. It’s about being free on what Masuda likes to call “Planet Kawaii.”

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The Mighty Harajuku Project took to the streets and the Internet on March 14. At first, it was just Masuda and his staff posting photos and notices on Facebook and Twitter and handing out "Mighty Harajuku" badges in the street.

6%DokidokiSebastian Masuda, founder of the happily anarchic 6%Dokidoki boutique and the godfather of kawaii culture, poses with his staff.

But, as people came back to the neighborhood and shops re-opened, businesses such as Tokyofashion.com, “FRUiTS” magazine, Faline Tokyo boutique and many others joined in.

Soon, the Internet was awash with young people sporting kawaii styles and "We Vow to Mighty Harajuku" pins.

Despite the mangled grammar, the message of the badges was clear -- Japan's youth aren't about to discard their colorful styles for dad's blue suit or mom's designer brands just because of March 11.

Broken generation

In fact, Masuda says the quake brought home a lesson about mom and dad and the rest of their generation: "Looking at the cleanup process after the mess, it is evident that the system created by the previous generation is a faulty one."

Not quite "don't trust anyone over 30," the old 1960s mantra, but a pointed message nonetheless.

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And Masuda says now that things have settled down, it's time to press that point. "As the memory of World War II dims, this is the first disaster of this level that we've experienced," he says.

6%DokidokiTwo women sport "Mighty Harajuku" badges as part of a campaign to tell the world that Tokyo's youth culture mecca is back in business.

"From now on, we’ll speak of 'before the quake' and 'after the quake,' and we will see a new culture and a positive focus on parts of the culture that have been overlooked. Today's pessimistic outlook will be turned completely around."

Overseas outreach

Masuda and his shop girls took the campaign on the road this April, holding events and handing out free "Mighty Harajuku" gear in Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver.

“Many of the people interested in the project were young women who like Japan’s culture and fashion. For them the slogan ‘Mighty Harajuku’ was more connected to the Japan that they know than something like ‘Pray for Japan,’” he says.

“From here, we want to expand our target and raise the consciousness of Harajuku culture, continuing on a neighborhood-wise basis to actively spread the word.”

The cute just keeps on giving.