Lovelies Lab: Tokyo’s 'alternative' underground performers

Lovelies Lab: Tokyo’s 'alternative' underground performers

A drag queen, shibari rope artist and other fringe performers take their art to the public in Tokyo's Department H

Department H

Tokyo’s Department H is often labelled a fetish party, but it’s best described as a monthly gathering of walking performance pieces. You’ll find a saline injection booth next to a two-person inflatable poodle costume. Meanwhile, on stage, a singer with a fully bandaged face pretends to attack two drag queens with a hammer.

Department H organizer Gogh Imaizumi says that many people misunderstand what goes on at the “alternative” party. Others are curious, but too scared to walk into the club. Recognizing this, with Sebastian Masuda of clothing label 6%DokiDoki, the club “created an event that opens the doors to ordinary people and spreads understanding, without imposing,” Imaizumi says.

Lovelies Lab is a kind of subcultures meet-and-greet. Every weekend in May, various groups that attend Department H showcase their creative works in Harajuku. The public is invited to “meet the participants, ask questions and see what it’s all about,” says Imaizumi.

Anime girl kigurumis

The first event put the spotlight on the much-misunderstood kigurumi, or dollers: people who transform themselves into life-sized anime characters with full bodysuits and masks. Locals and foreigners crammed into the room to meet the cosplayers and take photos with them. It felt like a child’s birthday party, with snacks on the tables and balloons on the floor.

Haruna Shimakaze, who is involved in making these costumes and planning activities, says, “People think kigurumi are like Disney mascots and not a type of individual expression. The Lab gives the public the opportunity to see how we’re having fun.”

Drag artist Rachel D’Amour

The following week, Rachel D’Amour pushed drag beyond the usual light-hearted lip-synching and presented a high-concept performance. The complex set recreated a forest, complete with trees and a mud floor. Clad only in leaves, D’Amour danced. A haunting video, set to the strains of a cello, continued the theme. The artist then took Polaroid photos of the back of everyone’s heads to add to the set’s “graveyard.”

“The vision simply came to me,” explains D’Amour. “I had never done anything like this before. I wouldn’t be able to perform a complicated piece like this in my usual clubs. And it feels good to reach a new audience.”

Up next: Queer books and rope bondage

From May 28-30, rope artist Hajime Kinoko presents a free shibari (Japanese bondage) demonstration.

Lovelies Lab, TX101 Building 3F, 4-28-16 Jingu-mae, Harajuku, Tokyo; tel: +81 (0)3 3479 6116;

La Carmina writes about Harajuku pop culture and all things spooky-cute. She is the author of three books about Japanese pop culture and food, including "Cute Yummy Time" and "Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo" -- for which she did all the photos and illustrations. Both books were released in October, accompanied by a U.S. major city book tour.

For more, please visit her website.

Read more about La Carmina