For decades, Tokyo's famed Harajuku neighbourhood has been home to some of the most extreme style subcultures on earth. Expressions of "cute" — or kawaii — are its bread and butter, fuelling some of its internationally recognised fashion exports, including Lolita and Decora. Now worn all over the world, many people associate Japanese style with unfailing optimism and sweetness. But a new trend uses frills, pink, and sweet cartoons to talk about a difficult local issue: suicide and mental health.
On this episode of Refinery29's 'Style Out There', Connie Wang, takes us to Tokyo to meet the individuals pioneering the Harajuku subculture of Kawaii, more specifically Yami Kawaii. This style of fashion accentuates cuteness while incorporating symbols that represent death.
Read more: Is Harajuku Style Dead?
"Yamikawaii or Menhera refer to the "sick cute" aesthetic that manifests through accessories inspired by bondage gear, medical instruments like syringes, bandages, pills, fake blood, basically, anything that suggests the wearer is fragile, sick, emotionally wounded. It is meant to represent the tension between our inside and outside selves." Source
Yami Kawaii has been heralded as Japan’s Darker and Cuter Version of Emo, a Sick New Subculture of Kawaii and even a coping mechanism for complex emotions. While many see Yami as just another harmless style subculture, a way for Harajuku girls and boys to express themselves in a more alternative way, others have commented on the disturbing messages that it puts accross, paarticularly in Japan where suicide rates are amongst the highest in the world.
Read more: The Real Life Harajuku Girls
"I can’t help but wonder if there is a real issue buried beneath the pink frilly facade and dead unicorns. When you live in any country long enough, you begin to notice the cracks, even in an otherwise streamlined society like Japan. In the aforementioned country’s case, the cracks seem to be the collective acknowledgment (or lack thereof) of mental health. While no country has been able to perfectly address the issue of mental health in society, discussion in Japan seems to be relatively non-existent. Maybe it is this lack of social recognition... they simply don’t recognize the seriousness of the underlying message. Or maybe there is no underlying message, and these works of art are just cashing in on a trend." - Source
Watch this episode of Style Out There to delve deeper into this morbid trend in Tokyo, and let us know what you think: