Tokyo’s Fashion Subcultures


Tokyo is a vibrating city with new trends and inventions emerging each day. The streets are always buzzing with people and in the bustle of the metropolis new subcultures spread across like wildfire.

When foreigners look at pictures of Tokyo’s streets many of them are shocked how identical Japanese people look like. It is true that if you were to stand at one of Tokyo’s busy intersections during rush hour you would believe that in order to be Japanese you have to look as plain and uniform as possible.

However, in the backstreets of places like Shibuya or Harajuku you will find a different side of Japan. One that dares to be different and to provoke. Today I want to introduce four different subcultures found in Japan’s capital. Even though they mainly center around fashion trends they also imply a certain way of living. Let’s take a look at a new face of Japan’s culture. Enjoy!



Gyaru is the Japanese translation of the English word girl or gal. This trend is all about bleached hair, dramatic makeup and often tanned skin.

Even though there are also guys interested in the Gyaru style it is most popular among young women in their 20s. Many people criticize Gyaru girls as being irresponsible since they are often not interested in getting a job or even a husband. Their lives revolve around the newest fashion trends and they can often be found around famous shopping malls, for example Shibuya 109.

Gyaru reached its peak in the early 2000s and is already in decline. Some people believe that this trend belongs to the past since the numbers of Gyaru girls has increasingly decreased and many popular Gyaru magazines stopped printing. Let’s see what the future holds for them.



Unlike Gyaru, Lolita fashion is still popular today and has even managed to make the jump abroad. Its characteristics are knee-long dresses in remembrance of Victorian London. They are combined with knee socks, corsets and accessories like old-fashioned hats and umbrellas.

When talking about Lolita one has to understand that there are many subcategories. Sweet Lolitas (or ama-loli) like to dress in light colors, often white and pink. Like the name suggests they aim to look as childish and cute as possible. Punk or Gothic Lolita on the other hand has a completely different interpretation. It combines traditional Lolita elements with dark colors and accessories like leather bracelets or studded belts. Wa Lolitas combine the modern trend with traditional Japanese clothing.

As you can see, Lolita is a broad term and an exceptionally diverse subculture. They are as popular as they were in their beginnings and one can only speculate what new subcategories might emerge.



Decora is part of Japanese street fashion and – as the name might suggest – focuses on an excessive use of accessories.

It started around the same time as Gyaru fashion, but can still be found today, sometimes incorporated in other subcultures. Fans of decora can be spotted from far away since their clothes shine in all the different colors of the rainbow. On top of their already eye-catching clothes they attach layers of crazy accessories, up to a point where the hair or clothes underneath are barely visible.

Even though Decora fashion might look like a big mess to outsiders it actually takes a long time for these girls (and guys!) to plan their outfits. Each accessory is chosen and positioned with great care and every outfit is a piece of art in itself.


Visual Kei

Last but not least is a fashion trend that originated in the 1980s, but can still be observed today. Visual Kei is closely connected to music genres like metal, punk or rock and unlike the previous subcultures its members are mostly male.

Visual Kei is characterized by use of make-up, dyed and styled hair as well as dark clothes. Some members try to obtain an androgynous look that can be found attractive by both males and females. Similar to Lolita, Visual Kei has managed to become popular abroad, mainly due to international performances by musicians. Famous Visual Kei bands nowadays include The Gazette, D’espairsRay or Dir en Grey.

The term kei is used as a term for type or classification in the Japanese language, that’s why it can be found in the names of multiple subcultures. To name two examples, Fairy Kei members are dressed in pastel colors whereas Mori Kei (jap. forest) members dress themselves in loosely fitting clothes made out of natural fabric.


Japanese culture requires people to conform and to follow set rules. Each aspect of one’s life seems to be predetermined and it is hard for outsiders to find their place. That might be one of the reasons why provocative and unique subcultures are so popular in Tokyo. They allow their fans to be different and to express themselves in their own way. People belonging to a certain subculture often stick together and share their secrets, dreams and problems.

Even though these fashion trends might be hard to understand, both by foreigners and Japanese, they are part of Japan’s pop culture and thus shape the next generation of Japanese people. What is your opinion on Tokyo’s crazy pop cultures? Feel free to leave your comments down below.

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