When fans of Japanese culture and fashion think of shopping, they think of Tokyo.
It would be a dream come true for many of those fans to actually make it to Japan's capital city and get lost in a gigantic department store like Matsuya or Mitsukoshi. Of course, a plane ride and enough scratch for a new Japanese wardrobe are probably not what Santa has in his sack of gifts this year. As the difference between the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen continues to grow, it's less and less practical for Americans to yield to Japanese fashion desires.
But it is possible to translate a love of Japanese fashion into an accessible American wardrobe. Here's how to get started.
Do your research
Thankfully, the Internet makes it easy to keep up with the latest trends from the East. Blogs such as Tokyo Fashion do an excellent job of chronicling the trends of street fashion in Tokyo's many districts. Fashion in Japan not only publishes photos, but dissects outfits into popular fabrics, colors and brands, and even offers a season report for American fans interested in keeping up with the latest looks.
For fans of extreme fashion, such as what's on the streets of Japan's Harajuku district, the photography book series "Fruits" is a reasonable fix. This publication was one of the first books to honor clothing worn on the streets. For this project, photographer Shoichi Aoki captured youths between the ages of 12 and 19 in the 1990s wearing clothing that would be described as outlandish, brilliant and anything in between by people who saw it. Harajuku's fashion scene was comprehensively covered in "Style Deficit Disorder," a book by Tiffany Godoy that digs more deeply into the designers behind the looks.
Know the districts
The fashion of Harajuku is perhaps the most well-known outside of the country, as it's been popularized by celebrity Gwen Stefani in her Harajuku Lovers line. The district has become associated with several fashion styles thanks to a trend of teenagers who ventured out on weekends in public wearing their brightest and best ensembles.
It's is probably the best place in Tokyo to spot girls in full Lolita fashion, an increasingly expensive fashion that features doll-like clothing, innocent-looking makeup and highly detailed accessories. Cyberpunk and gothic looks are also popular, as is the ganguro look, which is also seen in Shibuya and Ikebukuro districts.
A term that translates to "black-faced," ganguro is intended to emulate an American girl and usually means blond hair, tanned skin, and fake eyelashes and nails. While some ganguro styles look more low-key, the style is best known for the women who carry it to extremes and is considered garish by some.
Shibuya is another Tokyo fashion standout. This very trendy area tends to attract teenagers and young 20-somethings, and it is packed densely with shops to help them look their best. The look in Shibuya is upscale and modern: what you might see on the pages of popular fashion magazines. Shibuya's men and women do their best to stay not only on top of current trends, but ahead of them.
An area called Center Gai is considered the heart of many Shibuya fashion trends. Located in Shibuya's city center, Center Gai is lined with game centers, shops and boutiques. This is a very popular place to see and be seen, especially at night, when the area is illuminated with bright store windows and streetlights. Other popular stores in Shibuya include: Shibuya 109, which boasts more than 100 boutiques on 10 floors; Marui, a leading fashion retailer with branches in nearly all of Tokyo's major districts; and Parco, a complex that houses many boutiques and is so large, it's broken up into five separate parts.
Shinjuku is also a district known for its fashionable sights, housing Tiffany & Co., Lumine and Mitsukoshi Department Store, which was founded in 1673 and remains one of the most well-known chains in Tokyo. Shinjuku's style is like a mishmash of the wild side of Harajuku and the more modern fashion of Shibuya. Anything goes when it comes to what to wear here, and the women in Shinjuku seem to invent themselves with every outfit they wear in the streets.
Shop the style
While stateside fans can't immerse themselves in the vivid fashion scenes of Tokyo, thankfully there are enough options online to at least whet their appetites. One of the most comprehensive online Japanese fashion retailers is YESSTYLE, which carries clothing, accessories and shoes and offers reasonable international shipping. Fashion4US also caters to a U.S. audience.
Fans of specific Harajuku styles have online options as well. Visual You is a fun website for all sorts of street fashion, and Metamorphose is an excellent resource on all things Lolita (Japanese-based, but ships to the U.S.). Even the well-known boutique Baby The Stars Shine Bright ships overseas, but if you live in the San Francisco area, there is a boutique there, too, for brick-and-mortar shopping.
Looking for a fabulously Japanese outfit by the holidays? Some of these websites may be able to rush your orders, but since it's getting right down to the wire and many of the items come from overseas, not everything may make it by Christmas Day.
If you want to cover your bases, you can check local stores such as the Baby The Stars Shine Bright and h.Naoto boutiques in San Francisco. (The latter is running a Christmas sale and has items up to 60% off.) Another great resource is Uniqlo, which has a flagship store in New York and carries a wide selection of affordable designs.
Japanese fashion is closer than you think - wear it to your next holiday party and leave your friends speechless with your sensational new look!