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MADE IN JAPAN
Lifestyle and Trends
- vol 1 -
The WA Boom and
Modern Japanese Japonism
 
 
One of the most prominent and long-lasting social trend today in Japan is "Japan". I have mentioned this quiet yet visible social tendency in other articles and blogs at times, but here I would like to take a close and inclusive look at the WA boom in Japan today.

"WA" is the kanji and term for Japanese (adj.), and the so-called WA boom is the social trend of taking WA elements into all aspects of modern life from fashion, food to lifestyle. In addition to describing the material and tangible trend of Japanese-ness, WA boom also includes the trend in mental or rather spiritual aspects i.e., feeling pride and identity in Japanese culture as a Japanese. This whole trend can otherwise be explained as a tendency of the "re-discovering / re-recognizing Japan", though here I will refer to it as either "Modern Japanese Japonism" or "WA boom", as even though the phenomenon looks back on the essence of the traditional culture, it is more of a trend rather than a serious reflection.

Like just mentioned, the WA phenomenon can be observed from two standpoints, the material (or the tangible) and the mental/ spiritual (intangible). Here, by "Modern Japanese Japonism" I refer to the former and "WA boom" to the latter as well as the general phenomenon. Having separated them, however, these two are not completely apart but actually intertwine with each other most of the times.
 
Modern Japanese Japonism
The most clearly visible WA trends in Japanese society lately include the green tea boom and the wafuku boom. Both of them started around 2002 to 2003 continuing on today with even more momentum and variation. Most of the coffee cafes started Japanese tea menus not only green tea but also houji-cha (roasted green tea which is brown in color) creating Japanese-Western menus like tea latte, and a number of Tea Cafes opened in many cities around Japan. These tea cafes, serving a wide selection of Japanese tea menus as well as Japanese sweets that go along with the tea, prove to be very popular especially among women.

Kimono has faded long ago as ordinary clothing and very few people wear them in their daily lives. Today wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing) is something you only see in the world of arts or during summer time, January and March at festivity occasions. Wafuku indeed has become more like a special-occasion dress and is less seen in daily life, but instead the chances (numbers) you see wafuku during these limited seasons are increasing. Over the past 3-4 years the yukata (single-layered summer kimono which were originally bathrobes) population for summer festivals and fireworks is constantly growing almost becoming the mainstream. Yukata is more popular and the tendency more conspicuous among young girls (teens-20s), for yukata portray a Japanese-unique girlishness and the prints, colors and bows are fashion keys. Usually if you try to wear yukata properly it takes some skills and time despite it being single-layered and easy-looking, but the troublesomeness is taken away nowadays for there are two-piece yukata (top part and bottom part) as well as ready-made bows.
 
Yukata is not the only WA fashion that is getting a lot of attention recently. Traditional Japanese prints originally used for fabrics for kimono are taken in and mixed with western style clothing. Kimono fabric sewn together with cotton, denim, etc. for accent can be seen in both mens and ladies fashion items. The patterns are combined with western alphabet and made into T-shirts. Items such as maekake aprons originally made and used for factory purposes (sake brewery, are now parts of fashion. During the summertime people walk around Tokyo with the latest fashion with a pair of zouri, geta or setta (all traditional sandals).

Black hair is another fashion element characteristic to the past few years. Until then, bleaching and dying hair into bright colors – mostly brown, light brown to blond(ish) – was the mainstream. In 2003, one of the leading toiletry and cosmetics company in Japan came up with a shampoo called Asience, which not only focused on the usual hair-mending aspect but also emphasized the beauty of having black hair, one of the traditional beauty features of Japanese women. Using worldly famous Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi the shampoo became a huge hit soon followed by several other brands with similar emphasis from rivaling companies. Bright colored hair is still considered fashion and is seen widely, but the population of black hair (dyed back to natural black) has definitely grown in the past few years.
 
 These trends are “Modern Japanese Japonism” because they are not the serious reflection and precise recreation of the good old traditional Japan, but a fusion of tradition with the mainstream of modern society. Tea cafes are not teahouses but are cafes themed on Japanese tea, and the kimono or yukata the young people enjoy are fashion but not daily clothing. Japanese prints are patched together with blue jeans and fluffy skirts. The shampoos have themes that are focused on showing Japanese beauty, but are made with the latest science technology. Black hair as a color has regained popularity, but the hairstyles are constantly evolving.

But then, is "WA" only a commercial concept and a trend phenomenon visible only on the surface? Or is it only part of taste, of exoticness, as it was the case for the generally known Japonism? Certainly, the concept of "WA" is taken more as a new and unique idea for the younger generations, but I think that there are other reasons for it to become a social trend for people of all generations. In the next volume let us go over the trend from the other viewpoint, the mental/ spiritual Japanese-ness.
 
[Links]
http://www.maekake.com/ (Maekake.com, Japanese)
http://www.kao.co.jp/asience/ (Kao Asience, Japanese)
http://www.shiseido.co.jp/tsubaki/ (Shiseido TSUBAKI, Japanese)
http://www.ichikami.jp/ (Kanebo ICHIKAMI)
 
Next
The spiritual WA trend

 

 
Made in Japan Contents
ANIME ORIGAMI BUDO
MANGA MASS ENTERTAINMENT JAPANESE TEA CULTURE
THE MEISTERS OF JAPAN PLAYFUL & PLAYABLE ELECTRONICS
 
Spirited Away (2001)
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Yasunari Kawabata
  • Banana Yoshimoto
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Inazo Nitobe
  • Japanese Tea
  • Bonsai
  • VAIO
  • Canon

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