I lived in Japan for a long time, and while I got used to many strange things something that never ceased to turn my head was when a tribe of schoolgirls would come walking by dressed in bizarre outfits that looked more like Halloween costumes than actual clothing. I’ll never forget my first encounter with the kigurumin, groups of girls dressed in full-length pajamas of popular characters like Pikachu and Winnie the Pooh. The nice thing is these girls are always happy to pose for pictures with an astounded foreigner, and I took more than a few over the years.
“Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno” is a fashion-guide to some of the more outrageous outfits to come in and out of popularity over the years. I know from personal experience that these are all real styles, worn by guys and gals who put considerable time, energy and money into creating the perfect effect. As is true in most Japanese culture, it is all about fitting in with the group, and making sure that everyone is matching. They might like to stand out, but individualism is the last thing on anyone’s mind, with choreographed dance moves and coordinated colors declaring your membership in each tribe.
The book starts in the 1970’s, with the Sukeban fashion inspired by and inspiring the Pinky Violence genre. These tough and sexy girls were the devils of Japanese streets, managing to be both cute and dangerous at the same time. The trends continue with the Takenoko Zoku in the 80’s, the schoolgirl prostitutes known as Kogals, and the incredible Panda-women that haunted Shibuya, Tokyo and were known as Gonguro. All of these fashions were supported by the infamous Egg Magazine, which laid out the rules and costumes for each group.
After seeing these fashions live and in person, it was cool to get the run down on the styles and attitudes behind them, as well as the history and inspirations. “Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno” is more than just a photo book, and does a great job showing the culture necessary to spawn these complicated fashions. Of course, there are photos as well, as well as fantastic illustrations by Nonaka Kazumi that give greater details on the costumes, the type of guys favored by each tribe, and the era in which they were popular.