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Media and the Construction of the Ganguro Trend in Japan

Abstract: This paper claims that Japanese media have managed to effectively disseminate, and to shape the further development of a new style trend called ganguro. The ganguro trend among high school girls has had a significant and growing influence on everyday life in Japanese society. It introduces a new concept of “being a woman” and promotes specific elements of a woman’s appearance. By widely promoting the market for the ganguro trend, the media substantially increased popularity of this style and extended its social impact. The role of the media in the development of the trend as well as the media—ganguro trend interaction is discussed.

In the early 1990s a new trend developed among Japanese high school girls. The trend, called ganguro, promotes a new style of “being a woman”. The new style differs from the traditional one, where women have a peripheral position in society.1 This peripheral position is reflected in the education and occupational careers of traditional women.2 Statistically, women obtain less education than men. In 2000, only 36.2 % of university students were women. In their work, women are often confronted with unfair treatment. The Japanese female-to-male salary ratio is one of the lowest among developed countries.3 Women very seldom possess leadership positions in companies. They hold only 2% of the director positions.4

In the early 1990s the situation of women in Japan began to change. From the financial point of view, women are becoming more self-sustaining, which is partially-reflected in the growing number of female part-time workers (over 20% since 1990 year).4 Women started to change the “female position” in society and are more focused on their aspirations. The declining number of marriages (-4 % since 1993) and the rapidly growing number of divorces (+58% since 1990) has been noted.4 Media marketers have noticed the changes in the “female position” and reacted to these changes by focusing more of their campaigns on women. As one of their substantial projects, the media have constructed a new style for women–which today is identified by the term ganguro. When introducing this trend, media concentrated on the youth population because this part of the society is more apt to adopt new styles and fashion. Although the ganguro trend does not fit well with traditional Japanese culture, it is popular among girls who are just entering into adult life. Many non-ganguro girls and boys readily accept some of the trend elements. Fearing exclusion, they often conform to the style due to pressures they experience from media and peers.

In this paper, it is argued that the media created and promoted the ganguro trend and were, in turn, impacted by its own creation. After describing the trend in the next section, the author discusses the strategy of the media, analyzing the actions of three key media–TV, magazines and commercials. Aspects of media and ganguro reflexive interaction are also presented.

Ganguro girls in Japanese society

Ganguro girls can be identified by specific external features, which are typical only in this style. They make up their faces and necks very dark—highlighted by white makeup, dyed hair or wigs (Fig. 1), and wear high platform shoes.5 A dark face is one of the main features of the ganguro trend. Because of this feature, the name attached to the trend is ganguro, which means “black face” in Japanese. This trend is also called buriteri—taken from buri no teriyaki (fried fish with black sauce), as well as Yamamba—the name of a mythical witch who lives in the mountains.

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Figure 1. Ganguro girls. (Photo by the author)

Ganguro girls differ from typical Japanese women not only in outward physical appearance but also in their behavior and their attitudes towards their social roles. In a society where many people still emphasize loyalty to social groupings and only 32.7% think about fulfillment in their personal lives,4 ganguro girls focus on being individuals. This is mainly realized by following the ganguro fashion, which is very different from the traditional one.6,7 Being an individual, having a new style and wearing different clothes is not an easy thing in Japanese high schools where uniforms are still compulsory.5 Following this style often involves problems in school and intergenerational conflicts within families. Those girls who are forced to wear uniforms, use the ganguro style only after classes, or combine the compulsory clothes with selected elements of the trend (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Ganguro girls wearing school uniforms. (Photo by the author)

Ganguro girls also have their own entertainment–a collective dance called “Para Para”. Girls gather in clubs to perform this dance, repeating the sequential movements shown on the stage by a leader. (More details about this dance are presented in the next section.)

As high school students, ganguro girls cannot easily afford the cosmetics, clothes, visits to clubs and other expenses that are associated with the ganguro trend. So in order to get money, they take part time jobs, often having several at once, or changing them frequently.8 While it has been custom in Japan to remain employed by one company for many years, ganguro girls attach little importance to being loyal to one employer. They willingly change jobs, searching for more suitable offers suggesting a future pattern of job mobility.

The majority of the ganguro girls do not attempt to explain why they follow this trend. They just accept it because it is widely touted by the media and by their friends. Through media exposure and word of mouth, ganguro has become more than just a fashion trend; it has become a cultural identity and personal commitment. Girls integrate elements of the trend into their daily lives, spending much of their time evaluating images and talking about items, shopping for ganguro cosmetics and clothes and using ganguro gadgets.9 In addition, the number of shops dealing with ganguro fashion is growing,10 and many more people than core adherents have ample opportunity to see the products, think about buying them and adopt some elements from this trend. The effect of this process on appearance and interaction of styles is visible among both the youngsters themselves and young adults. Elements of the trend are eagerly used not only by ganguro girls but also by non-ganguro youth (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Girls using elements of ganguro trend. (Photo by Seva Patlan, used with permission)

Some ganguro girls treat the trend as a style of living, organizing their conversations, activities and life patterns around the fashion and its social implications. These girls adopt the fashion fully and maintain their commitment to the style for as long as possible into their adulthood. Those who are already married are quite visible meeting together frequently to shop or walk with their children. They call themselves ganguro mama.11

Roots of Conflicts: Ganguro Girls, School and Family

Childhood is frequently a very difficult and stressful period for Japanese. Japanese youth often do not have adequate relationships with their parents, who are usually wrapped up in their work and loyalty to their companies. Most parents leave for work early in the morning and come back very late in the evening. Many employees spend over 90% of their daytime hours working and do not have sufficient time to learn about their children’s problems, talk to them and understand them.

As adult life is focused on the job, children’s time is devoted to education. In school, children face fierce competition and many difficulties. Education starts very early. Some of the children start attending schools in their first year. Young children are vigorously prepared for entrance exams to highly recommended kindergartens, primary schools and so on. All these efforts focus on the attainment of higher positions in society. It is difficult for children to conduct themselves as individuals in school. They must wear uniforms and are even expected to use similar knapsacks. They are engaged in many social activities that are designed to shape and enhance the strength of their young community. They are taught that they should think of themselves as components of the group, not as individuals. Very similar rules are also found in high schools, where uniforms are also compulsory and make-up and jewelry are prohibited. But during in high school children begin to sense the suppression of their differences and many chafe under the restrictions and start to ask questions such as, “Why do I have to do it? “, “Why can’t I be myself? “. As a result, an increasing proportion of high school age children readily follow various unconventional trends, including ganguro.

Being ganguro often involves problems in school and family. First of all, due to the style and clothes, ganguro girls do not comply with school standards. Frequently, they are asked to wear uniforms, and required to remove make-up and to stop dyeing their hair. In some cases teachers have colored students’ hair in public by spraying black hair dye on them. Girls who want to stay with the ganguro trend are often forced to transfer schools. There are many alternative schools and the number of these schools is growing in Japan. These schools— mostly private, accept these dissident youth providing giving them opportunities to complete their education.

The problems of ganguro girls in their families are also rooted in their appearance and related attitudes of defiance. Only very rarely do Japanese parents accept ganguro styles and related behaviors. Parents often do not comprehend why their children are involved in the trend and what they gain from being ganguro. Communication between ganguro girls and their parents about daily life routines are often severely impacted by the absence of understanding. Girls may avoid being with their parents or remaining at home and spend much more time with friends in clubs. Some are compelled to move out of their parents’ homes. Involvement in the ganguro trend may disrupt its adherents’ ordinary lifestyle and impose many hardships suggesting that some deeply felt meanings are associated with commitment to this trend.

Ganguro Trend as a Media Product

The media have successfully introduced and developed the ganguro trend for commercial purposes. The powerful influence of media over everyday life patterns is demonstrated by the growing popularity of the trend despite its variance from traditional norms and images of Japanese women. This phenomenon depends on the well-targeted marketing strategy of the media. To promote the trend to Japanese teenagers, the media first targeted the femininity of girls, presenting this new style in a manner that was intriguing and exciting for women offering a completely different look and character.

The media have been associated with the ganguro trend from its very beginning. One of the initial factors triggering the creation of the trend was delivered to youth via TV and radio. A new singer named Namie Amuro from Okinawa accomplished this. She was one of the first women to show her sun-tanned skin to the public. Namie Amuro quickly became very popular among young girls, and her popularity is still flourishing. According to Kei Ono from Meji Gakuin University12, Namie’s sun-tanned skin had a huge influence on Japanese girls and encouraged them to adopt the style and introduce it into their daily life. A second view suggests that African-American musicians, shown so widely in the media, inspired the ganguro trend. This claim comes from Marlena Watrous7, who points to musicians such as the group TLC and singer Lauren Hill as a stimulus to the trend. Regardless of who actually provoked the trend, one point is clear: the initial impetus toward the ganguro trend was conveyed to Japanese youngsters by the media.

Besides taking part in its creation, the media have affected the further development of the ganguro trend. The trend has a firm place in Japanese television with many recent programs featuring ganguro. Some of these programs have been made directly on the streets in the most popular youth districts. These districts are well known for shops, beauty salons, and fashions catering to Japanese youth. Thus, ganguro programming and the style feed on and reciprocally reinforce each other. Youth who watch these programs are prone to hang out around these districts spending time there with friends. There are three such major districts in Tokyo: Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku. These places are attractive to all teenagers; thus they also have a special meaning for the ganguro girls. The presence of girls who gather there for shopping and entertainment attracts media producers, so many broadcasting stations send crews there to record interviews (Fig. 4), which are later included in popular programs. Broadcasters talk to the ganguro girls and ask about details of their style. This imagery in turn builds a viewer base of ganguro-sympathetic and susceptible youth.

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Figure 4. Recording a program in Harajuku district. (Photo by the author)

A wide variety of TV programs is produced depicting various aspects of the ganguro phenomenon. Teenagers have numerous opportunities to learn about the ganguro style, the daily lives and routines of those who adopt the style, their nightlife at clubs, and so on. Daytime programs target adults and concentrate on the ganguro family relationship. These programs often present the conflict between the girls and their traditional parents thus building additional audiences through appositional programming. In contrast, evening programs attract the youngsters by presenting the trend as a fascinating, cool style usually showing girls going to hairdressers and beauty salons and experiencing an alluring life style.

Teen magazines such as Cawaii13 and Popteen14 have intensively followed the development of the ganguro trend. The publishers of these magazines quickly noticed the existence of this trend, and the interest growing around it, and were among the first to use ganguro elements in their marketing. Soon, new titles were introduced such as “Egg”15 and “Ego System”16, specifically designed only for ganguro girls and fans of the trend. These magazines strongly promote the trend showing lots of photos, offering guidance on “how to become a yamamba”, listing new products and depicting elements of the ganguro’s apparel. The popularity of the trend is both magnified by and reflected in the growing number of published magazines that show elements of the ganguro trend (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Numbers of magazines targeting the ganguro from 1996 to 2001.

The print media use many slogans that accentuate the attractiveness of the trend. Slogans such as “perfect style”, “egg stars”, “number one” or “get wild and be sexy” are prominently displayed in ganguro magazines. Another marketing ploy involves the sponsorship of certain budding girl celebrities and the further transformation of their images into stars. Later these girls appear in commercials, generating income for the media companies. Subsequently, they become idols for the younger ganguro and personifications of the trend. One example presented in Egg magazine17 is the model known under the nickname Buriteri who provides a great deal of advice for high school girls on how to transform themselves from a modest pupil into an extravagant ganguro. She promotes “everything” that is related to the trend.

Magazines strongly promote a Para Para dance, which has a collective character. Every month, new elements of the dance are introduced and presented in magazines18,19 as well as on the Internet. 20 Ganguro girls meet in clubs to dance together by repeating the same collective movements. Usually they learn about new elements by buying magazines or directly from their peers. The Para Para dance has an important meaning for them because it positively promotes the integration of ganguro girls into a kind of community. At the same time the dance promotes further dependence on the magazines in order for ganguro adherents to learn the latest movements.

Effects of the Ganguro Trend on Japanese Markets and Society

The print media interacts strongly with the trend and not only stimulates its development, but also is intrinsic to it. For instance, in order to understand the girls and their needs, the editor of Cawaii magazine has made certain locations available for the ganguro girls. In these places, the girls and supporters of the trend can meet to chat, correct make-up, and obtain information about new directions in the ganguro trend. The editor listens to the girls, observes them, and takes note of their opinions about fashion. The editor’s purpose is to investigate the desires of the girls and adjust the fashion to their needs. The information obtained from the girls is later used in the promotion of new products willingly purchased by youngsters. Products introduced to this narrow group are often modified before they appear on the wider market. Thus, these sites provide for market research, product testing and development. More importantly, they serve as venues that validate media influence as an apparently expressive, rather than dominative or exploitative feature of the trend.

These kinds of interactions are typical of the 21st century market where the boundaries between producers and consumers are fading. This effect, strongly dependant on bi-directional information flow, carries a mutual benefit. Producers and marketers learn about consumers’ tastes and desires, and, based on their expressed preferences, prepare new products. Customers are more likely to be satisfied buying products that they feel represent and fulfill their wants21.

Not only editors, but also fashion designers and producers of other goods interact with the ganguro trend. Due to the growing popularity of the trend, producers and marketers recognize it as a powerful promotional tool in itself. Hence, many elements of the trend have been introduced into commercials to sell a whole range of items (Fig. 6). The yamamba image has been used to promote various products, from mobile phones to instant soups, while also being introduced to signboards and placards in many pubs, to make these places more attractive to the young.

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Figure 6. Ganguro girls on the curtain of the popular automatic photo machine called purikura. (Photo by the author)

The new style, so different from typical Japanese culture, also captivates artists. Many are fascinated by the new image of the female presented in the yamamba style. For artists, this trend provokes a new combination of colors, shapes and characters. As shown in Fig. 7, some of the photographs introduce ganguro girls concentrating especially on the new elements of their apparel.

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Figure 7. Photo presentation, Kayoko Uchida, Kanazawa Art Museum, August 2000. (With permission)

The media further promoted the trend by extending the ganguro image to include boys. In the beginning most boys were present in advertising merely as the ganguro girls’ boyfriends. The extension of the style proved compelling for them, too. Gradually boys started to accept and use some of the trend elements changing clothing style and hair color. Ganguro boys and girls meet in popular areas such as Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Harajuku, go shopping, spend time together and substantially organize their lives and identities around their mutual adherence to the trend. Today, the image of a ganguro-couple does not surprise anyone (Fig. 8.).

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Figure 8. Ganguro couple. (Photo by the author)

Basically models shown in the girl-magazines have inspired the boy ganguro fashion. Since October 1999, the boys have their own magazine, “Men’s Egg”,22 where they can find all-important information about fashion, trends and so on.

Conclusions

This paper demonstrates that the Japanese media have managed to create and establish the ganguro trend as a phenomenon that has significantly affected the everyday worlds of teenagers, schools, and families. In turn, much media content has been focused upon the orientation and activities of ganguro youth affirming their cultural power. As shown, the variety of media presentations reaching large numbers of people strongly affects the development of the trend and popular fascination with the trend has shaped the agenda of media. Although the trend is dissonant with traditional Japanese culture and lifestyles, it has become a powerful presence on the fashion market. More significantly, ganguro has impacted cultural definitions of Japanese young womanhood, spawned new types of collectivities while at the same time generating innovative concepts of the individual, produced non-conventional sorts of conversations and activities, is implicated in family schisms and educational disruption, and exerted its influence beyond the range of its core adherents. Even unaffiliated teenagers and adolescents willingly accept this style and often use the ganguro elements in their daily lives. Ganguro has become a relatively common feature of ordinary life in the streets, schools, and private sectors of Japan. Today, the trend is visible throughout the country and, indeed, until superseded by the next trend, it will be viewed as the style of Japanese teenagers.

This analysis demonstrated how media constructs a phenomenon that captures not only an audience but also the media itself. In constituting its audience of ganguro adherents, supporters and opponents, in creating and sustaining a particular form of mundane existence, a dynamic was set in motion that drove the media toward a particular programming agenda. Thus, the lifestyle trend of ganguro, initially produced and developed by media, became a force of its own influencing the direction of the media, and, more broadly, consumerism, art and social life in Japan.

References

1. Kenneth G. Henshall, Dimensions of Japanese Society, Gender, Margins and Mainstream, London: Macmillan Press Ltd. 1999, pp. 1-43.

2. Number of University Students (1984-2000), Statistics, Japan Information Network; The Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture; Tokyo, August 2000. http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat

3. Male and Female Wage Differentials in Japan, The Labor Market in Japan – student reports, 1996. http://www.tezukayama-u.ac.jp/STUDENT/BOYLES/stureport.htm

4. Statistics, Japan Information Network, Tokyo, 2000. http://jin.jcic.or.jp/stat

5. Shiseido manufacture of beauty 1900-2000 http://www.nyu.edu/greyart/exhibits/shiseido

6. Traditional and Modern Japan, Photo Japan. http://photojapan.com/index.htm/fashion.html

7. Malena Watrous, People, March 2000 — http://www.salon.com

8. Tim Larimer, From We to Me, Time Young Japan, 03 May 1999. http://www.cnn.com

9. Brown as they wanna be — ganguro phenomenon on film, The Japan Times Online, 30 July 2000. http://.www.japantimes.co.jp

10. Yama neko Club, (Japanese version), The Nishinippon Newspaper, Tokyo, 06 August, 1999 http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/media/news/9908/ganguro/gan.htm

11. Gyaru mama , Kanazawa TV, 9th January 2001, 6.45 P.M.

12. Kei Ono, Fashion Victims — http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp

13. Cawaii (magazine), Japan, Shufumoto Co., Ltd., April 2000.

14. Popteen (magazine), Japan, Toppan Insatsu Co., July 2000.

15. Egg (magazine), Japan, Million Publishing Inc., March 2000, No. 45.

16. Ego System (magazine), Japan, Dai Nippon Insatsu Co., June 2000, No. 2.

17. Egg (magazine), Japan, Million Publishing Inc., June 2000.

18. Ego System (magazine), Japan, Dai Nippon Insatsu Co., June 2000, No. 2, pp. 84-97.

19. Popteen (magazine), Japan, Toppan Insatsu Co., July 2000 pp.135-137.

20. Youto Matsumoto, Para Para Mania. http://www.2choume.com/para

21. Alvin Toffler, Future shock, Random House N.Y. 1970.

22. Men’s Egg (magazine), Japan, 2000, Million Publishing Inc., May 2000

Author: Kinga Talarowska-Kacprzak received the Masters degree from the Department of Management and Marketing, Lublin Technical University, Poland in 1997. From 1998 she has been affiliated with Kanazawa University, Japan. She has been engaged in research on marketing and multimedia-society relationships. Kanazawa University; Kodatsuno 2-40 -20, Kanazawa 920-8667, JAPAN http://magmac1.ec.t.kanazawa-u.ac.jp

Published inIssue 2.1Issues
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