A little history on Japan’s subversive sub-culture….

A samurai ukiyo-e

Image attributed to http://www.iromegane.com

One of the things that has always drawn my attention to Japan is the sub-culture. I have watched many documentaries over the years that I found so fascinating. Bondage and other forms of sexual deviation, the music scene and the amazing Japanese fashion scene.

So, after visiting Japan, I was able to see the rigidity in the culture (in general). By this I mean the absolute organisation and seamless flow of millions of people. This, I do not consider to be a bad thing. The efficiency and structure are one of the things I love most about the country. It did make me understand that for many Japanese this rigid structure of living can sometimes lead to perversion (hentai-Japanese word for pervert and title of a style of manga and anime, for which you must be over 18 to purchase). Or, more commonly, to extreme fashion.

There are so many different kinds of Japanese fashion and they are constantly evolving. Many of the “cool” kids hanging around Harajuku (formerly) or Kichijoji (more recently) will move away from a certain look as soon as it becomes too popular, or mainstream. None of this was news to me, or probably to you, but what has really opened my eyes wide in disbelief, is the fact that this subversive, underground culture of fashion has a very long history. In fact, mention of the first fashion rebels in Japan dates back 444 years. WOW!

During the Sengoku period and early on in the Edo period (from around 1573) a group of men, mostly ronin (ex-retainers of samurai)formed gangs during times of peace. Around the time of the unification of Japan. These gangs were violent and menacing. They were called the kabukimono. These men wore shortened kimono, bright contrasting colours and velvet lapels. They also wore wide obis and other women’s clothes and mixed it up with European clothes. They often had katana (swords) made with very fancy, decorative hilts and super long blades. They are depicted in some art, and I did read that kabukimono may have been the precursor of Yakuza?  I couldn’t tell for sure. The name kabukimono comes from the verb kabuku or to deviate.

For further reading on this subject, or any other Japanese history subject, I strongly recommend www.samurai-archives.com. These guys are actually historians and there is heaps of cool stuff to read.

5 thoughts on “A little history on Japan’s subversive sub-culture….

  1. From what I understand, they didn’t emerge in one place. Kind of like what you alluded to, there were various groups that weren’t mainstream for different reason, and eventually, they were attracted to each other. Also I know that old school Japanese sailors have tattoos, and they are different than Yakuza ink, but the style is so similar many people can’t tell the difference. Even tattoo artists today, many don’t know this. I was lectured about it by an old sailor ten years ago, he was 82 at the time and all tatted up.

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