Every country has its own subcultures and quirks. Some more than others. Japan has many, and I think it is one of the things that make the culture of Japan so very intriguing. One subculture I find particularly interesting is the “Osaka Obachan”. I believe it is rare to find such a trend in older aged people. Usually older people veer away from crazes and fads, less interested in being part of an identifiable group. The Osaka obachan are not an organised group, as such, but more an easily recognisable assemblage of women, or fashion devotees, dressed in a rather ostentatious manner, with an attitude to match. That is not to say they are rude. They are still Japanese after all. However, these women are quite forthright and opinionated, which is uncharacteristic of most women in Japan.
Obachan おばちゃん in Japanese, means Aunty but is frequently used to refer to older women. It is not always used in a complimentary fashion, it can be a bit of a derogatory dig at a woman’s age. If you want to offend a middle aged Japanese woman, obachan will do it. The Osaka obachan seem to have taken this name and subverted its negativity, claiming it proudly. I really like when people strip the negative power of a derogatory term by owning it. It suggests empowerment of the obtainer.
So, how do you recognise an Osaka obachan? Well, their style is highly distinctive. Before I was aware of their existence, I stumbled upon a shopping mall in Osaka in Naniwa Komachi that was full of stores selling very gaudy animal print clothes, lots of leopard print, quite a lot of very bold magenta and fire engine red block colours, and bling. Lots of bling. I was quite surprised as it was not a style I necessarily attributed to Japanese women. Many Japanese women dress either quite formally, many in kimono, or with very simple and streamlined style. Very unfussy. These clothes, however, were the very antithesis of that style. Who wears these clothes, I asked myself?
Osaka obachan, of course. Now I understand that I was in obachan central. Many obachan perm their hair and dye it red or light brown. They wear animal prints and even large cat’s faces, leopards or tigers, on t-shirts, with scarves and other paraphernalia such as large fake flowers in their hair. They wear bold make-up, to match their bold attitudes. They are boisterous, loud and often funny, and will sometimes exhibit behaviours generally considered taboo in Japan, such as speaking loudly on trains. (The horror 😂) Other stereotypical characteristics of Osaka obachan include their love of a bargain and the fact they always have hard candy to offer people. Node ame, or throat (cough) lollies are the favoured candy.
Some local Osaka obachan decided to start an idol group. Idol groups are very popular in Japan, some having 50 members or more. These women are quite popular and they have made several videos. I find them very entertaining and love that they are able to not take themselves too seriously. If you would like to get a really good idea of what Osaka obachan look like, click the link here and a later video here.
Osaka is a busy, very populated place and was one of the few places in Japan that was not heavily bombed in WWII…so there are many older pockets of the city and the people here tend to be far more easy going and far less fashion conscious than their Tokyo counterparts. I get the sense that this laid back, congenial citywide personality, mixed with a love of humour (Osaka is the comedy capital of Japan) results in many older people in Osaka who do not take themselves too seriously. Tokyo does have a shopping district that specialises for the older generation. Jizo Dori in Sugamo is a haven for the Tokyo obachan, however, the fashions tend to be far less wild, and usually a little higher brow. The thing that the obachan flock to this shopping arcade for is “aka-pantsu” or red knickers. Red granny style bloomers that are considered to bring good luck, prosperity, good health and vigour. Also to ward off evil spirits and bring happiness. (Available in boxer shorts for men, too). I wish I was Japanese. I would really love to aspire to become an Osaka Obachan one day.