For more than five years now, I have been photographing fancifully costumed clubgoers in Tokyo. I have taken over 600 portraits so far, with more to follow.
From Western fetish styles such as bondage, S/M, and rubber that entered Japan mostly in the 1990s to homegrown looks such as Gothic, Gothic Lolita, sweet Lolita, maid, cyberpunk, yamanba, and angeler, nightlife fashions in this far-off corner of the world called Tokyo present a strange jumble of East and West, past and future.
Perhaps these partyers can be considered modern-day versions of basara or kabukimono, social rebels in Japan’s medieval and early modern periods who were known for their daring, outlandish dress and behavior. Often as not, such nonconformists come into being at times of social turmoil or the end of an epoch.
But these basara of today are by no means rough or aggressive; on the contrary, they go around nicely complimenting one another’s fashions. After all, the virtue of amity has been ingrained in the Japanese psyche ever since the seventh-century statesman Prince Shotoku instructed people to value harmony and avoid contentiousness.
Thus the clubgoers, too, do not judge one another’s ideas, but instead respect differences and work on refining the details of their looks toward expressing an even deeper profundity of spirit.
The clubgoers’ fake eyelashes, their hair extensions, the tattoos and character goods that cover their bodies seem almost to infinitely breed and multiply in a motley riot of colors.
Since ancient times, wearing bright colors and ornaments has been considered an effective way to call down luck from the spirits, who are said to be attracted to such brilliance.
Could our modern-day basara, then, be like the shamans of yesteryear, channeling the gods and spirits of this megalopolis who have long ceased to call to the humans who live within their ken? If so, will these shamans indeed be able to bring supernatural blessing upon Tokyo, now in the fast-dwindling last days of our fossil-fuel-based civilization?
These series of pinups seem almost to recall a seance, an endless fete in supplication to the spirits.