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Making, Doing & Consuming in Japanese Lolita Subculture: Japanese Contexts of cultural appropriation and consumption

Making, Doing & Consuming in Japanese Lolita Subculture: Japanese Contexts of cultural appropriation and consumption

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Lisa Wynne. Originally submitted for BDes (Hons) Fashion Design at National College of Art of Design, with lecturer Dr. Anna Moran in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Lisa Wynne. Originally submitted for BDes (Hons) Fashion Design at National College of Art of Design, with lecturer Dr. Anna Moran in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
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 Abstract
This paper examines the dynamics at play between the creative and theconsumed, the personal and the popular, and the performative-imitative in theJapanese subculture of the Lolita. Since the late 1980s, Lolita has developed as asmall yet devoted subgenre of youth street culture in Japanese metropolitanareas; principally Tokyo and Osaka. Predominantly female, Lolita dress has afantasy-nostalgia for frilly Rococo ornamentation, or doll-like Victoriana, as well asincorporating thematic elements of contemporary counter- and popular culturemovements such as Goth and
 kawaii 
(cute). Echoing the totality of Lolita costume
usually highly detailed outfits including bonnets or head dresses, parasols,decorative jewellery, frilly socks, mary-jane style shoes and doll-like make-up
 behavioural practices also carry through much of the Euro-fantasy inspirationsuggested by Lolita clothing. This paper dissects the distinctly Japanese culturalcontexts, both historical and contemporary, which gave precedence to thedevelopment of the subculture, and Lolita
s tenuous balance of individualism andcreative consumption.
 
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Making, Doing & Consuming in Japanese Lolita Subculture:Japanese Contexts of cultural appropriation and consumption
True to the spirit of its roots within (but not limited to)
visual-kei 
, Lolita has alwayshad self-presentation and clothing at the core of its identity. Evident in thefashion-centred
Gothic & Lolita Bible
as well as the aesthetic-orientedexpressions of its musical and literary branches, self-ornamentation and dress isat the heart of Lolita, around which related lifestyle trends have established andinterwoven to create an original subcultural fabric. As discussed in the previouschapters, Lolita clothing can be described as a particular intersection of traditions
and originality, expressed by Takemoto Novala as “a fus
ion of the spirit of punkrock with formal
beauty that honours tradition” (2008, p. 214).
 The aesthetics converging inLolita culture are a bricolage ofromanticised Western notions andmixed reactions to Japanesetraditions and norms. The Westernfacets concern recognisable elementssuch as the G
oth edge of Mana’s
E.G.L., the Rococo spirit of
Takemoto’s Momoko decked out in
Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, as wellas other nostalgic references to Euro-fantasy such as a Victoriana taste forornament andthe extensive use of the English and French languages (Fig. 1). While theseelements, culturally familiar to us in the West, primarily pertain to the subject
 
Fig. 1: Rococo-style English dresses circa.1760 (Fukai, 2004, p. 14).
 
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matter of Lolita, much of the structure of the subculture is shaped by indigenousJapanese influences.The concept of
 mono no aware
, or the transience of things, is at the coreof traditional Japanese aesthetics. Culturally, it contributes to most Japaneseideas of beauty, including that of nature, seasons, the viewing of cherry blossomsand a consciousness of time passing. By existing in a self-created world ofhistorically inspired costume and childish or maidenly behaviour, the escapistLolita countermands
 mono no aware
, by locking herself into an unchanging mode.Both the historical burlesque of her costume and the ageless childishness ofLolita are in denial of thepassage of time (Fig. 2). WhileLolita does not crave global-modernity at the expense oftraditional Japan, her self-selection of foreign culturalvalues yet undermines Japanesecustom. In his seminal 1933essay
In Praise of Shadows
,
Jun’ichiro Tanizaki meditates on
the destructive influence ofmodernisation on traditionalJapanese aesthetics (Tanizaki,2001). He saw thesubtlety of
 mono no aware
aesthetics disrupted by the importation of modern(primarily Western) technology and ephemera. Eschewing modernity, the Lolitaimports outdated Euro-fantasies as wholesale culture in rejection of her
 
Fig. 2: Ageless-childishness; a doll-like Lolitacarries her own doll in a matching outfit(Yoshinaga, 2007, p. 97).

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