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Harajuku: Rebels on the Bridge

Harajuku: Rebels on the Bridge

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Published by Christian Perry
An investigative report on youth culture in Harajuku, complete with interviews and photos.
An investigative report on youth culture in Harajuku, complete with interviews and photos.

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Published by: Christian Perry on Apr 26, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/01/2013

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Chris PerrySociology BAProf. Andreas Glaeser 
Rebels on the Bridge
Subversion, Style, and the New SubculturePart 1: Welcome to Harajuku
Featured on the covers of magazines, in articles of newspapers, in documentaries,and even as the namesake of a recent song by American pop star Gwen Stefani,Harajuku’s youth culture has acquired a global iconic stature, with few subcultures ableto compete for the same degree of recognition.I came across Harajuku when I lived in Tokyo as an exchange student in 2001. Ihad never heard of Harajuku before, but I quickly discovered it as a fascinating mecca
 
that, at 17 years old, I happened to be the perfect age for. Enthralled by a street cultureand style that I had never seen before, I became enamored like so many other Americansupon first sight of the place.Unfortunately, I, like most others, never got a real sense for the place, and never found out who these people really were, what was actually going on, or why peoplegathered there in the first place. When, three years later, I proposed the place as my BAresearch topic, I did it to get past the lack of knowledge that characterized not only myown conception of the place, but the conception displayed in even the most prestigiousmedia outlets.Attention on Harajuku’s youth culture has focused on the most obvious choice:the style. Many portrayals of the place are nothing but photographs, appended only withcursory captions. Written descriptions invariably focus on some element of the style andfashion, too, overlooking the dynamics of the place as a whole. From what I can tell, this paper is the first report that goes beyond the level of appearance, and discusses in detailthe lives, behaviors, and choices of the participants who bring Harajuku to life. Anynumber of articles can say how they dress; my goal was to find out what made them showup in the first place.
Methodologies
My research centered around 7 weeks of fieldwork in Tokyo over the summer of 2005. Every Sunday, I traveled to Harajuku in order to meet and interact with various participants and observers. Over the course of my time, I interviewed roughly 35 people.Roughly half of these people were the participants themselves, ranging in age from 14 to
 
25. Owing to the predominantly female population, all of my extensive interviews werewith women, though I did have the chance to speak with several men on a more casuallevel. The other half of interviews were with the other people who crowd the bridge: particularly, photographers, journalists, students, and tourists.Arriving as an American male in a predominantly Japanese female social scene posed some interesting challenges. The major obstacle was, understandably, the language barrier. Prior to arriving, I had studied Japanese for seven years, and possessed aconfidant grasp of the language. The enabled me fortunately to ask and learn from a widevariety of questions; however, there were times when I was unable to forge inquires withas much depth or nuance as I would have liked.As I mentioned, the bridge is a hotbed of foreign journalists, photographers, andstudents, making the presence of a University of Chicago sociology undergrad lessconspicuous than would be the case in other, more homogenous Japanese settings.Indeed, arriving as a foreigner may have afforded me a degree of flexibility unavailableto Japanese researchers themselves; a few of my male Japanese friends remarked to methat my foreign nationality lended a hand to the purity of my intentions, and that they, bycontrast, would have a more difficult time conducting a similar project without raising anumber of suspicions from the participants.

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