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Kawaii fashion in Harajuku

Project collaborators: Rei Saionji, Haruka Kurebayashi, Tomoe Hojo

Project date: 2014 to present

The creative practice of Harajuku kids has captivated imaginations world wide. Practitioners in this space source objects, motifs and materials from both their immediate cultural sphere and overseas. They then experiment with, refract and transform materials into a unique reconfiguration and expression of their world. Central to this group is the idea of ‘kawaii’ and its relationship to gender presentations. Harajuku is a queer friendly space, and both cis-het and LGBTQI+ communities come together to celebrate their diversity and art. In solidarity with each other, they explore what it means to be different in a world that pushes for uniformity, and also combat issues of exploitation and sexual violence.

The global attention directed to this practice has empowered some members of the community to take their work overseas, including Shoichi Aoki’s FRUiTs street photography. With his unique eye for composition and curation, Aoki presents a colourful and creative world for overseas consumers. This speaks to the power of the image in bridging language gaps. However, Megan has found that there is a disconnect between how these images are understood by the ‘in-group’ in Harajuku and overseas. While Harajuku kids are excited to share their practice with the world, often their ideas and concepts are lost in transmission. Orientalist logics globally have undermined their creative practice as ‘childish’ and ‘infantile’, undercutting the power of their voice. Further, global attention has radically shifted Harajuku itself as a safe space for practitioners, an influx of tourism leaving them with very little room to experiment and meet.

This project aims to empower this community to speak to the world about their practice through a range of activities including:

  • The establishment of advocacy organisation GLOBAL KAWAII Association.
  • Public facing events that speak to issues of cultural appropriation, and put practitioners in dialogue with embassies, fans, curators and advocates
  • Research outputs that are action-led and participatory in nature, with co-authorship with lived experience experts
  • Language support for Harajuku kids to write about their own experiences in English
  • Art exhibitions and creative initiatives that empower Harajuku kids to lead and take control of narratives about their practice

This project has garnered significant international attention, and we regularly receive requests for interviews, media commentary and content. Megan prefers as much as possible to speak and publish alongside her collaborators. Requests for sole-authored publications in her capacity as a sociologist will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

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