Japanese Fashion Loosens Up

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The Tokyo Look Book offers a colorful peek at what the kids are wearing these days on the sidewalks and catwalks of the capital city.

British anthropologist Philomena Keet recently stopped by our office to chat about the making of The Tokyo Look Book, a photo overview of Tokyo's dynamic street fashions, which comes out November 1 from Kodansha International ($30; barnesandnoble.com).

Keet, dressed in a green brocade coat counterbalanced by her brilliantly red hair, pauses before trying to summarize the complex world of Japanese subculture styles. "Tokyo isn't like any other city; there is not such a one, dominant mainstream culture. Instead, there are mini-markets and micro-masses created and fed by niche magazines and boutiques. In Japan, fashion doesn't have any moral disapproval or negative associated with it."

Keet's book, created by pounding Tokyo's pavement for five months with a photographer, is unique in its scope. Not only does she profile specific youth subcultures concentrated in a few celebrated districts, but she also turns a lens on the rest of Tokyo society. She finds that many Japanese, even conservative salarymen, are individualizing their looks in ever bolder ways. To see some examples, check out the slide show.

Keet listed for us the must-see neighborhoods for travelers who want to see Tokyo's street styles for themselves. Here are the areas to head for and what to expect when you get there:

Shibuyu and Harajuku are the main centers of Tokyo's youth fashion scenes. Weekends—when all the kids change from school uniforms to full subculture gear—are especially vibrant. Make sure to check out the groups standing on Jingubashi Bridge next to the Harajuku station, wander around the backstreets of Harajuku, and visit Shibuyu 109 mall, where many of the trendiest boutiques are located.

As a little antidote to all the frills and youth of Harajuku, check out the nearby Aoyama area; you'll find avant garde high fashion boutiques, such as the Japanese label, Comme des Garçons. Keet also recommends the districts of Daikanyama and Naka-Meguro for great street style without the tourists and wannabes that now clog Harajuku's sidewalks.

Marunouchi is where to find a lot of sophisticated, high-fashion, international boutiques (think Louis Vuitton) and salary, or business, men and women. Ginza is another upscale neighborhood to spot more high-end fashion.

Akihabara is where the otaku, or geek subculture, like to hang out. It is also know for its high concentration of "maid cafés," a business phenomenon in which male customers are served obsequiously by women dressed as French maids.

Another phenomenon, particularly popular in the Shinjuku and Raponggi neighborhoods, is the host club, a nightclub that's the inverse of a geisha house. Women pay extravagant cover fees and drink prices to exchange pleasantries with good-looking, well-dressed, entertaining young men. Keet warns travelers that an evening's bill might easily be over a thousand dollars. "Typically, the clientele for host clubs are women who are night workers themselves. They pay to be treated well, and are often the only ones who can afford it." Luckily, passing these hosts on the street, as one often does in these neighborhoods, is entertainment enough—and free.

You can find a lot of vintage stores—often stocked with t-shirts imported from the United States—in Koenji and Shimokitazawa. Youth decked out as rockabillies hang out in Yoyogi Park, during its famous Sunday flea market.

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