Clothes Culture in Japan:

Clothes Culture in Japan:

@hard body/soft body, distance/proximity and simulation/hyperreality

Noriko Tada

Nagoya University, Graduate School of Languages and Cultures

 

Introduction

The term "hard body" evokes the sturdy body of heroes shown in Hollywood movies in the 1980s such as the Rambo series starring Sylvester Stallone.@ The image of the "hard body" was also used as the emblem for the hard-line policy of the fortieth U.S. President, Ronald Reagan (1981~1989).[1] Such a straight image as the "hard body" would hardly have been adopted as a symbol of Japanese policy.@ However, Japanese politicians also need emblems, but instead of bodies, have harnessed clothing as symbols of national policy since the Meiji period, 1868~1912).[2]@@ At that time, Western clothes were utilized as a vehicle for modernization and kimono, traditional Japanese clothes, as a vehicle for the restoration of traditional culture.@@ This paper will examine the symbolic meaning of clothes in Japan, from the OL in uniform to HG on TV, suggesting they can be analyzed further using key ideas introduced by such theorists as Jean Baudrillard when they analyzed American consumer and simulation culture from the 1970s to 1990s.@

 

Power relationship indicated by company uniform

@@ According to Susan Jeffords (1994), the Reagan administration made the "hard body" hero a symbol of a strong America, the embodiment of a ghardh political viewpoint.@ The powerful masculine bodies of movie heroes gave shape to national identities, which were said to be the basis of a new relationship between people and the nation:

In the dialectic of reasoning that constituted the Reagan movement, bodies were deployed in two fundamental categories: the errant body containing [c] the esoft bodyf: and the normative body that enveloped strength, labor, determination, loyalty, and courage – the ehard bodyf– the body that was to come to stand as the emblem for the Reagan philosophies, politics and economics.@ In this system of thought marked by race and gender, the soft body invariably belonged to a female and/or a person of color, whereas the hard body was, like Reagan's own, male and white.[3]@@@

 

On the other hand, bodies have not been adopted as the medium of political advertisement in Japan.@ However, a government needs symbols to show political ideology to its people.@ Uniforms and other clothes have often been used for this purpose in Japan.@

 

Uniforms are an interesting example of a sign that carries ideology.@ Generally, a uniform carries specific information about the status of the person wearing it.@@ For example, the uniform of civil servants, like that of a police officer, represents authority, credibility and physical power.@ A school or team uniform distinguishes one group of people from another.@ Peoplefs attitude toward a person may be predicated by the uniform s/he is wearing, suggesting people retain a common ideology that can shape their response to clothing rather than a person.

@@ As for the company uniform, among white-collar workers, they are mainly worn by women.@ Following Susan Jeffords' somatic division, I would like to divide clothes (uniform) worn in offices into two categories: hard clothes (business suits) symbolizing power and superiority and soft clothes (company uniforms) symbolizing subordination and weaker individuality.@ This dichotomy might be found in the working environment where female workers in uniform were placed in a lower position than their male counterparts during the period of Japan's high economic growth in the 1970s.@ At that time, marriage was widely regarded as a social norm and married women were expected to stay at home.@ In the 1960s and the 1970s, the majority of working women were single and did peripheral work.@ Since women were expected to retire from the job when they got married, companies regarded women as short-term employees.@ Consequently, companies hired men and women under different employment conditions.@ They hired women as ippan-shoku (assistant-oriented workers), and marginalized them as second-class workers.@ Women had to wear company uniforms, while men, sogo-shoku (career track workers), wore business suits.@ Therefore, the uniform became the symbol of OL or office lady (ippan-shoku workers) whose image was that of an easy-going subordinate worker making tea and photocopies for her male coworkers and controlled by male supervisors.@

 

Clothes as ideological billboard

The frivolous image of an OL in uniform prevailed nationwide through the mass media in representations in TV dramas and magazines.@ Some OL were proud of their uniform because it identified them as belonging to a famous company.@ Most people took it for granted that working women were young and happy with their temporary positions in the workplace.@ OL in uniform was also a sign that could be read as a future housewife, as well as emblematic of the gender division of work in society at the time:

Japanese businesses benefited from the arrangement of workers, a company husband and a full-time housewife, during the period of high growth in the economy.@ Marriage placed a burden on working women in the 1980s and the 1990s because it forced them to choose between family or work.@ At that time, more married women started working outside the home because of labor shortages and for personal economic reasons.[4]@

 

Having been partly influenced by pressure from outside Japan, as well as in response to the UN International Year of Women, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was enacted in 1986. Generally, the law enabled limited numbers of capable women access to jobs on the career track: they could take off their uniforms.@

 

Then, the Japanese government forecast a labor shortage in 1989 when the national average birthrate per woman dropped to 1.56.@ It launched a new policy, "the reconciliation of work and family," and started encouraging women to continue working after marriage.@ The government made a new image of working couples to enlighten society: working mothers in stylish business suits and child-caring fathers in casual clothes.@ These images appeared in the mass media repeatedly just as masculine heroes did in Hollywood movies to help society share an ideology that bolstered the government's new policy.@ The U.S. government featured a masculine body to show its people the nation's determination, while the Japanese government featured clothes (as an indirect body) for edification.@ It seems reasonable to say that the basic idea of moral integration of people was the same.@ Just as the hard body was a sign of "a systematic interdependence between individual and nation as linked through the masculine body,"[5] clothing was employed to signify policy.@@@@@@@@@@@@

 

@@ The gendered uniform was also found outside the office carrying specific social messages. In the 1990s, okama (a gay) personalities in feminine clothing joined TV variety shows in Japan.@ Transvestitism had been regarded as one of the signs of being gay, and thus of sexual perversion, in the past, but TV audiences got used to the regular appearance of okama.@ Actually, it seems that not all of them were actually homosexual, but merely used crossdressing as a trademark. TV audiences relaxed, and came to think that these violators of established dress codes were actually harmless.@ Gradually, as okama were categorized into a group of people who dressed and talked in a feminine fashion, they were accepted as a part of society, on the screen, at least.@ Then, in 2005, a comedian named Leather Lamon HG appeared on TV variety shows wearing ghard gayh clothing, which included sunglasses, peaked cap, a studded black leather vest and hotpants. He also identified himself as gay.@ His clothing was a useful medium to name (signify) the group he belonged to. Having a uniform, however outrageous, has allowed okama to seemingly be approved by society. However, there is no lesbian uniform worn by TV personalities, which suggests lesbians have yet to gain the cultural currency, or entertainment value, that gay or pseudo-gay men have acquired in Japanese society.@@@@@@@

 

The trend of purchasing famous brand products

@@ Jean Baudrillard's concept of "implosion" can be applied to the Japanese obsession with the consumption of famous brand name goods.@ After World War …  (1939~45), only wealthy people could afford to buy Chanel, Gucci, or Rolex products.@ However, during the past two decades, ordinary people joined the ranks of consumers of these products and more and more brand name products were introduced in the Japanese market.@ As a result, the scarcity value of imported clothes and bags dropped.@ Their prices were still high, but they no more had the iconic value of gexclusive.h They proliferated along with copies for the masses: the "implosion" of culture occurred:@

There is no longer any polarity between the one and the other in the mass [the people]. This is what causes that vacuum and inwardly collapsing effect in all those systems which survive on the distinction of poles [good/bad, true/false, alive/dead, up/down and especially left/right (in a political sense)].@ This is what makes the circulation of meaning in the mass impossible: it is instantaneously dispersed, like atoms in a void.[6]

@@

Since the 1980s, a period of high economic growth in Japanese, consumers with a passion for famous brands increased among the younger generation.@ It seems to indicate the changing value of big-name brand products, such as Chanel, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, which were only for wealthy adults in the 1960s.@ That is, such products indicated the status of a person more than personal taste at the time.@ Then both adults and young people got interested in purchasing the products, seeking membership in brand-oriented people's society, or to catch up with their neighbors or friends who already owned such goods.@ Wearing famous-brand clothes seemed to give people the impression that they were the elite, and hence their acquisition increased confidence or self-satisfaction.@

 

However, the excessive number of big-name brand goods and their imitations accelerated the fall of scarcity value. There is no longer the initial desire/value of owning special articles of which the life of the bourgeoisie consisted.@ In other words, what once was thought to be original has been imitated and proliferates in popular culture.@ This has meant a loss of prestige.@ Faster transition of trends and endless consumption has generated a faster diffusion of trendy gear in society, with consumers looking for the next big-name brands.@ According to Alan Taylor, an American scholar, "the mass absorbs any ideologies and spectacles one after another, so all 'meaning' is dispersed and rendered meaningless in 'the mass' not because 'the mass' resists bourgeois ideology, but because it consumes it frantically."[7]@ He argued that "'the mass' also consumes bourgeois culture with the same cataclysmic fervor,"[8] and concluded that "when bourgeois culture becomes 'mass' culture, it ceases to be culture at all."[9]@ Simulation takes away the bourgeois value of scarcity from the famous brand name goods, but people experience such cultural breakdowns constantly.

 

Conclusion

@@ The "body" was chosen as a political symbol in the USA, while Japan opted for "clothes." The body is difficult to change frequently, but clothing is easy to be replace occasionally. One might speculate that the body is a symbol of inflexibility and clothes symbolic of expediency, and that the choice of political symbol is indicative of the structure of the political system that fashions it for ideological purposes.@

 

Bibliography

 

Doane, Mary Ann (1982) 'Film and Masquarade: Theorizing the Female Spectator' in "Film and Theory" 495-508.

 

European Graduate School Faculty

http://egs.edu/faculty/baudrillard.html on Jan./2/2006 at 8:17 p.m., Japan time.

 

Jeffords, Susan (1994) '"Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era", New Brunswick:Rutgers.

 

"Otaku" http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ƒIƒ^ƒN on Jan./28/2006 at 0:13 a.m., Japan time.

 

Tada, Noriko (2005) 'A Government Dilemma: The Declining Birthrate in Japan'.

 

Taylor, Alan, http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/what.html on Dec./28/2005 at 0: 58 a.m., Japan time.

 

Wakakuwa, Midori (2001) "Kogo no shozo (The portrait of Empress Haruko)", Chikuma-shobo.

 

 



[1] Jeffords, Susan (1994) "Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era", New Brunswick:Rutgers.

[2] Wakakuwa, Midori (2001) "Kogo no shozo (The portrait of Empress Haruko)", Chikuma-shobo.

[3] Op. cit., Jeffords, Susan (1994).

[4] Tada, Noriko (2005) 'A Government Dilemma: The Declining Birthrate in Japan'.

[5] Op.cit., Jeffords, Susan (1994).

[6] Baudrillard, Jean (1983) 'In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities' <http://egs.edu/faculty/baudrillard.html>on Jan./2/2006 at 8:17 p.m. Japan time.

[7] Taylor, Alan <http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/collab/what.html> on Dec./28/2005 at 0: 58 a.m., Japan time.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.


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