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Where have all the ‘gyaru’ gone?

For much of the 1990s and 2000s, it seemed that you couldn’t walk down a street in any major shopping district in Japan without spotting a group of “gyaru” chatting enthusiastically about…something. But in recent years, the number of tanned young women with the very colorful (some might say “loud”) “gyrau” fashion style seems to have dropped almost to zero.

While “gyaru” subculture has been around for a few decades now, its popularity has waned significantly in the last 10 years or so. Perhaps the best indication that “gyaru” are on a decline is the state of their flagship magazines egg and Koakuma Ageha, both of which shut down last year. Though Koakuma Ageha, which some have called the bible for hostesses bar employees, many of whom are “gyaru” themselves, is resuming publication in April, egg is apparently completely dead. While we’re not sure how many are actually mourning egg‘s death, we do have to applaud its lengthy 19-year life, running from 1995 to 2014.

In addition to the fashion, part of what made these magazines so popular was the models, like Natsumi Yoshida, pictured above left. She was practically the very personification of “gyaru” while working as a model, but not so much anymore, as you can see in the tweeted photo above right. Though Yoshida is still working in fashion, she’s finished with the “gyaru” side of things.

Of course, like all subcultures, “gyaru” had a number of different subgenres, like the “ganguro.” These fringe elements of the “gyaru” movement are almost impossible to find now, and the closure of egg is considered to be a result of their dwindling numbers. On the other hand, with Koakuma Ageha resuming publication, it’s probably safe to say that “gyaru” haven’t completely disappeared – they’ve just changed.

These days, women who might be called “gyaru” have adopted a more mainstream Japanese style, avoiding the dark tans and using a more natural makeup style. And the “kyaba-jo” (women who work in hostesses bars) have apparently “quieted down” their style in general as well. It makes one wonder just how relevant Koakuma Ageha is now and whether there is even a market to sustain the magazine anymore. Even in 2013, when this Koakuma Ageha issue was published, the move towards a more “normal” fashion style was already basically complete.

While it does appear that “gyaru” as we knew them have largely gone the way of the dodo, we can’t help wondering if they’ll make a resurgence or not. It seems unlikely, but a part of us can’t help rooting for them, since we always thought they helped make Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya a slightly more colorful neighborhood.

But what exactly is gyaru fashion?

It’s a style that usually involves tanned makeup, golden or other flashy colored hair, false eyelashes, colored contact lenses, platform shoes, heavily decorated nails, and revealing clothes.

Especially popular among middle and high school girls, gyaru girls usually aged 15-20 were often found in Shibuya in the ’90s. They would gather at Shibuya clubs after school, sometimes coming all the way from suburbs in Saitama and Chiba prefectures. Their idols were singers Namie Amuro, born in 1977, and Ayumi Hamasaki, who was born in 1978.

It’s strongly believed that the nearly universal spread of the term kawaii has its roots in Shibuya-based gyaru fashion.

There are also those who go for plain, casual attire with almost no makeup. Known as “Harajuku-kei” or Harajuku-style, these women who are believed to pay almost no heed to the eyes of boys and men got their name from often hanging around Tokyo’s Harajuku district, which neighbours Shibuya. They’re often talked about in contrast to Shibuya-kei women.

I believe there are four reasons for gyaru fashion’s rapid decline. First, the number of gyaru themselves dropped due to the low birth rate. Secondly, young women came to spend their time and money not in Shibuya but at shopping centers like Aeon Co. malls in their local areas.

Thirdly, gyaru also became attracted to “fast fashion” brands such as H&M and Forever21, which respectively entered the Japanese market in 2008 and 2009. Finally, middle and high schools started tightening rules including bans on dying hair brown after a period of relaxed education policy.

With these adverse winds, the gyaru era that lasted for about 15 years from the mid-1990s seems to have come to end.

So where will these gyaru go? And how will their style change?

According to a recent survey conducted by WWD Japan on 150 young women in Tokyo for its Sept. 8 issue, conventional gyaru fashion seems to have “grown up” into girlie or other types of fashion. Young women today apparently prefer less makeup and simple fashion with undyed hair.

The survey found that respondents regarded Kiko Mizuhara and Asaka Taniguchi, models known for their elegant and natural fashion style, as their idols, apparently reflecting changes in the respondents’ favorite fashion style. The spread of social networks is also said to have made them seek more realistic styles.

The initial print run of girlie-style fashion magazine “Larme,” which was launched in September 2012, totaled 35,000. But with print runs now at 200,000, it can be said that the current trend of late-teen fashion is summed up in the magazine.

Larme editor-in-chief Haruna Nakagori, born in 1986, who successfully proposed the idea of the magazine as a “sweet and pretty girlie fashion picture book” to Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., was an editor of the now out-of-print “Koakuma Ageha.” According to Nakagori, the downturn of gyaru brands was due to the change of the minds of women around 20. “I was sure my magazine plan would sell well since there already were Web and social network communities of women favoring sweet and pretty things. There were also models who like girlie fashion,” Nakagori said.

In Tokyo, girlie girls may stay as late-teen fashion leaders for a while.

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