Correspondents' Eye on Tokyo:
La Carmina Shares her Passion for Tokyo and the Sparks that Keep it Aflame
—What first drew you to Japanese pop culture and what made you want to write about it?
I was always drawn to gothic culture since my teen years. I loved the aesthetics and the music, and also Japanese culture, because I visited Japan with my family at a young age. I found it so electrifying and inspiring, and different from what I saw in Vancouver, Canada; the way people dressed, the types of cute characters, the food, and just the pop culture in general.
—When was your first trip to Tokyo, and what experiences stayed with you?
I am actually not sure of the year or how old I was, but probably around (the age of) five or six. I remember the shops near the temples I found so inspiring. I remember buying curtains and handkerchiefs with bunnies on them because I loved animals, and I still do. And, just going into a Sanrio shop back then, that's heaven for a little girl.
—What are some of your favorite aspects of Tokyo's underground culture?
The people in Tokyo's underground scenes are just so welcoming and accepting. I think sometimes people might think, "Oh, it's difficult to figure out where the parties are," or, "people can look intimidating," because of their dark makeup and fashion. But, it's not like that at all. People are so welcoming.
—How do you think Tokyo's youth culture and underground cultures relate to each other?
I think they all feed into each other. I think sometimes outside observers aren't sure if someone is only dressing up for the aesthetics, or if it's because they strongly identify with a subculture or style tribe. For instance, gothic lolita. There's no one answer, but some people who dress in that way have nothing to do with gothic culture, and the dark look is simply a stylistic choice. However, there are also people who dress in this style that are goths at their core, in terms of genuinely loving the lifestyle and the music. And, that's what I love about Tokyo's subcultures. There's a lot of fluidity.
—Do you see any points where Japanese culture and Goth culture meet?
Yes, absolutely, because I see this among other subcultures and fashion tribes where there's a uniquely Japanese twist on it. So, you see the Japanese-style lolitas with kimonos, and the hair ornaments that you might see in traditional Japanese clothing. There's one brand called OzzOn that does it extremely well. You'll see the cuts and layering that are identified with traditional Japanese garments, but with the addition of cyber futuristic gothic style.
—You seem to have traveled to a dizzying array of cities worldwide. What are some things about Tokyo that keep drawing you back here?
I think it is mostly because of my own personal relationship and experiences with Japan, just because I have so many friends here. For me, it's everything. I love the onsen, seeing the temples, and traveling around Japan.
—What are some things that you appreciate the most about Japanese fashion?
I think it's the immense creativity and eccentricity, and attention to detail. You see handmade elements and an ability to mix and match and go beyond labels - labels like gothic or punk - that you might not see in a western counterpart subculture. When I went to a Tokyo gothic party, I saw people in these handmade petticoats and feathered eyelashes, and ornate headdresses. So, I just think the attention to detail and aesthetics, and the ability to go far beyond what is known as a stereotypical look, and really express themselves in that way makes it unique.
—Where are some of your favorite go-to places to look for clothes when you come to Tokyo?
Of course, there's Laforet in Harajuku, the department store. The basement levels have all the main gothic lolita and punk fashion brands like ALICE and the PIRATES and BABY, THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT; all the classic brands. And, I like to visit indie designers. That's my priority, to visit the people in the subculture that run their own little shops. And, one of them is Kikirara Shoten, a shop that makes corsets and hats and bags, and what you might describe as carnival dolly meets darkness.
—Who are some of your other favorite Japanese designers from the past and the present?
There are classic ones like alice auaa, there's Moi-meme-Moitie...that's really classic gothic-lolita, with the black and blue antique Victorian dolly style, with the bonnets and parasols and all that.
—What are some of your favorite best-kept secrets about Tokyo, and what do you like most about them?
Some of them are tiny niche bars. One is in Nakano. It's called Daikaiju Salon. And, it's all about those 1960's monsters in the kaiju movies. So, people are hardcore fans, and they'll go and they'll watch these old VHS tapes of these monster-fight TV shows. And they'll even dress up (as the monsters)! That's something that you wouldn't easily find on google, or on a list of weird things to do in Japan.
—Do you have anything else that we haven't covered today that you'd like to share with potential travelers to Tokyo?
I would say just don't be intimidated by the language, or if you don't know anyone there. If you're intrigued - say - by a punk club, or a gothic concert, or something, just go! Every person who took my advice and just went had a wonderful experience. I think there's really an incredible warmth, openness and acceptance (in Tokyo). And, that's what makes it so wonderful.
Photos: courtesy of LaCarmina.com