Manga mania grips schoolgirls

Michael Fitzpatrick reports on Japan's latest teenage trend - dressing up like popular cartoon characters.

JAPANESE teenagers rebelling against the strict conformity of their schools have set a new trend in extreme streetwear.

Their startingly original style, which is proving as controversial as punk gear in Seventies Britain, has international fashion houses pouring over Japanese teen magazines for inspiration.

Monster platform shoes, birds-nest hair and carrot-coloured skin are just some of the street fashion statements that the likes of Italian Vogue have been purring over.

One such extreme look is favoured by the so-called Yamanba girls, named after a mythological mountain-dwelling hag, because of their unkempt appearance. The Yamanbas' hangout is a downtown Tokyo shopping district called Shibuya.

Another tribe inhabits the area around a train station one stop away in Harajuku. Here the girls, ranging in age from 12 to 18, get their eclectic look from "manga" comics, where futuristic supe- heroes in dramatic garb do battle with alien foes.

Some manga cartoons are very violent or sexually explicit. Most of the Japanese media and many parents are horrified by the latest fashions.

But the weird styles have spun off a whole selection of magazines devoted to the latest schoolgirl trends and are well received overseas, particularly in New York, France and Italy.

Such was the interest generated in New York that Takarajimasha, which publishes Cutie and Spring, two of the more prominent teen fashion mags, staged a two-day event recently to promote Japan's schoolgirl-led street fashion. There are plans afoot to bring the extravaganza to London.

Tokyo fashion publicist Maiko Seki, who helped co-ordinate the NYC show, said: "Junior high as well as high-school girls from the Harajuku area initiated these unique street fashions.

"Because of Japan's strictly conformist society and education system the clothes have appeared as a kind of reaction against this pressure to conform."

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