Yasumasa Yonehara

by W. David Marx
29 January 2009
An interview with Japanese editor and photographer Yasumasa Yonehara
Do you think the CanCam boom that started around 2003 was lots of girls who graduated from being gyaru?

Gyaru culture has always concentrated on how to be liked by members of your own sex.

's Oneekei culture is based on the idea of being liked by guys. They don't think much about being liked by their own gender. Around 2003, another recession started, and women were wondering more and more how to match the changes in male society. Oneekei is basically OL culture [secretaries looking to date rich salarymen]. But, now Japan is in such recession that OL culture doesn't even make sense to OLs. Gyaru have started to stand out again. Today's gyaru culture is very close to mizu shobai culture.

With the magazine Koakuma Ageha, there is no longer a line between hostessing and a certain segment of "princess gyaru." Why do you think there is so much fashion crossover with kyabakura (cabaret) hostessing right now?

If you go out of Tokyo, you will understand. There are no jobs. The countryside only has public sector jobs. The state build roads and buildings. And that money makes up the countryside's finances.

So the only people who stand out in the countryside are government employees and the mob. If you want to surround yourself with those who make money in the countryside, you have to become a hostess. The easiest way for women to make money is to become a kyabajou (girl at inexpensive kyabakura hostess clubs). Kyabajou have money so they can buy clothes and become fashion leaders. There are no big companies out in the countryside, so when you want to take government employees or mob members out on the town, there is only kyabakura for entertainment. And there's a big economy around that.

In men's fashion, the big trend is Oniikei, which is basically "host" fashion.

Oniikei is close to host culture. Yankii guys want to make money but have fun, so they only have the options of becoming hosts or presidents of adult video companies. Or maybe comedians. They can't become athletes. Because right now in Japan the two reasons for getting picked on at school are being smart and being athletic. If you stand out as an individual you will be bullied.

You work a lot with popular ViVi model Lena Fujii. Do you have an understanding of why she and other "life sized" models are so popular right now?

I think it comes from street magazines like egg: the street shots and the dokusha (reader) models. In Japan, I think people generally don't like things when it gets too professional. Everyone congregates in the middle, between amateur and professional. And I think these models' popularity is part of that. You get bullied if you stand out too much.

If you are slightly popular, people will flock to you, but if you go too far, everyone knows they can't be like you anymore and you'll lose popularity.

ViVi is full of half-Japanese models. I am sure that people from overseas think they look like totally normal girls. These aren't girls with particularly strong personalities. So why did they become so popular?

About ten years ago, I surveyed 100 high-school girls in front of Shibuya 109, and asked them "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and more than half said, "A foreigner." (laughs) In order to look like foreigners, they all wore color contacts and wigs, put in hair extensions, and darkened their skin.

But I would ask, wouldn't it just be easier to move overseas, because then you will become "foreign." And they'd say, "No, we don't speak English...!" They want to be "foreigners" who live in Japan and speak Japanese. I told them it's impossible. But ten years later, that dream persists, and as a result, you have a big trend for half-Japanese models. They aren't interested in English-speaking foreign models. All of those ViVi half-Japanese girls can speak Japanese.

There are a lot of foreign models used in Japan, right? But they are "foreign" as Japanese imagine foreigners to be. For Japanese, Americans and Europeans are equally "foreign." Stylish people in Japan think that Northern Europe is stylish, but Japanese can't tell any difference between Northern Europeans and Russians. So they use all these Georgians and Eastern Europeans in the ads, dressing them up like (Western) Europeans. It's crazy.