Fur, fur, fur! PETA would have a lot to say in Japan, if they stepped out on the streets of Kansai or any other big city in Japan for that matter. Fur has taken over and I don’t mean faux fur either. Luxurious fox fur wraps itself around the necks of young ladies, rabbit fur handbags in various colors of black, gray, brown, and white deck their arms, and mink fur drapes the shoulders of older and wealthier women whose CEO husbands fund their shopping habit. Fur has the ability to make us looking as though we were oozing wealth, but is it really worth it?
Japan has no official PETA branches that I know of, but PETA recently got one of Japan’s top models to pose semi-nude for one of their campaign advertisements in which she is partially covered by a sign reading “Anti-Fur.” In my search for animal rights movements in Japan, I did come across an animal liberation front that did an anti-fur walk in Osaka in 2006. A more recent fur protest was held in Osaka in the summer of 2008.
Fur is a big business in Japan and they are one of the world’s biggest importers of fur. Mink seems to be a favorite, along with sable, fox, and beaver. Of course, killing just for fur is not a good thing. However, if you are going to eat the animal anyways, at least you are utilizing resources. But I haven’t seen chinchillas on any menus recently.
However, maybe a century ago, and still in some places today, animals were killed for their fur in order for people to survive in extremely cold climates. For example, Native North American tribes used fur long ago to survive the harsh winters in the North, Scandinavians in Northern Europe did the same, and people in places like Greenland, Antarctica, Russia, and Mongolia also did this. The key was survival. Archaeologists have found settlements of Scandinavian people who froze to death after arriving in Greenland and not adapting to the ways of the native people who were living there. The native people survived the harsh climate because they were wearing fur.
Of course, poaching and killing endangered species for fur is illegal in many countries. In the case of celebrity Big Brother in the U.K., house member Pete Burns stated his fur coat was made of gorilla and the coat was immediately confiscated by the police for investigation.
Warmth, not fashion, is apparently the main reason for wearing fur. Among consumers surveyed, 69% say they wear fur for warmth, 25% for fashion, according to the Fur Information Council of North America.
In Osaka, where the winter is only mildly cold, we can definitely agree that the fur is probably most likely worn for fashion.
Stepping off the platform at Harajuku station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo, I surveyed the chaos unfolding around me. Fashion-conscious Japanese girls with hair extensions, stilettos, and brightly-colored shopping bags pushed past me. A group of gothic lolitas mingled outside of the train station, one wearing vampire fangs. Two older women wearing elegant kimonos ambled towards Meiji shrine. A young couple dressed in cosplay walked hand in hand in front of me, most likely walking to Jingu Bridge, where people displaying all sorts of crazy fashions gathered.
Harajuku is the place where anyone’s desire for worldly goods can be tested and where even the most yen-pinching people will have a hard time not spending any money at all. Harajuku is my favorite place in Tokyo, partly because it is next to Meiji Shrine, and this allows a visitor to experience both the new and old Japan, sitting side by side. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that the area of Harajuku and Meiji Shrine is the perfect depiction of modern Japan, old and new existing together in harmony.
I was heading to Omotesando shopping street, often referred to as Tokyo’s very own “Champs-Elyseés,” to go to Forever 21, the latest fashion import from America. Forever 21 is known for its low prices and funky, fresh fashions. Arriving there, I gasped as I looked inside through the glass window at wall to wall people.
However, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Taking a deep breath, I entered and was immediately engulfed by the crowd. An hour later, I emerged, slightly traumatized but at least with a pair of new ripped up jean shorts and Greek-style sandals to show for it. The streets were packed with people and stores of various international brands and Japanese brands lined the street, each teeming with people. I took shelter for a moment in the entrance of a Starbucks to gather my bearings.
Harajuku wasn’t originally a place of fashion. It actually traces its roots to the end of WWII. U.S. soldiers and their families began to occupy the area and it became a place where people flocked to experience a different culture. It also attracted fashion designers, models and photographers. In 1964, when the Tokyo Olympics were held, Harajuku was developed further and the people who hung out there began to develop a distinctive and unique style different from the other areas of Tokyo.
Today, Harajuku is known as a fashion mecca and international stars such as Gwen Stefani get some of their inspiration from Harajuku. Several styles can be seen in Harajuku today; cyber-punk, Lolita fashion (actually created in Osaka), Kawaii, punk, “ganguro” (a style that supposedly symbolizes a California girl with bleached hair, dark skin, fake eyelashes, and nails), cosplay, hip-hop, skater, and visual-kei (refers to style of bands and their fan base).
Taking a deep breath, I decided it was time for some more shopping. Trying to time my jump into the stream of people moving down the sidewalk proved harder than I had imagined. However, I soon realized that there was never going to be a good time to jump in. It was now or never. Fashion was waiting and I needed to make a move.