Tokyo Fashion: Zombies of Summer!

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I don’t know what it is, but I figure that it’s just got to be the summer heat and humidity that makes Japanese people do bizarre things just around this time of year. Yes, that’s got to be it — it’s the heat. What makes Americans do bizarre things all year ’round is beyond me and I will leave that to some of the other great philosophers of our time; Bob Dylan, Bono from the rock band U2, and Fred Reed.

But for now, let’s talk about summer weirdness in Japan.

Japanese people are often proud to tell you that Japan has four distinct seasons. There’s Fuyu, Haru, Natsu, and Aki.

Fuyu is winter; Haru is spring; Natsu is summer; and Aki is fall.

These translations are the ones used by most who write about Japan. Hacks like me just call the four seasons of Japan by their most commonly used descriptions: Freezing cold, Rainy and muggy, Hot and muggy, and Even Worse than Usual. (These descriptions have been “sanitized” for LRC readers.)

Of course, right now it’s summer — And is it ever hot and humid! You cannot walk out of your apartment or office building without being drenched in sweat within 2 minutes. Go to the sauna at the sports club? Not necessary! Just go outdoors!

It gets so hot here that I can’t even think straight. And it’s not just me! Everyone becomes this way in summertime Japan. It’s so hot that we all become “Zombified.”

Heck, we just had our first huge typhoon of summer the other day and some youngster decided that he was going to grab some gusto and live a little by wind-surfing in the 115 mile-per-hour winds off of Okinawa. And boy, did he ever live a little! Very little…. They still haven’t found him.


“Catch a wave and you’ll be drowning on top of the world”

Ever wonder why it is that the Japanese are all so slim and healthy looking? It’s very simple actually — it’s the summers in Japan.

Go to the sports club and get a workout with a sauna? Not necessary in summertime Japan. Just step outside! Or for a real workout, just hop onto the Yamanote Line at rush hour, the main train line that circles Tokyo, and you can get a well rounded workout, a full body massage, complete with a one-hour sauna all for the low price of 120 yen (that’s about a dollar and ten cents).

Start off lightly with a stroll down to the station in the 110 plus degree warmth and moderate wetness of fresh Tokyo air — and you’ve lost a pound or two before you even get started.

A Stairmaster™ workout follows next as you climb up and down flights of stairs warming up for the next part of your training. Don’t forget to breathe correctly as you exercise! Breathe in, and breathe out — Remembering to exhale while making a “moo!” sound as you wallow in the sea of humanity that all seem to be walking in the opposite direction of whichever way you are going.

When you attempt to board the train, you can work out those lower body muscles and do some squats as you force yourself into a car that is at least 500% overloaded to capacity.

Once on the train, you’ll be glad to know that there is absolutely no place to sit and goof off, so you will be forced to do your daily workout routine on the “rings.”

I know just how hard it is to do this kind of workout too as it is just as easy to say, “I’ll start tomorrow towards building that body that makes all the guys jealous with envy and all the women take a second glance.”

As the train twists and turns, you can get a complete regimen of muscle training and toning as you cling onto those rings for very life.

But that’s not all, what with the temperatures in the trains at least ten degrees hotter than outside and the humidity even higher, you will be sweating out all those extra pounds in no time.

You’ll also be glad to know that the other commuters are experts at this training method as they will be briskly massaging your back, shoulders, thighs, and legs for the entire train ride. Throw in those extra stretching exercises as you ride and disembark the trains and you will be feeling a totally different person. A totally new you!

Now, whether you are a man or a woman, you’ll know that if you feel good, you look good. So what better way to “strut your stuff” than by dressing and grooming for the occasion?

A dandy fashion accessory that you can only see in summertime Japan is the “Man in the Squirrel Suit” fashion statement. Every year, around summer-time, you can go to any department store in Tokyo and see a nice man in a squirrel suit handing out candy and balloons to all the children who come by.

Wearing that squirrel suit has got to be just what the doctor ordered for your heart and lungs as they weigh about 50 pounds and have extra heavy fur for that little extra insulation from the elements that is so necessary for protection from the summer heat.

But don’t just rush out right now and think that you can become Mr. or Mrs. Squirrel just like that. No! There is a rigorous interview and testing session in order to weed out those who do not qualify.

Interviewer: “Yes. What position are you applying for?”

Applicant: “I’d like to become a squirrel, please.”

Interviewer: “Oh, I’m sorry. All the squirrel positions are already taken. Would you be satisfied as a pig or rabbit?”

Applicant: “Oh dear! I did have my heart set on a squirrel. And I don’t think I look too well in pink.”

Interviewer: “I do have one opening for a Panda! Could you be a Panda?”

Applicant: “I could try!”

Interviewer: “Do you speak Chinese?”

Applicant: “Ni Hao!” (Hello!)

Interviewer: “Congratulations. Mr. Panda, you can start this weekend!"

Yes, well, the “man in the squirrel suit” was common, until last year. Last year Mr. Squirrel was arrested as he was caught molesting some young girls while he wore his squirrel suit! I’m not making this up! They even had a photo of him in the local newspaper, after being handcuffed and arrested — while still wearing his squirrel suit. I guess they kept the suit on him so folks would recognize him if they saw him lurking around their neighborhood.

Another delicious fashion statement by youngsters in Japan is what we call the “Yamanba-make up” style. Now, yours truly being a faithful follower of fashion, I was sure that this trend would soon disappear, but how wrong I was!

Yamanba is back with a vengeance and is now enjoying it’s third year as the Tokyo fashion look that makes all the heads turn as the young ‘uns walk by.

Who could have guessed that Phyllis Diller would have been the Nostradamus of fashion in 2004 Japan?

“Yamanba,” for those of you in the lumpish, prudish crowd, roughly translates into “old mountain woman.” Or more exactly, “Old mean, scary, ugly, mountain woman.” And what eye-candy it is! Such a spectacle!

My word, who would have ever thought that this fashion would last as long and run as strong as it has over these last few years! In fact, even the more fashionable young Tokyoite men are getting into the act.

Yamanba consists of white make-up around the eyes with some sparkling glitter as well as hair dyed to please — usually orange. You can often see the Yamanba stylish crowd hanging around Tokyo’s more trendy places, such as Shibuya and Roppongi.

One day, my oldest daughter and several of her friends came over to the house and I was so pleased that they were expressing their individuality by all dressing up and looking the same — with just that touch of Yamanba to round it all off. I asked them why they dressed like this and my daughter gleefully told me, “All Japanese look the same. It’s boring. So we want to look different!”

“So you all want to look different by all looking like each other? I see…”

Yes, the summer-heat brings out the best in Japan and the creativity of the local people. Whereas you folks in the west have to worry about full moons bringing out the wolves among you, we in Japan have four distinct seasons to help us mix and match to fit our moods.

I just can’t wait for the 2004 fall fashions to come in.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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