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SHIBUYA GIRLS POP concept in English

  • 2010-06-19 (土) 20:57
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“SHIBUYA GIRLS POP
〜 REAL JAPANESE KAWAII”

“Shibuya Girls Pop” is the idea which was born two years ago based on the concept, “A positive message for girls and women who move in and out of Shibuya! You can get a postcard free of charge at Taiseido Bookstore located at the entrance of Shibuya Center Street.” It is still successfully taking place at Taiseido Bookstore!
The project has gained a growing reputation, and we have been approached by some overseas clients as well.
We have not put our thoughts into words before, but we think it’s time to summarize and clarify the concept, or its “atmosphere”, which we have cherished until now.

To put it briefly, “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” is the project which we distribute postcards free of charge to girls and women who frequently visit Shibuya. The postcards have illustrations drawn by different illustrators each month by rotation with the theme, “Give positive messages to girls who come in and out of Shibuya.”
There are two important points in the project – “Shibuya” as a place of postcard distribution and “girls” as a distribution target – as shown in its title. Let’s start from here.

First of all, I think “Shibuya” is a highly “mixed” city where various things and various types of people exist. In other words, it is a city where everything “coexists”. Thus, there is freedom, or room for you to imagine (or create) things freely and widely. I understand such characteristic applies more or less not just to “Shibuya” but to all cities, but this is especially true for “Shibuya”. I could even say “Shibuya” is exceptionally “mixed”. This characteristic is highlighted when compared to other cities.
It might be risky to apply specific words to continuously evolving cities, but for purposes of explanation, please allow me to use their general images.

“Harajuku”, for instance, has an image of junior or high school students while “Ebisu” is a city for adults (Generation Y). “Daikanyama” is a city for celebrities, “Shinjuku” reminds you of Showa Period, “Ikebukuro” is Asian, “Akihabara” is Otaku (geek, or nerd), “Ginza” is a city for adults (baby-boom generation), “Kichijyoji” has the common touch, “Jiyugaoka” is a city for celebrities (high-class moms), etc.

As “Shibuya” used to be expressed as “Shibuya-kei (Shibuya-like)” in the past, it is possible to categorize the city by words, given the fact that the city always attracts public attention. However, now that it’s 2010, I personally believe that the present Shibuya can no longer be categorized. I feel that it is because the city is highly “mixed”.
You could say that the present “Shibuya” is difficult to categorize, or it is the city where everything is highly mixed more than any other cities… Every city has “mixed” aspects at a certain level, but I think there are no other cities like “Shibuya” where everything is mixed in a balanced manner from subculture to high culture.

I think this kind of imagination (or, perception about the current situation) is very important, especially for a person like me who is trying to distribute postcards to as many people as possible in this city.

Therefore, I inevitably analyzed the city’s characteristics.
One of the characteristics of the city, “there is freedom, or room for you to imagine freely” is best exemplified in what we have produced. Please take a look at the past illustrators’ work for “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”. To tell the truth, no illustrator has ever drawn an illustration of Shibuya itself. One of the reasons is that we asked them to draw illustrations on the subject of not “Shibuya” itself but “girls and women who move in and out of Shibuya”. Even so, some illustrators even tried to go beyond the subject. However, it is no problem, because such illustrators were given freedom or flexibility and inspired by the “mixed” city Shibuya.

The postcards distributed in “Shibuya” have illustrations about “Shibuya inspired by the illustrators” – It would not be an exaggeration to say that the concept was driven by the “city” and automatically developed.

As an aside, basically, if the act of distributing the illustrators’ work (no matter what it may be) in Shibuya itself goes well with this project (or is interesting enough), it (metaphorically) means that this attempt is attractive enough. Therefore, we set up a rule that the illustrators we choose must be attractive. By adhering to this rule we are aiming to double the success. So, actually, we are very carefully choosing the illustrators.

Anyway, the concept was automatically developed largely thanks to the city of “Shibuya”.

Next, I would like to talk from the perspective of “girls”.

As mentioned earlier, Shibuya is the city where a lot of people come and go. Accordingly, there are many different types (or groups) of girls with different cultures and ages. In this context, we decided to deliver the postcards to as many girls and women of different types and ages as possible.
To achieve this, we had to consider what we should do and how it should be.
There was an answer right next to me. The answer was the word, “Kawaii”.

It was not the word that appeared all of a sudden. Rather, it was the word that clearly existed in my mind before I started “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”. Do you know why I selected not “Utsukushii (beautiful)” or “Kirei (nice/good-looking/neat)” but “Kawaii” for “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”?
Well, I selected it by instinct. Sorry, it doesn’t answer to the question…
It was not difficult at all for me to find the word. Actually, it was very easy.

For me who have been working for more than a decade in Shibuya and at last started living here, “Kawaii” is the word which I see and hear every day. In Shibuya I have seen a number of scenes when girls (also, men in some cases) are attracted by “Kawaii” and become “happy” in the shops or on the streets. Therefore, I naturally came up with an idea of creating postcards with the theme of “Kawaii” for such people.
I believe many of you relate to this feeling, as we have so many opportunities to see and hear “Kawaii” every day.
So, I decided to develop “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” around the word “Kawaii”.

When I was thinking from girls’ point of view, I intuitively arrived at “Kawaii”.
And, I think this will work, because, in an extreme case, these two share the same concept.

Now, let me talk about “Kawaii” some more (Let’s go on to the main point).
I cannot skip this conversation, because I believe the essence of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” exists in “Kawaii”.

In Japan, the word “Kawaii” has so many different meanings and usages, therefore, it is tough to analyze. I am not an expert, but please allow me to take the liberty of analyzing it by comparing how “Kawaii” is used between Japan and overseas for the purpose of clarity.
(By the way, the approach I am using here is not new. Please note that I am greatly affected by activities and suggestions by predecessors.)

First of all, let me start with the background.

As you may already know, the Otaku culture including animation, comics and games was born in Japan in 1990’s. This wave grew at an ever-increasing rate since 2000 and stormed most of the world both in the underground and overground scenes.
Some of the current fashions and characters born in Japan are also one of the examples.
In this trend, the “Kawaii” items and concept were packaged in animation or comics and spread throughout the world. I used the word ‘packaged’ but I don’t mean that “Kawaii” was physically exported to the world. I mean that “Kawaii” was packaged in the stories of animation and comics or their characters. This was successfully done thanks to the pop culture. Although “Kawaii” is an age-old concept in Japan, it metamorphosed itself without losing its spirit and it seems as if it evolved to another level.

In that sense, the current situation was created not only by the Otaku culture like animation and comics but also by “Kawaii”.
Needless to say, the online network including personal websites, community sites and online shops made a substantial contribution to diffusion of Japanese pop culture.

And, it is very important to see things from a perspective of pop culture. Animation, comics and games including “Kawaii” are generally considered “for some people or Otaku people” and often ignored despite its high potential (although it is increasingly being redefined as “Cool Japan”…).

If you see the pop culture from a global point of view or try to understand it in a positive way, you will know that your perception, “it’s for some people,” is wrong. The Japanese pop culture including “Kawaii” has already been widely (or, rather, enthusiastically) accepted all over the world, and it is increasingly being reinforced in the virtual world by people exchanging and updating various information every day.
Surprisingly, the deeper I dig into “Kawaii”, the more potential I found.

In the course of working on the “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” project, I started feeling that there is a subtle difference, or a different atmosphere in “Kawaii” between Japan and overseas.
To explain it simply, let me talk about “Kawaii” in a little more detail.

In English, for example, “Kawaii” is translated into “cute” or “pretty”. Although they look similar at a glance, they are not equal to “Kawaii”. The same can be said for other languages as well (Refer to “Kawaii” Ron by Inuhiko Yomota, Chikuma Shobo).
This shows that “Kawaii” is the concept unique to Japan.
If I superficially express “Kawaii” by other words to show how it is used in Japan, I would say “small”, “round”, “soft”, “fluffy” or “nostalgic”. I come up with more, such as “something that makes you want to protect or you should take care of”, and something that is “immature”, “incomplete”, “missing” or “exotic”…These wide variety of meanings are included in “Kawaii”. Thus, these meanings cannot be conveyed only by “cute” or “pretty”.

Moreover, as you may already know, “Kawaii” is used in various scenes every day in Japan. Today, the meaning of “Kawaii” varies depending on situations and speaker’s feelings/purposes.

Meanwhile, there is a side of “Kawaii” which does not change for all time, while the other side changes with times.
Furthermore, there is another way to look at it. In Japan (although there are many exceptions), there is a tendency that people’s desire for “Kawaii” does not change even after they become adults. The meaning of “Kawaii” may transform (e.g. “Otona (adult) Kawaii”), but people retain their desire for “Kawaii”. One reason behind this is that “Kawaii” is backed up by the Japanese traditional cultural background.

Like the aforementioned “Otona Kawaii”, people including me often generate a new “Kawaii by freely putting a word in front of “Kawaii”, like “xx Kawaii”. It is the word that may flexibly alter its meaning.

As shown by a number of examples above, we cannot find any other words that are equal to “Kawaii” in other languages. Rather, it’s quite natural that there are no words equal to “Kawaii” overseas given the differences in the cultural background.

Aside from whether it is good or bad, it is my understanding that “Kawaii” that is currently accepted overseas is only part of the true “Kawaii”. At the same time, it is inevitable that “Kawaii” is one-sidedly understood in overseas.
In other countries, there is a climate that showy and edgy things are more likely to be accepted and called “Kawaii”.

In the light of history, it has been only 20 to 30 years since Japan’s “Kawaii” became popular. Meanwhile, as I have mentioned many times, the word has multiple meanings based on the Japanese tradition and sprit, and the origin of the concept dates back to about 1,000 years ago.

(I don’t know if it’s my place to say this, but…) we can’t control how “Kawaii” is consumed in other countries. However, I think it is no problem, because basically it should rely on the cultural background of each country.

That being said, it does not mean that we don’t have to make an effort to communicate “other side of Kawaii” or “real Japanease Kawaii”. Rather, we should welcome such movement. So here we have “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP,” as one of the proposals that proactively engage in such movements.

But, please don’t take it the wrong way. I have no intent to launch an educational movement by trying to “fill the gap in the meaning” or “spread the real meaning”. I fully understand that the present situation where “Kawaii” became popular throughout the world was brought by the pioneers and I sincerely respect and appreciate them.

Instead, what we are trying to do is to propose not only the edgy side of Kawaii but “everyday Kawaii that is accepted by ordinary Japanese girls” to the world. “Kawaii” is the word that is flexible enough to accept even misunderstandings, but I believe it will become more important to convey “Kawaii” as a Japanese culture from various aspects.

I personally like the interpretation of “Kawaii” in other countries very much. However, if we are caught up in the trend, we cannot thoroughly appeal the charm of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”.

Now, it seems like we finally get to the point. From the very beginning, the “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” was targeted at “ordinary Japanese girls”, aiming to be seen as “Kawaii” by them. And we carefully selected illustrators to embrace their “atmosphere”.

In addition, although it might be a very small effort, we intentionally use not alphabets (“KAWAII”), Katakana (“カワイイ”) or Kanji (“可愛い”) but Hiragana (“かわいい”) to express the true meaning of Japanese “Kawaii”.

It’s about time to reveal the intention of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” and officially propose what we consider the real meaning of “Kawaii” in Japan and “Kawaii for the ordinary Japanese girls”. Now, I can clearly state that the core of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” is “a proposal of universal and everyday “Kawaii” from the viewpoint of the majority of ordinary Japanese girls and women” through the work by the illustrators.

This kind of “Kawaii” does not represent eccentricity.
Let me give you some examples. As you may know, “Kawaii” sometimes takes on the aspect of counterculture or embraces dynamism of “rock music”, as exemplified by girls who wear “Kawaii” clothes in brilliant colors like 6% DOKIDOKI, Lolita girls who wear frilly dresses in rococo style, Gothic style girls in black clothes, etc….They translate “Kawaii” by their own way to express their identity. It is the world dominated by “tension” in a good way, where their motivation comes from a sense of “rock”.

Now then, let’s see the stance of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”. As in its name, it is very “pop”. It has a more relaxed, natural atmosphere, because, as previously stated, the project focuses on the eyes of girls who look at “everyday Kawaii”.

This is not the matter of which is superior. In any cases, they are born from “Kawaii”. That flexibility is “Japanese Kawaii”, and therefore, they should coexist.

In addition, I can say that the direction of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” was spontaneously generated when we made it a condition that the postcards be actually distributed to “a large number of ordinary girls”. And this inspired us to pursue the general meaning of “Kawaii” through trial and error.

Let’s capture “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” from a different point of view.
It is probably true that “Kawaii” has already been widely introduced in animation, comics, games, fashion and characters but it is late in illustration and arts in overseas.
So, I think now is our chance to present/introduce illustrators representing “Real Japanese Kawaii”.

In addition, (for your information), various marketing researches targeting at women have been conducted in Japan to create categories/booms under the initiative of media over a period of time – a method to promote sales by labeling them or generating nonexistent booms. However, I had a strong desire not to be affected by the trend or labeled as such. Although it might be only a romantic, naive illusion, I think it would be great if I could show a universal “Kawaii” that will not fade with the times or yield to media manipulation or labeling.

I would like to propose “Kawaii” that will survive even after the present global “Kawaii bubble”.

It would be very frightening if an idea was totally consumed until it disappears without leaving any trace. But, don’t worry. If you look at our illustrations, you will find that all illustrators participating in “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” are good at depicting a truly universal “Kawaii”.

I explained at great length about the essence of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”. As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s been for two years since the project was launched. During that time, we always tried to make everyone happy, especially ordinary girls and women who come in and out of Shibuya. We value their reactions, and sometimes analyze them, to utilize them for our future activities.

“SHIBUYA GIRLS POP” will flexibly transform itself without changing its core, essential part, just like the Japanese word “Kawaii”.

Thanks for your continued support for “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”.

Kazuhiro Kato
The director of “SHIBUYA GIRLS POP”.


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