Category Archives: Fashion

Three Years of Coney Island Mermaid Parade Photos

Tomorrow (June 21, Saturday) is the 32nd Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The Mermaid Parade, a moderately venerable tradition dating back to 1983, describes itself asthe largest art parade in the nation”, and celebrates the old time beachfront, boardwalk, carnival sideshow culture of the neighborhood.

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This will be my fourth consecutive Mermaid Parade, but I grew up being taken often to Coney Island in the summer by my grandparents, who lived nearby, off the Avenue U subway stop, to visit the beach, Astroland Park, and the New York Aquarium. Coney Island was probably nearing the nadir of popularity then. Homeless men squatted under the boardwalk, lighting fires to keep warm that would often get out of control and burn large out sections of the boardwalk above. I vividly remember gaping, charred holes marked off with yellow warning tape. Adults warned not to wander unsupervised far past the boardwalk into the surrounding non-amusement park neighborhood, which was considered particularly dangerous.
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Many of the once-proud amusement parks of Coney Island had already closed when I used to go as a kid, with Astroland then the main survivor. Even that eventually closed, in 2008, leaving the venerable Cyclone—the famous wooden roller coaster that opened in 1927—and the primary location of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs among the last major traditional attractionsin the area. Of course, other than the beach itself. (For readers who expect everything posted on this blog to have a Japan connection, the July 4 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is where Japan’s greatest athlete first rose to fame.)

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Throughout the Bloomberg administration (2002 - 2013) there were continual attempts to redevelop the area, usually as a massive unitary complex with a large indoor shopping mall feel that would have been utterly at odds with the history and style of the neighborhood, but which would have provided better facilities for the blandly tasteful year-round activities that clueless developers and mayoral officials thought were more in demand.

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These potential deals all fell apart after the real estate bubble burst, paving the way for today’s more natural revitalization, which has seen new amusement park rides for the first time in decades, including a new Luna Park, named after a long-defunct Coney Island amusement park and built on the former site of Astroland, and even a major new steel roller coaster, the Thunderbolt, itself named after a long-gone 1925-built wooden coaster, which opened only a week ago as of this post.

A big part of what kept Coney Island’s local culture on life-support long enough to return is the non-profit organization Coney Island USA, based in the landmarked Childs Restaurant building, who run the Coney Island Museum, Sideshows by the Seashore, and the Shooting Gallery/Arts Annex. And, most relevant, they are the official organizers of the Mermaid Parade.

To get a nice summary of Coney Island history, check out this podcast (Part 1, Part 2) by The Bowery Boys, who do a New York City podcast I enjoy, or see the accompanying blog post with some cool old photos.

Naturally, I took a whole lot of photos all three times and even after winnying them down to good one still had a few dozen for each year, so I’m embedding a handful of photos in-line and then linking to the Flickr galleries.

2011 Mermaid Parade Photo Gallery


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2012 Mermaid Parade Gallery


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2013 Mermaid Parade Photo Gallery


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NYT making fun of Osaka Mayor’s dad

In a recent article about Japan’s idling of all of its nuclear reactors, the reporter made a casual aside about the parentage of Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru.

Instead, the central government has found itself battling an improbable adversary: Osaka’s mayor, Toru Hashimoto, the young, plain-speaking son of a yakuza gangster who has ridden Japan’s loss of faith in government to become, seemingly overnight, the country’s best-liked politician, according to recent polls.

The Japanese Wikipedia page on Hashimoto, sourced from this article on the website j-cast, mentions that his father was a gangster who committed suicide when Toru was a second grade elementary school student, and that the couple had been divorced since much earlier.

Although it is factually correct that Hashimoto’s father was a gangster, he was apparently no more than a biological parent, out of his son’s life almost immediately, and no longer living just a few years later. The newspaper’s phrasing makes a very strong implication that his “plain-speaking”-ness is derived from his father’s example, but considering that he basically never knew his father, I think the association is just as unfair as the stupid attacks against Obama based on his father being a Muslim, or against both Obama and Romney because they had polygamist grandfathers.

I’m all for making fun of him for his own craziness, of which there is plenty, but don’t bash him for what his absent father may or may not have done.

On the other hand, Hashimoto has recently embarked upon a bizarre crusade against Osaka employees with tattoos, due to the traditional association between tattoos and yakuza. Perhaps he does, after all, have some latent father issues?

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That’s not a license plate number: it’s the LDP’s cryptic way of tying themselves to the paternity leave system. Read out loud, it sounds similar to papa ikukyu (パパ育休) or “Daddy Childcare Leave.”

The code makes a very subtle appearance in the recent TV commercial featuring Sadakazu Tanigaki’s ridiculously impassioned speech about making Japan number one again. This spot has been coming up once in the rotation during every World Cup game I have seen so far (except, of course, the ones on NHK).

The slogan appears on the green silicon bracelet he’s wearing.

You can buy your own here, although you have to register as an LDP merchandise customer first, and I’m not sure whether non-citizens are definitively eligible for this. They do specify that you have to be a resident of Japan and that they will only ship within Japan.

(Thanks to Mrs. Peter for the tip)

The history of department stores in Kyoto, and Kyoto in the history of the department store

It was announced on January 28th that the downtown Kyoto location of the Hankyu department store will be closing in autumn. Sales at the store, which opened in 1971, had fallen to a pitiful 1/3 of peak volume, which was reached back in 1991 on the precipice of the bubble. I had originally begun writing a post on the circumstances leading to the closing, the reaction to it, and the possible impact on the area but a planned paragraph on the larger history got out of hand and I ended up with about 2000 words on the history of the department store in Japan in general. Therefore, I have decided to save the discussion of the current events aspect for another post and publish the history piece right now.











Kyoto’s Hankyu Kawaramachi in the 1970s


The store is located on the SE corner of the bustling Shijo – Kawaramachi intersection, just above the terminal of the Kyoto Line of Hankyu rail that links downtown Kyoto with Osaka’s downtown neighborhood of Umeda. (Trivia time: technically the Kyoto line terminates one stop before Umeda in Juso, with service between those two stations technically running over the quadruple track of the Takarazuka line, but this is an internal technicality and for all practical purposes the lines terminates at Shijo-Kawaramachi one one end, and Umeda on the other.) The presence of Hankyu department store above the Hankyu railway terminal is of course no coincidence, as the confluence of private regional railroads and departments stores is a distinctive and rather unique characteristic of the history of both industries in Japan, which had a profound impact on Japanese urban development in the 20th century. Although the Hankyu department store only opened in 1971 and the terminal beneath it had only opened in 1963, their Kyoto Line had linked Kyoto and Osaka for decades before that, with the section between Saiin (西院) Station and Omiya (大宮) Station (which had been the terminal before the Kawaramachi station opened, and had gone by the name of Kyoto Station) having been the first subway train in all of Kansai. (See timeline here.)

The intersection of Shijo and Kawaramachi street (四条河原町) is the heart of downtown Kyoto, which has long been anchored by large department stores – and in fact Kyoto is itself the birthplace of many of the dry-goods stores known as 呉服店 (gofukuten, roughly “traditional Japanese-style clothing stores” as opposed to 洋服店 (youfukuten) or “Western-style clothing stores”) that eventually evolved into the modern department store goliaths. Even department stores that originated in Edo or Tokyo (same city, different times) had strong ties to Kyoto, which was the center of the Japanese textiles and clothing industry until western style clothing took over as daily fashion in the 20th century.

Hankyu is not just one example of the peculiar symbiosis between Japanese railways and department stores, but its originator. Unlike all of the other department stores that I will be mentioning later, Hankyu was a train company first, only expanding into the retail business later on. The predecessor to the Hankyu Railway Company was Minou Arima Denki Kidou (箕面有馬電気軌道), or the Minou – Arima Electric Railway, and called Kiyu Densha (箕有電車). (kidou is a now rarely used word that translates to “permanent way” in English, referring to the physical infrastructure of railway tracks.) Starting in 1906, Kiyu Densha first ran trains between Umeda and Ikeda, Ikeda to Takarazuka to Arima, and to Minou. After some rapid expansion through both construction and acquisition, they changed their name to Hanshin Kyuukou Dentetsu (阪神急行電鉄) or Osaka – Kobe Express Railroad, in 1910. In 1943 they merged with Keihan Denki Kidou (Kyoto – Osaka Electric Railway, 京阪電気鉄道) and changed their name once again to Keihanshin Kyuukou Dentetsu, (京阪神急行電鉄), which meant the Kyoto – Osaka – Kobe Express Railway. In 1949 the union came to an end, with the Keihan unit being spun off once again into the present Keihan Electric Railroad, and finally became the Hankyu Corporation in 1973.

Hankyu Umeda Station, ca. back in the day


Hankyu’s entrance to the retail market was driven by the company’s founder Kobayashi Ichizo, which naturally has a page of hagiography to him on their corporate site. Although the Hankyu Department Store (阪急百貨店) proper opened in 1929, there were actually two significant stages before that. The first was in 1920, when the Tokyo based Shirokiya (白木屋) rented the first floor of the Hankyu Umeda Station building, sensing the obvious business opportunity of a store directly connected to a major railway terminal. Shirokiya was founded in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district in 1662, when it was still Edo, and became a modern corporation under the name of Shirokiya Gofukuten in 1919, just before opening their store in Umeda. Shirokiya Umeda sold food and other grocery store items, while Hankyu turned the second floor into a large affordable eatery called the “Hankyu Cafeteria” (阪急食堂). After Shirokiya’s lease ended in 1925 Hankyu booted them out and turned the 2nd and 3rd floor into the “Hankyu Market” (阪急マ-ケット), but it is unclear what exactly replaced Shirokiya. In 1929 this was finally developed into the Hankyu Department store, which is widely recognized as the pioneer of the “railway terminal department store” model that can now be seen throughout Japanese cities. In 1947 the Hankyu Department Store was established as a separate company from the Railway, but they remained under the same holding company, although the names have changed slightly yet again following the recent merger between the Hankyu and Hanshin (Osaka – Kobe) groups.  (See this Japanese language site for a great history of the Hankyu Umeda station, including many old photos and maps.)

The Hankyu Market


Significantly, Shirokiya would  later became the Tokyu Department Store, as Tokyo’s answer to the Hankyu model of retail and railway symbiosis, after being bought by the Tokyo Railway. Presumably this was related to their experience in developing the market in Umeda. Incidentally, although there is no mention that I can find anywhere on official looking pages, I did find a couple of references online mentioning that Shirokiya had originally been a well-known clothing wholesaler (呉服問屋) in Kyoto before establishing a retail store in Edo, a pattern that is seen repeated more reliably in another example below.

The old Shirokiya store.


Hankyu’s retail division was a latecomer to Kyoto, having only opened their store in 1971, but Takashimaya had already had their store on the southwest corner – directly across from Hankyu’s location on the southeast corner – since 1950. The company that would later become Takashimaya was in fact originally founded in Kyoto in 1831 and reorganized as a modern corporation under the name of Takashimaya Gofukuten in 1919, but in 1932 opened their first modern department store in Osaka and made that their corporate headquarters, which it remains to this day.

Just a couple of blocks to the west, along Shijo, one can also find the original Daimaru department store, which like Takashimaya was born in Kyoto, but later moved their headquarters to Osaka. Daimaru was founded in 1717 as the Gofukuten Daimonjiya (呉服店大文字屋), in Kyoto’s Fushimi ward, well south of the current downtown location. In addition to their primary business as a retail establishment they also had a currency exchange counter, which might surprise those who remember that Japan was virtually closed to foreign trade during this period. In fact, exchanged were not being made between foreign money and Japanese money,  but between the Japanese gold, silver, and bronze coins, for which a 1-2% service charge was exacted. Daimonjiya (presumably named for Kyoto’s famous landmark / festival) expanded early, to Osaka’s Shinsaibashi in 1726 and Nagoya’s Honmachi in 1728 (later closed), which is when they changed the name to Daimaru. After reorganizing as a modern corporation under the name of Daimaru Gofukuten in 1908, they opened their first modern department store at the current location in Kyoto in 1912. Although this is the location of their first actual department store, the Shinsaibashi site on which they opened in 1726 is their current flagship store, which is doing well enough to have opened a new annex building directly across the street from the original building just last year.

Mitsukoshi Gofukuten (From this neat blog on Meiji era Japan.)


Next I would like to mention Mitsukoshi, even though it was not exactly founded in Kyoto and does not currently even have any locations in the city. It is well known that the future Mitsukoshi department store was founded by Mitsui Takatoshi as the Echigoya Gofukuten (越後屋) in Edo (now Tokyo) in 1673, and was the first semi-modern retail clothing store, leading the way for those mentioned above. Like Daimaru, they also had a currency exchange window, which developed into the Mitsui Bank and later formed the basis for the Mitsui Zaibatsu / Group. (Incidentally, the Kyoto Hankyu building is actually owned by Mitsui Sumitomo Real Estate, and leased to Hankyu.) Less well known is the fact that Mitsui was at the same time operating a location in Kyoto, but rather than a retail store like the company in Edo was a purchaser/wholesaler (仕入店), and this Kyoto office was apparently considered the headquarters in the early days of the company. It was first located in the Nishijin (西陣) district, which at that time was the center of Japan’s textiles industry on Muromachi Street in Yakushi-cho (室町通薬師町), but it soon moved to the south, and became the first Echigoya retail store in Kyoto. Although Mitsui later sold most of the land after the store closed, they kept a small portion at the corner of Nijo and Muromachi, which is now a memorial park to the old Kyoto store, which appropriately contains a shrine to Inari, the Shinto fox god of wealth. (See Google map below for location, and photos plus more info in Japanese here.) Although I couldn’t find any reference to it online, I believe I have also seen a photograph of an ornate Meiji era style Mitsukoshi store labeled as having been at the very same Shijo-Kawaramachi corner as Hankyu and Takashimaya, on the northeast corner. I think the photo was from the 1920s or 1930s, and that it said the store burned down, without being rebuilt.



Click for large map.

The last traditional department store that deserves mentioning is the one with the least history in the city, despite being one of the most visible today. I speak of course of JR-West Isetan, located in tower of the Kyoto Station building. WEST JAPAN RAILWAY ISETAN Ltd., as the company is properly called, is 60% owned by JR West and 40% owned by Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., but was founded in 1990 before the Isetan / Mitsukoshi merger, and so was originally a joint venture of JR West and Isetan. Remember that since privatization JR West is no longer government owned, but publicly traded on various stock markets. Isetan was itself founded Tokyo in 1886 as yet another gofukuten, and like the rest of the big ones evolved into a modern department store in 1930 when they opened their flagship store in Shinjuku. Isetan never had a store in Kyoto until September 11 1997, when the JR West Isetan department store opened along with the brand new Kyoto Station building itself, which had been newly erected to replace the bland concrete building that had been constructed as a temporary station to replace the classic style station building that had been lost to fire in 1950. For whatever reason, JR West did not partner with a department store chain that already had ties to Kyoto (maybe they tried and failed, I really have no idea), but regardless, the idea that a full size department store was an essential anchor to a new, modern  station building reinforces the long union between railways and department stores in 20th century Japan, started at Hankyu Umeda 70-odd years earlier.

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Hatoyama’s first wacky photo op as PM – foppiest PM ever?

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Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama and his wife Miyuki made a hastily arranged appearance at this fashion show to raise money for the disabled. While I applaud their attempt to lend some celebrity cachet to the event, this is nothing less than an epically insane fashion disaster—wine-red jacket with matching belt and pattern shirt for Yukio, and a rumpled black jacket and what looks like a satin trash bag for a skirt. With this photo, Hatoyama has now become the foppiest prime minister in Japanese history. Thanks to Kyodo News (via Nikkei) for being there.

Miyuki has already started to make waves with her fashion choices. Just today I read fashion designer and occasional TV personality Don Konishi’s column in Shukan Asahi in which he tore the first lady a new one for this photo taken at the Japanese school in Greenwich, Connecticut during the couple’s trip to the various summits.

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He commented that maybe because she is a former actress (she was a Takarazuka performer in the 60s) she is going out of her way to stand out and look flashy and glamorous at a time when people generally want more humanity from their leaders. He didn’t mention it, but Michele Obama’s ultra-casual look springs to mind.

Nara schoolgirls shun bare legs in favor of a vaguely Islamic aesthetic

Asahi Shimbun, 21 June:

At Kintetsu Yamato-Saidaiji Station in the evening, full of uniformed high school students, I watched with a distant eye, recalling myself in my younger days. And I noticed that the girls’ skirts were long—covering the knee as a matter of course, but overlapping the socks so that the legs couldn’t be seen at all. I thought it must be some school with harsh rules, but it wasn’t just one school. Watching each school as a high school baseball reporter, the miniskirts seemed to have fallen behind, as long skirts were in the majority. “Since about two years ago, there have been many students with skirts covering their knees,” says a male teacher at Koriyama Senior High. Under ordinary school rules the skirt must be long enough to cover the knees, but when I was in high school, it was usual to see 15 centimeters above the knees.

Why long skirts? “Chon-chon (short skirts) are tacky now,” says second-year Yuki Takahashi. “The shape of the skirt looks cute,” says third-year Ayumi Fujimoto (17). Another opines that “I don’t want a Pocky tan (where the socks leave a tan line), so I pull my socks up to the bottom of my skirt.”

This is a pendulum that should have swung the other way a long time ago. Although teachers complain about short skirts, the implicit acceptance of that aesthetic in popular culture has made Japan look like a nation of “hot, shallow and superficial sluts with knee socks and short skirts that live to exist like real world barbie dolls.” What’s interesting is that in Nara, it appears to be the natural forces of fashion that are taking short skirts out of favor and making more modest dress the “new hotness.”

I’m sure that Marxy has a lot to say about this…

Photo festival part 1: Osaku amateur photographers in Akihabara

I’ve been wanting to replace my aged and moderately decrepit EOS 300D for a couple of years now, and I have finally decided to take the plunge and upgrade to a brand-spanking new 50D next week. Problem is, I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t buy a new camera until I put some serious effort into going through my photo archive and actually selecting/posting a substantial number of galleries. This means that I’m going to try and blow through as much as I can in the next few days, starting here.

These photos were taken in the pedestrian area in front of Akihabara Station on June 1, 2008, exactly one week before the infamous massacre there. It had become a tradition for various cutesy female models to pose for Otaku photographers and do publicity in this area. There are many thousands upon thousands, if not millions of photographs of cosplay and moe models so when I happened to pass by the area, I decided to take some photos of the men who actually take those photographs. I don’t know if these events have made a comeback in the months since the grim events of the following week, but either way these photographs document the sort of people who were the victims of the tragedy.

See Flickr Flash slideshow, or individual photos below the jump.

Continue reading Photo festival part 1: Osaku amateur photographers in Akihabara

Could be called “10 places I’d like to visit”

I stumbled across a fantastic post on Oddee entitled “10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns“, all 10 of which are officially now on my list of places I’d like to go. My affection for ruins and abandoned places is well documented, so how could I resist places like this sand-drowned Numibian village?

As it so happens, I should actually be able to stop by one of these sites within the next month. The Sanzhi haunted retro-futuristic beachfront housing development is located on the north coast of Taipei County, not very far from Danshui. And I’m going to Taiwan next Wednesday for almost 3 weeks.

While Sanzhi may not exactly be a short walk from Danshui station, it looks like a very reasonable bike ride to me, and I’m fairly sure that Danshui is one of the MRT stations where loading/offloading of bicycles is allowed. Hopefully I’ll have some time to track down this place while I’m in Taiwan.

Original Flickr set.

Location on Google Maps.

Clothing and nekkidness in the Meiji era

I am fascinated by this lengthy narrative of how Japan evolved from a nation where “scant clothing… was mainly an indication of manual labor” to one where “virtually all Japanese wear underwear.” (Warning: Most links in the article lead to old pictures of naked people which are likely to cause problems if viewed at the office.)

It’s an interesting story, not so much because of the scandalous bits (e.g. foreign journalists developing unhealthy fascinations with the neighborhood mixed-gender bathhouse), but also because of the government’s role in forcing these changes on the public as part of the general campaign to make Japan more European.

It isn’t too hard to see how this also helped usher in the current era of WaiWai and pornographic comic books. Standardizing fashion in a modest manner undoubtedly did wonders for the democratization and modernization of Japan, but it also seems to have led to a lot of the sexual repression that generates train groping and hidden camera fetishes today. (Not that I’m complaining: loincloths aren’t my style.)

By the way, there is a wealth of artificially-colorized old Japanese photographs available on Flickr courtesy of one “Okinawa Soba.” Among my favorites: