PhotoGuide Japan Home PhotoReviews
iStore
Home > PhotoReviews > iStore Books | FAQ | PhotoReviews Help

What's this? Book review of ganguro photo book.

Minzoku (Ethnic Tribe) - 民族
Photos: ONUMA Shoji 大沼ショージ

Minzoku
Larger image (at Kinokuniya)

PhotoGuide Japan receives a commission when you buy at Amazon using our Amazon links/search box.

Search Now:
サーチ:
Amazon.co.jpアソシエイト
Reviewed on: 2001.05.02
Last modified:
2005-04-04

Head shots of teenage girls known as ganguro, yamanba, or ko-gals.

女の顔が白くても黒くても、心が良ければいつも輝いて美しい。

Published: 2001.2.20
Publisher: Kawade Shobo Shinsha
ISBN: 4309264638
Price in Japan: ¥2,100
Qualities: Hard cover, color photos
Size: A5, 96 pp.
Language: Japanese
Sample photos: Image 1 | 2 | 3
Related reviews: See elsewhere on this page.
Status: Available, 1 copy only
How to order: If there is an Add to Cart button, click on it. If there is no Add to Cart button, the book is not in stock or out of print. Contact us and ask about availability. The item might be available through our ProxyShop.

Impressions: If you have visited Japan in recent years, you would have noticed these unnatural-looking young girls known as ganguro or yamanba. Ganguro ("black faces") are girls who regularly go to tanning salons to maintain a dark-brown tan year-round (or apply a dark-brown foundation). They also dye their hair brown or gold and wear blue contact lenses. It's the California beach girl look without the bikini. And sometimes they even wear fake flower leis or fake flowers in their hair (especially during summer). If you're from Hawaii like me, it's really amusing.

A mountain witch?
Portrait from Minzoku
The centerpiece of their street costume is 15-cm (6-inch) or higher platform shoes or sandals that makes them tower over the average Japanese. It lets them "look down" on the world or to have the world "look up" to them. Despite the obvious hazards of these high footwear, they have been in fashion for some time now. You can only wonder how many girls are injured while tripping over these platform shoes (especially on a flight of stairs) or how many of them are causing car accidents because they can't step on the right pedal. Japanese lawmakers should seriously consider passing a bill outlawing platform shoes higher than 5 cm (two inches). There is also medical evidence that these platform footware is not good for the feet and health.

One step beyond the ganguro is the yamanba, which roughly translates as "mountain hag or witch" from Japanese folklore. (The Japanese dictionary defines it as a character in Noh and kabuki plays.) Besides being ganguro, these girls wear more outrageous makeup with white lipstick, white eye shadow around the eyes (a racoon or panda look), silvery hair, and some glitter or fake tear drops on the cheek. They also have a loud, gregarious (but not wicked) way of talking and laughing. These girls want to attract the attention they are getting, and they relish it. They also feel much more confident and attractive. Without all these superficial condiments, most of them are really plain-Jane (or plain ugly) girls who need a lift (both in spirit and actual height) in life. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that and it doesn't bother me as long as they don't run me over because they can't step on the brake pedal soon enough (thank goodness that most of them take trains and subways).

First it was the ko-gals (high school girls in miniskirt school uniforms and loose socks). Then ganguro. And now yamanba. All three species (or any hybrid combination) are still thriving, and they are part of an ongoing evolution of Japan's female teenagers. It will be very interesting to see where it goes next or how further their fake facade will go. Many clothing shops (especially in Shibuya) which cater to these women will want to see this fad go on for a long time to come.

In this book, a bit of their world is revealed through head shots and some captions documenting various episodes and conversations of these girls. Here's a rough translation of a few of them:

===========
It's past 11 PM in Shibuya's Center-gai shopping street. A bunch of ganguro girls are crouched on the pavement and talking noisily on their cell phones. An old woman passes by and asks them, "Just what are you people anyway?" One of the girls shouts back, "We're minzoku (ethnic tribe)!" (This is where the book's title came from.)
===========
Overheard conversation on a train:
Girl A: Hey, have you ever had your boyfriend shave your hair?
Girl B: What?? No!
Girl A: I had him shave it to 2 cm wide!
Girl B: What??! Are you talking about the top or bottom hair??
Girl A: It's that triangle at the bottom, you know!
Girl B: Was it painful?
Girl A: It sure was!
===========
15 years old. High school dropout. At home is her 15-month-old son. But he has no father. She doesn't return home much.
============
One girl with platform shoes was in a drugstore in Ikebukuro, and she was shaking all the sample cans of deodorant spray on the shelf. When she found one that was pretty full, she tucked the can under her blouse and sprayed her left underarm and then her right underarm. Then she put the can back on the shelf and walked out of the store as if it was her own room at home.
===========

Yes, behind that dark-skin disguise, there's an amusing and sometimes sad story. It's not surprising to hear that many of the ganguro and yamanba are high school dropouts. Some earn their money by working at hostess bars or cabarets (even while underage). Some don't go home very often. Some do go home, but their parents are always out or they seem to be invisible. Other girls are slightly older or in junior college.

If you look at their faces, they ironically begin to look the same. In Japan, it's cool and hip to look different, but at the same time there must be a significant number of other people who look like you too. Otherwise, you won't belong (to any tribe). That's what fascinating about Japan. Full of contradiction and irony.

To find and photograph these girls, the photographer (a woman) went to Tokyo's Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Omiya in Saitama. Although it's not an exhaustive collection of photos, it's a good sample. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

*Also see ganguro girls reviewed below.

*Until Feb. 16, 2003, the photographer's name in this book review was misspelled as "ONUMA George." It has been correct to "ONUMA Shoji" (although she's a woman, she uses a male name). Apologies to the photographer and anyone who was confused or inconvenienced by this error.

400-1

QUICK REVIEW PROFILE Quick Review Profile Help
What's Inside About the Artist Photo Evaluation
Genre: Portraits Domestic acclaim: 6 Artistic value: 7
Photo:Text ratio: 85:15 Dedication & effort: 8 Cultural value: 8
Understanding ease: 7 Vision & concept: 7 Historical value: 8
Overall impression: 8 Int'l acclaim: 6 Educational value: 7
*Rating Scale 1-10: 10-Outstanding, 9-Very good, 8-Good, 7-Average-Good, 6-Average, 5-Average-poor, 4-Poor, 3-Very poor, 2-Extremely poor, 1-No value, --Not applicable
Location/Setting:

Tokyo (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro) and Omiya in Saitama

Artist's Bio:

Born 1970 in Yokosuka. Self-taught photographer, now freelance.


PhotoGuide Japan Home PhotoReviews
iStore
Home > PhotoReviews > iStore Books | FAQ | PhotoReviews Help

What's this? Book review of ganguro photo book.

ganguro girls
Photos: Everett Kennedy Brown
Text: Kate Klippensteen

ganguro girls

PhotoGuide Japan receives a commission when you buy at Amazon using our Amazon links/search box.

Search Now:
サーチ:
Amazon.co.jpアソシエイト
Reviewed on: 2001.05.02
Last modified:
2002-03-04

Amusing book of full-length portraits of ganguro girls taken in the photo studio in Shibuya.

全身で撮られた70人のガングロ達。

Published: 2000
Publisher: Konemann
ISBN: 3829079265
Price in Japan: ¥1,423 ($7.95 in US)
Qualities: Hard cover, color photos
Size: A5, 167 pp.
Language: English and Japanese
Sample photos: Image 1 | 2 | 3
Related reviews: See elsewhere on this page.
Status: Available from Amazon.com, etc.
How to order: If there is an Add to Cart button, click on it. If there is no Add to Cart button, the book is not in stock or out of print. Contact us and ask about availability. The item might be available through our ProxyShop.

Impressions: Sooner or later somebody had to produce a book dedicated to these ganguro (black-face) girls. (See a detailed definition of ganguro in the Minzoku book review above.) We got two so far (both reviewed on this page), and it's nice to see one in English. Although this book's publisher is in Germany, the book also provides a Japanese translation of the English and it is sold in Japan. But it seems that it is not widely available, and Amazon.com has it on back order as of this writing.

There is English text written by author Kate Klippensteen explaining the ganguro phenomenon, while the portraits were taken by a Tokyo-based American photojournalist.

The book has over 70 portraits of these girls. They all supposed to be ganguro, but some of them look too light to pass as ganguro. And a few of them are yamanba (see definition in the above review). Almost all the portraits are full-length shots so you can see what they are wearing. It's nice to see some of them wearing normal footwear (even sneakers) instead of dangerously high platforms. The portraits are nice, with most of them smiling and looking directly at the camera lens.

Each portrait has a facing page showing her answers to a short questionnaire (in English and Japanese) asking for the girl's name, age (usually 15 to early 20s), occupation (students mostly), how many friends she had, whether she lived at home with her parents, how many times she went to a love hotel (zero or uncountable times), how much money she had in her purse, and until what age she intended to be a ganguro (usually until the end of high school, early 20s, or forever).

A ganguro on the cover of egg magazine.
egg magazine, March 2000 issue
Too bad they didn't ask more informative questions like:

What inspired you to become a ganguro?
What do your parents think of you being a ganguro?
How much is your monthly income?
How much is your monthly mobile phone bill?
How much do you spend on tanning salons every month?

Instead of being an in-depth, scholarly look at these girls, this book is a playful presentation of them. By the way, they don't call themselves ganguro. They prefer to call themselves just "gals."

OK, so now we have seen photo books (and magazines like egg) on ganguro, street fashion (see Merry and fruits), and costume players (see The Cosplayer). All these methods and techniques of personal disguise and modification are defining the current times. Twenty years from now, I'm sure we'll look back fondly at these young people. Perhaps such fashions will make a comeback two decades later and these books will serve as a valuable guide. (Reviewed by Philbert Ono)

300-1

QUICK REVIEW PROFILE Quick Review Profile Help
What's Inside About the Artist Photo Evaluation
Genre: Portraits Domestic acclaim: 8 Artistic value: 8
Photo:Text ratio: 80:20 Dedication & effort: 8 Cultural value: 8
Understanding ease: 9.5 Vision & concept: 7 Historical value: 7
Overall impression: 8.5 Int'l acclaim: 8 Educational value: 7
*Rating Scale 1-10: 10-Outstanding, 9-Very good, 8-Good, 7-Average-Good, 6-Average, 5-Average-poor, 4-Poor, 3-Very poor, 2-Extremely poor, 1-No value, --Not applicable
Location/Setting:

Shibuya, Tokyo

Artist's Bio:

Everett Kennedy Brown is an American photojournalist based in Tokyo. His work regularly appears in major Japanese and int'l publications. Japanese young people and their search for an identity is one of his main interests.


Home > PhotoReviews > iStore Books | Order Form

iStore > How to Order | FAQ | Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy | Contact Us

PhotoGuide Japan (photojpn.org and photoguidejapan.com) is a trademark of Philbert Ono.

Copyright © 1997-2005 Philbert Ono. All rights reserved.
Transmitting from Tokyo, Japan.