Tokyo Adorned

Japan is a freaky scene.

    It’s a lethal combo of beauty and perversity. It’s school-girl panties sold in vending machines. It’s a silk obi woven by a two
thousand year old toothless crone from threads produced by hermaphroditic silk worms and then wound so tight around your middle that your internal organs keep threatening to come flying out of your orifices. 

    Japan is a giant watermelon scooped out and filled with ice so that one single ridiculously teensy sugar-cube-sized morsel of haute couture sashimi can rest in splendor on the top. Japan is also a square watermelon, imprisoned in a box, screaming to be round, but forced into a cube-shape. 

    It’s about going to restaurants with your nearest and dearest, and then not uttering a single word of conversation for hours, but remaining quite happy and content in your silence. And when the food is plonked in front of you, it’s about obsessively documenting it with your phone. 

    It’s about sitting in a Pachinko parlor for weeks at a time without ever stopping to pee or eat or sleep while stuffing fistfuls of teensy ball-bearings into those mysterious machines, and wearing a blank expression which suggests that you are blissfully but inexplicably unaware of the hideous ear-drum-destroying cacophony inside said parlor.

    In the 80’s I traveled to Japan with a female colleague who was wearing a modest scoop neck dress. The man who met us at the airport stared at her barely visible cleavage and said, “Soon may I have some milk to drink please mommie?” He then put on little white gloves like Mickey Mouse and drove us to our hotel.

    On the same trip I wandered into a Shinjuku porn store. I wasn’t looking for kicks. It was more of a channel-Margaret-Mead-and-get-to-know-all-aspects-of-the-culture kind of a thing. The exhausted and wildly un-hot store proprietor exhaled his ciggie and gave me a dead-pan guide to his emporium of erotica.

          “Old lady porn here. Schoolgirl porn there. Fat ugly businessman porn under here. What you want?”

Helpful service, along with beauty and perversity, is also very much part of the Japanese scene. And then there’s fashion…

          On a more recent trip to Tokyo I saw about fifty girls standing outside Shibuya station each dressed up like a Madame Alexander doll, ringlets, starched crinolines, graphic circles of rouge on the cheeks, Victorian lace-up ankle-booties, frilly bloomers, the whole magillah. I was told that these indigenous kooksters refer to this particular style as Gottic Rorita. Trans: Gothic Lolita.

    Bonnets aside, the most noteworthy thing about these gals was that they were trying to look nonchalant, and succeeding. There is something deeply perverse about dragging yourself up as life-size Madame Alexander doll and then walking about in public as if you were wearing slacks and a simple sweater.

          “I dress like oversize doll for no reason. Not big deal,” their blank expressions seemed to say.

I am guessing about the Gottic Rorita interior monologue. Maybe there is no dialogue. Maybe there is just the sound of an old-fashioned musical jewelry box? Tinkle. Tinkle. Tinkle. In Japan you are forced to rely on guess-work because nobody speaks much. This is a good thing. It’s a sweet thing. The annoying Western compulsion to over-communicate does not seem to have impacted the land of the Gottic Rorita. This absence of chatty badinage allows one to spend many blissful hours lost in creative speculation. 

    Thomas Card’s compelling photo essay encourages exactly this kind of endless speculation in the viewer. Who is she? Is she suicidal or deliriously happy? Does she always wear a Peruvian oven mitt on her head? He has photographed his subjects with clarity and simplicity. These children of Shinjuku and Shibuya are treated as if they were objets d’art in an auction catalog, or maybe biological specimens. Mr. Card adds no flourishes and makes no comment. Who needs words when your purse is a watering can? 


Simon Doonan

Creative Ambassador Barneys New York + author of The Asylum