Are Harajuku girls Modern Day Geisha?

On November 22, 2004 Gwen Stefani’s solo album “Love Angel Music Baby” hit the CD racks. I purchased my copy, May 2005. I placed the track in my cd walkman and spent hours listening to her music. Of all the songs, my favorite was “What You Waiting For?” It is a song I still love today and blast shamelessly through my android. I’ve had the cd for seven years and never new the negative stereotypes I was subjecting myself to. Gwen Stefani’s first solo album had many hits as well as negative critiscism.

On April 9, 2005, Mihi Ahn wrote Gwenihana: Gwen Stefani neuters Japanese street fashion to create spring’s must-have accessory: Giggling geisha! Though the title points out Gwen Stefani, it article criticizes other western works that reduce asian women as a whole to silent submissive stereotypes. To ensure we know where she is coming from, Ana mentions the role these four women play in Stefani’s entorage and music.  Mihi Ahn states “She’s taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls…Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public.” It is true that the four women were paid not to speak english in public. Thus, they were adding to Stefani’s illusion.

Images Provided by “Beautiful Geisha and No Doubt

Through out the album, Gwen does give Harajuku credit for her inspiration. She even names her line l.a.m.b. after the “life-size dolls” she has created. This may seem harmless; however, Mihi Ahn doesn’t think so. Ahn writes, “Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she’s swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that’s suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.”After reading the remainder of her article, I decided to go back and watch some of Gwen’s music videos that feature the four dolls.

What You Waiting For?

This was the first time I saw Love, Angel, Music, and Baby. One of the women is dressed up as an erotic bunny. This Wonder Land theme places Gwen as Alice and the remaining women as characters within this alternate universe. If your notice, Gwen plays all of the key characters. She is the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, The Twins, and Alice. Rather than give these rolls to her Harajuku girls, she keeps the spot light on herself. Also, the girls appear near the end of the video watching as Gwen regains her inspiration and finishes the song. If your notice, they are dressed up as school girls and giggling at the end of the song. Looks like its 1 point of Ahn and 0 for Gwen.

Rich Girl

In this video they seem like puppets. There movements are frigid and their faces seem frozen. They are like dolls. In “Rich Girl” featuring Eve, Gwen talks about dressing them naked and giving them names. If you notice the four little girls playing with the toy ship and dolls that mirror Gwen and Eve. In this ship or fantasy world Love, Angel, Music, and Baby are Gwen’s dolls. In addition, you’ll notice that it is hard to distinguish who Love, Angel, Music, and Baby are. We can only determine who they are when Gwen singles them out to us. Through this video, Stefani has several costume changes. The women only have two.

As you can see the women do seem like China-dolls as well as Geisha. Their only purpose is to entertain. For those of you who have seen the film, Memoirs of a Geisha. This quote describes their purpose, “She paints her face to hide her face. Her eyes are deep water. It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances, she sings. She entertains you, whatever you want. The rest is shadows, the rest is secret. ”

You are probably wondering, “Why should I care that these women were paid to be silent and add to Gwen Stefani’s fantasy?” This is why, fashion holds more power than people give it credit for. Just as it was used to portray Japan in Memoirs of a Geisha, it was used to provide the world with Gwen Stefani’s interpretation of Harajuku girls. In addition, she had profited from japanese street style through clothingaccessories, and fragrances based on her solo debut album. Since it is street style and is not trademarked, the girls and young women providing her inspiration will not see a cent of it. A writer for E! pointed this out in 2009. In Lia Haberman’s article ” Gwen’s Just a Doll” she states, “[W]e’re thinking Tokyo’s real-life Harajuku girls (the name’s based on a street style from the Harajuku hood) might wanna think about organizing themselves to trademark their signature look—which is obviously making someone a fortune.”

Photo Provided by l.a.m.b.
Did you like this post?
Should I do more post on fashion and music?
Are you a Gwen Stefani fan?
When were you introduced to Japanesse Steet Fashion?
 Additional Infromation
To read more on Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku girls read 348. Dear Christian Dior, your Shanghai Dreamers campaign is bromidic, lame, and example 253284293847289 of Orientalism, and we’re supposed to find it brave and exciting and new?
To read more about Memoirs of a Geisha visit IMDb
To Read more about “Gwens just a doll” visit E!
To see more Geisha click Beautiful Geisha
For more on Gwen Stefani visit No Doubt

6 thoughts on “Are Harajuku girls Modern Day Geisha?

Add yours

  1. Margaret cho complained as well…Mihi Ahn (not Ana as spelled above) is Korean and Margaret Cho is Chinese and the Chinese and Koreans have major problems getting over the war with Japan. they both have no business “defending the Japanese”. I live here in Japan, this song did very well here. they liked it so Cho and Ahn….. just don’t!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for pointing out that spelling error. Yes, all three countries share a complicated history. However, I don’t believe their ethnicity should determine whether they have an opinion about Gwen and L.A.M.B. Thank you for stopping.


  2. Great article! Not at all what I was expecting from the title though.

    Art taking from art is always a difficult issue. Gwen stefani made a lot of money being inspired by harajuku style, but her interpretation of it was her own.

    The girls in her videos etc were paid and maybe professional models or dancers. people might be angry at how she’s portraying Asian women in her videos and music, but the actual models didn’t refuse to work with her.

    I hope you do more posts like this! Good one.


    1. Very good points Heather! I feel there decision to allow themselves to be portrayed this way is similar to black actors that were paid to play negative stereotypical roles in the mid twentieth century.

      For example, I found an article on Digg about Aunt Jemima. I learned from a history class that the original box of pancake mix had a charcoal black woman wearing a durag and blue shirt with cartoonish lips and wide eyes. Essentially, it was like having a slave in a box. I did not know as the brand grew, they were able to hire a black woman to dress and act the part. Though this is a different industry this women took money over dignity. I don’t feel like the “Harajuku girls” did this but, it’s an example of how a decision to allow yourself to be stereotyped can hurt your culture.

      I will do more post like this. Thank you for your feedback and opinion.


  3. i feel like most modern western perspectives on japanese culture tend to go that way. It’s all very gimmicky and traditional. I love harajuku girls mainly because there’s a lot of crazy but a lot of variety as well. It’s not all about lolitas and hello kitty a lot of japanese girls have unique sense of style. I don’t know much about Gwen Stefani’s music after No Doubt but i find her most recent videoclips very cartoonish so i don’t thinks she’s really trying to sell the essence of harajuku. I didn’t know her girls couldn’t speak english in public though!
    great post! xx


    1. I agree! There is so much more to Japanesse fashion than the world sees. Though she may not sell the essence of these young women, she is using the name for personal gain. You have a point about Hello Kitty. It’s a cute brand but its become very commerical and common in the United States. You see it everywhere.


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