Cult of the Living Doll in Tokyo
By KAORI SHOJI
Published: February 8, 2010
TOKYO — In the West, a somewhat condescending verdict on Japanese women has long been that they are too submissive and doll-like. For close to a decade, the Japanese media have exhorted women to fight against this image by toughening up and coming into their own.
In the past year, however, that kind of talk has been increasingly fallen on deaf ears among some young women who actually aspire to look like dolls.
They are divided into two distinct genres: the increasingly popular “Mori,” or forest, girls, and the “Ageha,” or swallowtail butterfly, girls. The forest girls wear layers of thin cottony dresses, thick tights and boots, unpretentious makeup and cloth tote bags, the intention being to resemble a handmade doll from some romantic, Black Forest setting.
Forest girls unobtrusively made their debut in the Tokyo pop culture scene last spring, although at first it was hard to distinguish them from the similarly clad eco girls. But as the months went by the differences became clearer. Forest girls want to be discreet and to obliterate sexuality altogether, while eco girls are natural, sporty types who back solid environmental policies and a healthy dose of sensuality.
Midori Yokokawa, an editor at the fashion magazine Forest Girl, which was launched in October to cater to this new phenomenon, said: “Forest girls are wary of all forms of aggression or self-assertiveness. They’re just too fragile, or they would like to be that way.
“They don't want to live so much as to exist, preferably on a metaphysical level.”
The Ageha, or swallowtail butterfly, girls, began to appear in 2008 and show a similar mistrust of the real world. Their aim is to look as much as possible like the blow-up figurines men buy online, only with flamboyant makeup.
Naoko Kamijyo, 19, who lives to buy cosmetics, clothes and hairpieces, says: “I’m no great beauty, but I love to be made up. I want to change myself, to be unrecognizable. Who wants to go through life just being themselves?”
Her parents first begged her to “go back to normal,” but now they leave her alone to pursue her Barbie doll dreams.
“I get bored if I'm not made up,” said Naoko. She gets up at 5 a.m. and spends at least two hours applying false eyelashes, false hair extensions, layers of foundation and other complicated makeup procedures.
Like most Japanese women, doll impersonators stop short of cosmetic surgery.
According to the cosmetics and beauty journalist Yuko Ito: “The Japanese woman has a thing about going under the knife. They think it’s a sin against their parents. This is why they would rather opt for cosmetics and dramatic clothing. It’s also the reason behind the astonishing range of cosmetics available in this country.”
Ms. Ito has a point. The cosmetics giant Kanebo came out with a high-tech mascara that actually makes eyelashes grow longer (if only for a couple of hours), and Shiseido has long sold products to whiten Japanese skin to the palest possible shade of ivory.
“The Japanese woman isn’t interested in just any makeup product,” said Ms. Ito. “These must enhance her looks while at the same time treat and whiten her skin, elongate eyelashes, puff up lips, etc.”
But it’s not just the cosmetics that make the look. The clothes matter too.
“I like it when everything about me feels artificial,” said Kiyomi, 23, who likes to buy her clothes at Jesus Diamante, a boutique specializing in the Ageha look.
Kiyomi claimed she never leaves home unless she is wearing mules decorated with rose buds, her yellow-dyed hair in rococo coils framing her face and her chest enhanced by thick gel pads stashed inside her bra.
For all that, however, Kiyomi doesn’t have a boyfriend and spends her free evenings swapping fashion info with a circle of Ageha friends.
“I’d love to date, but I rarely get the opportunity,” she sighed. “The sad thing about being an Ageha is that most men prefer more natural-looking girls and we’re not into that at all.”
This seems to be the downside for wannabe dolls: Few men are actually willing to knock on their doors. Both Moris and Agehas remain minorities, too cultish for the layman to understand and too technically difficult to easily emulate. Consequently they have about them the whiff of a secret society.
At Jesus Diamante, where lacey lingerie is laid out atop a pink bed, photo-taking of anything, including the extravagantly made-up sales staff, is taboo.
“It makes sense,” said Kiyomi. “Dolls shouldn’t need to talk, much less explain anything.”