BLACK DIAMOND // / by sophie green

Sharing a little story I shot of 'Ayu' in Tokyo last year who is a member of the Ganguro 'Black Diamond' subculture. Ganguro is an alternative fashion trend among young Japanese women that started in the mid 1990s by rebellious youth who contradicted the traditional Japanese concept of beauty; pale skin, dark hair and neutral makeup tones. Ganguro instead tanned their skin, bleached their hair and used colourful makeup in striking ways. The Ganguro trend reached its peak by the end of a decade, it then became almost obsolete by early 2000 when a ‘Bihaku’ craze emerged among young women who wanted to imitate the look of their favourite popular singers. However there are still over 100 Ganguro’s survivors who call themselves the ‘Black Diamonds’ who are swimming against the conventional fashion current in Japan today, keen to revive the Ganguro subculture.

Ayu – “While gal culture takes a variety of forms, I'm affiliated with the Ganguro genre, an original Japanese culture which isn’t just about style and beauty but a way of life. Whilst some Gyaru’s came and went with the fashion wave a while ago, Gyaru’s still exist and continue against the fashion trends and have strong policies and mind-sets. I knew about the Ganguro since the beginning, I wrote to their blogs, those Ganguro’s I met were my entry-point to the culture, it's liberating to connect with like-minded people and we all became fast friends. I've been part of this community for fourteen years. Some people have really taken to the Ganguro aesthetic, they'll see us on the street and rush over in amazement. The whole package is key but the most important is having dark skin, there is the showy makeup, hairdos, and nails. If you don't show skin, you're not a gal, Japanese people like tanned skin, it’s unusual. Our style wouldn’t be able to continue if we cared about how others thought of us all the time. ‘You only live once’ - there is quite a bit of this kind of mind-set in Gyaru’s – this idea that you only have one life, so you have to ‘seize the moment’ and enjoy it to the full without worrying about how you look to others. I just want to stay true to myself. However we're a minority and we are misunderstood by society. We are used to people hurling abuse and even garbage at us. I guess you could say we all have great skill for just not caring about those kinds of things. It's as though we're treated as sub-human, even though we have hearts, some people really think we're strange. People judge by appearances and those who want to spend time with the real me don't care about that. My boyfriend is a normal guy, so there have been problems. He doesn't mind introducing me to his seniors, but some people might think he's an odd-ball but he's dating me for the person I am inside. Thanks to the internet, there are girls all over the world who admire Gyaru fashion. I would be thrilled if someone told me that meeting me has changed the way they appreciate our culture.”