Gyaru is a street fashion that, despite originating from Japan, has grown massively over the years in the Western world. But are there differences between foreign gyaru, also known as gaijin gyaru, to Japanese gyaru? I had a chat with Shiena who is one of the OG gals, having been interested in gyaru for nearly 20 years, on her experiences between living in Japan and being amongst Japanese gyaru, to the Western gyaru community.
Hey Shiena! Thank you so much for joining me today. Let’s start with the basics – what is your gyaru story?
I first found out about gyaru in 2001 at the screening of Super Gals! I was inspired by the main character’s fashion sense and carefree attitude. I wanted to become gyaru back then too but lacked the resources so I became yankii instead. Haha. I then tried out a few other styles along the way until I came full circle back to gyaru in 2007 after purchasing my first issue of Popteen at the local Japanese bookstore. Shortly after, I picked up issues of Ageha too. These two magazines were special to me because it was my first-time seeing magazines that had girls who looked like me with an aesthetic that spoke to me.
Gosh, 2007?! You’re an OG gyaru! I bet the gyaru community (and doing gyaru in the West in general) has changed a lot since then – what was it like back in the day?
We had a small group of maybe about 20 of us from all over the world. The highest concentration of gyaru were in America and gyaruo (the male version of gyaru) in France. I’m not entirely sure how gyaru gained traction in the west since there was no YouTube, no Instagram and no smartphones then. Our only resources were magazines. Our community was on LiveJournal called Everyday Gyaru and a discussion board called Richoche. I believe Everyday Gyaru was the beginning of posting coords online. Buying gyaru clothes was difficult. We were at the mercy of import stores that sold gyaru brands for 3-5x the price, eBay sellers or going to Japan.
Wow! It’s amazing how you were able to create an online community though despite not having social media, and I remember the days of Everyday Gyaru as I think that’s where I first found the community, too. Do you miss the days of having online forums?
Not particularly. I feel our Facebook community “Sekai no Gyarusa” covers a lot of the things the forums used to cover like baby gals’ questions etc. I do kind of miss there being more gals in my area though!
What was gyaru culture and lifestyle in Japan like during the old days?
Gyaru culture in Japan is a mix of fashion and lifestyle. Different eras of gyaru have come and gone throughout the years but the main thing always remained was that it’s a gyaru’s nature to speak her mind (mostly in slang), go all out in her makeup, clothes and hair, and party. “Get wild, be sexy!” will always be at the heart of every gyaru.
In my experience, during the 2010s era of gyaru, there wasn’t much of an online community. We either met during circle meet-ups, events run by event circles or club events. There were mobile phone blogs and anon forums here and there but there wasn’t much of an online community. I was shocked to find out the average Japanese person didn’t own a computer. It wasn’t until smartphones that the Japanese started to really start using social media heavily. Outside of gyaru circles, there wasn’t as much of a tight knit community like we have in the West. Within a circle, older members will always try to help new members tweak their style much like we do in our community.
Ooh yes – tell me more about gyaru circles and about your experience being part of a gyaru circle!
(Note to reader – a gyaru circle is kind of like a small tight-knit group that has a name… Much like a rock band! e.g. I’m co-leader of the UK gyaru circle QueenE)
I was part of one of the first (if not possibly the first) gaijin gyarusa “BulakLak Tribe” before I later became part of Shibuya gyaru-sa “Love Gal’s”.
One of the members of BT recruited me and was the whole reason why I started posting coord and makeup pics online. If it weren’t for Shawna, I probably wouldn’t have been part of the online community until a lot later– if at all. BT was structured exactly like the way Tokyo gyaru-sas were: monthly payments (so we can pool the money to make an event), graduations, year 1,2,3 system. While not as strict as a Tokyo gyaru-sas, it was significantly structured nonetheless.
Despite gyaru being individualistic, outspoken, party animals, circle life was very structured. You had a leader, year 3, 2, and 1. You must speak to your seniors and OG/OB (past graduated circle members) in polite speech and your juniors in casual. Because Japanese society looks down on gyaru, gyaru-sa members worked hard against this stereotype by doing acts of good deeds like cleaning up the streets of Shibuya from litter and trying not to block the streets after events. It wouldn’t be uncommon for leaders to scold members if they fell out of line.
That reminds me of Ran Kotobuki and her friends trying to clean up the streets of Shibuya in the Gals! manga (although for Ran it was more so that she can buy new nails haha). What do you think about having a gyaru lifestyle? Is there such a thing?
I think because you can’t dye your hair lighter than dark brown for most serious OL (Office Lady) jobs, and the fact that Japan is so strict with being too flashy in general, the majority of gyaru in Japan probably have a “well I already can’t have a normal life so may as well dress and be how I want every day.” So if you already can’t have a regular OL job why only save being gyaru just for weekends? You would rarely find any gyaru who is only gyaru part time unless she wore a wig. However, outside of schoolgirls, this wig-on-the-weekdays gyaru is rare. They tend to take up jobs that allow them to be gyaru which is usually limited to night work, food/beverage, apparel, hair/makeup/nails, and IT.
In contrast, the rules are a lot less strict in the West so if you modify just a little, i.e. wear natural makeup and dress office casual but keep your blonde hair, you can still have a normal job. Can’t dress gyaru everyday but can still have a regular job without having to dye your hair black. So more opt out to settling to be just gyaru on the weekends. It also could be due to lack of accessibility for certain gyaru essential goods and imports being expensive or the pool of interested people are being spread thinly over various different fashions like Lolita or Larme kei, Fairy kei etc.
So what do you think are the main differences between Japanese vs Gaijin Gyaru?
Each member of the communities are unique and different but here are some trends I’ve noticed that tended to be common amongst each of the groups:
- Gather and socialise predominately at parties/events/clubs
- Geographically close together
- Most are extraverted
- Enter through an interest in fashion, makeup, hair. Often introduced to gyaru via magazines, media or classmates.
- Mostly homogenous
- Strict and highly structured gyarusa
- Try to keep up with the current trends. Kurogyaru and Manba are the only ones who tend to stay in their favourite era
- Most are lifestylers – very few gyaru are only part-time
- Prone to heavy party lifestyle and very social. Though New Gen gals might be more low-key than previous generations due to the internet influencer era
- Gather and socialize predominately online
- Geographically spread out
- Most are Introverted
- Most enter through an interest in Anime, cosplay, games and other J-fashion that fundamentally completely different than gyaru. Often introduced to gyaru via online communities, social media or Anime conventions.
- More carefree gyaru-sa
- Wear whatever era of gyaru they like most
- Some are lifestylers though many wear gyaru only on special occasions, on the weekend
- Prone to more low key hobbies such as gaming, watching anime or Netflix, and cafe hopping
That’s really interesting to see the differences between the two communities, especially when it comes to lifestyle (as I’ll admit that I am one of those who only goes out fully gal on the weekend). Do you think there is more pressure in the West to be gyaru, and that gaijin gyaru have to be really good at it in order to be recognised as gyaru?
Yes and no. I feel like there’s more pressure in some ways because non-Asian faces have a different bone structure so it’s harder for softer styles to look gyaru on them.
The rest, I feel, is perceived pressure. Most gyaru in Japan enter the fashion and lifestyle through an interest in makeup and fashion whereas gyaru in the West often come from non-fashion/makeup related interests so the learning curve can feel steeper. Gyaru in Japan have organic pressure in the sense of you want to stand out and be cute for your peers. You want to be seen as trendy and cute. You see other girls around you doing certain makeup techniques and hair styles and you want to do them too. They have each other and immersion to bounce off of. So maybe another girl may not say directly your makeup needs work, but you will naturally feel it as you see others around you.
I suppose it also helps that both Japanese and gaijin communities are quite open to giving and accepting critique in order for everyone to “improve”.
Gosh, thank you so much for such an insightful chat! It’s crazy how different our communities are and how we view gyaru, and to hear it from someone who has had experience in both Japan and outside of Japan. One last thing before we go (and it’s a question that I ask all of the people I interview) – what is your favourite dessert?
Raspberry mousse cake.
Oooh lovely choice!
And that’s all for today! I hope you enjoyed reading this as I did, and that this has helped you learn more about the differences between Japanese and gaijin gyaru communities. Please feel free to ask any questions below.