FANTASTIC VOYAGE: Japan’s 2009 at a Glance


A new political party in power, another World Baseball Classic title, a Japanese movie winning an Oscar, the yen soaring to the highest yen-to-dollar rate in decades, North Korea continuing its nuclear tests, and Obama making his first trip to Japan as president. These are some of the biggest events of the past year in Japan. Most of these issues have probably graced the international pages of a newspaper at some point or other in the U.S. But there was more news in Japan that received equal airtime here that probably didn’t make it overseas: The crazy trends.

It seems that anything marketed properly can turn into the next “big thing.” In Japan, these trends and fads are usually called “booms,” such as the “no-gyaru boom” or the “mori-garu boom.”

To start with, the no-gyaru boom (農ギャル) combines two ideas: farming/agriculture (no) and young women (gyaru) with a unique fashion — usually emphasizing heavy makeup and stylized hair — particularly popular to Harajuku, Tokyo. As you can probably imagine, this means that farming and agriculture has been popular among young women. This ranges from gardening at home to actually going out and farming. There are even no-gyaru tours where you can go to a farm and experience harvesting rice.

My hat goes off to the genius farmers who managed to pull this off. Watching young women pay to do your work for you definitely sounds like the way to go.

On the heels of the no-gyaru is the mori-gaaru (森ガール), which means “forest garu.” This is a current fashion where women strive to look, well, like they are from the woods. According to mixi, a social networking site (like a Japanese Facebook), some characteristics of a mori-garu are: wears warm colors, wears fuzzy/furry hats, layers, moves slowly and gracefully, and carries leather bags. The site even details what a mori-garu lifestyle and personality is like, including: enjoys relaxing at coffee shops, feels an attraction/appeal to old things, and likes to stroll with a camera in one hand.

Probably the strangest fad this year was the butsuzou boom (仏像ブーム), which was about people going to see Buddhist statues. One statue in particular, the Ashura Statue from Nara’s Kofukuji Temple, has been particularly popular, with articles even appearing in famous fashion magazines!

I forgot where I read it, but I remember reading about a young woman who was caught up in the butsuzou boom. She claimed that she admired the buddha’s physique more than any particular religious attraction.

In addition to Buddhist statues, history in general has become popular, leading to one of this year’s top 10 buzz words: rekijo (歴女). Rekijo is used to describe women who are interested in history. They will often take trips by themselves or with other rekijo to historical sites in Japan.

It actually started from a video game called “Sengoku Basara,” where you control characters that are based off of historical figures. Many liberties have been taken between the game and the history (the men are made to look very handsome), contributing to the popularity among young women. It moved on from a video game to a manga and anime, and many other promotional tie-ins have followed to take advantage of the boom.

But as strange as a historical boom may be, it’s timely in that 2010 marks the 1,300th anniversary of Nara as the capital of Japan. There are going to be historical events throughout the year aimed at pulling thousands or even millions of tourists into Nara. There have been electronic countdown billboards since last year as well as a TV drama and special commemorative characters to promote the anniversary.

We had some interesting ups and downs in 2009. But I’m looking forward to what 2010 may bring! Happy New Year!

Jeff Asai, a Yonsei originally from Northern California’s South Bay Area, writes from the town of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, Japan, where he is teaching English in the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. He can be reached via e-mail at

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