Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Ganguro Girls (ガングロ) and Sexual Liberation

           The focus on the group mentality and the social order of politeness in Japan compared to the more hedonistic culture in the West makes in exceptionally challenging for Japanese people to stand out in any way. Those with outlandish fashion choices, tattoos, and piercing have a difficult time maintain a steady career, or getting one to begin with, because of the stigma around their appearance. In urban Japan one subculture that has gained attention in the media during the 1990s was the ガングロ(ganguro) girls and ヤマンバ (yamanda) girls characterized by their unnaturally tanned skin, bleached hair, and white rings around their eyes and mouth. They were considered to be racial and cultural traitors to Japan by defying the eugenics program that sees Japanese women solely as vessels of national ethnicity (Kinsella).

              In spite of the discrimination they face ganguro girls gain a sense of agency by being free to act in a more brazen and liberating manner. Evidence of this is clear in Sharon Kinsella’s article Black Faces, Witches, and Racism aganist Girls when she quotes Yamane Kazuma stating, “The active mode of girls today is similar to that of Latin People in the South…Southern people are extremely cheerful, happy-go-lucky, and hedonistic. Sexually liberated too, they act almost as if they had never experienced suffering”(Ibid., 150). Against the abuse they face from men for not looking traditionally Japanese the ganguro and yamanba girls are free to embrace their sexuality and live a life for themselves instead working for the state to make the nation ethnically pure. . In Japan skin tone is very racialized with each tone being associated with a distinct set of characteristics. Darker skin is seen as taboo and inferior, because this is equivalent to non-Japanese ideals about sex and sexuality. Simply by changing their physical appearance these girls are automatically stereotyped as promiscuous and can use this as an advantage to have sex for pleasure instead of to produce offspring. Embracing this hedonistic lifestyle is the trade-off for being put in a financially unstable position. 

Kinsella , Sharon. “Black Faces, Witches and Racism Against Girls .” Bad Girls of Japan . New York, NY: Palgrace Macmillan , 2005. 142–157. Print. 

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