The following post is a translation of an article featured on fashionsnap here: Original Japanese article
The original has a lot of pictures so check that out too and give them their hits!
Before starting this assignment I happily told everyone “I’m going to meet a ganguro gal!” but the response everyone gave me was: “They still exist?”
Though there were large numbers of ganguro gals whose numbers in the late 90s, they vanished into thin air in the late 2000s.
The ganguro gal I was talking about meeting is Erimokkori-chan (24). And she isn’t lying when when she tells me “I’m probably the last gal”.
Born: February 4th 1993
From: Tsugamachi, Tochigi Prefecture
She has been ganguro since being introduced to the style in her first year of middle school. She is the leader of the gal circle unit BLACK DIAMOND and store manager of Shibuya’s Ganguro Cafe. She frequently appears in magazines, films, music videos, TV and other media.
10 years ago she declared “I want to do it so I’ll do it” and she’s been ganguro ever since. More than just ganguro, she is probably the last remaining true spirit of gal.
What’s the spirit of gal? We called on Erimokkori-chan in her hometown of Tsugamachi to find out.
Gal style blew up in the late 90s, putting the spotlight on the shop staff of 109 with their miniskirts, platform boots, long brown(or sometimes blonde) hair and dark skin.
To my memory, ganguro was a term made of two parts. “Gan” which is for emphasis and “Kuro” (black).
Being as dark as possible, going to the tanning salon a lot and having the flashy hair and make-up to match that dark skin was ganguro (or yamanba, an even more extreme version)
Even back then people would stare at the ganguro gals and make comments like “what is that?” “It it okay doing that?” but in defiance of that the girls continued in their style, becoming even more extreme.
However, by the end of the 2000s, the tines turned to more simple styling and even the more extreme girls graduated from gal. From black to white. From extreme to sweet. The definition of gal began to change and here we are today.
“It’s precisely because it’s this day and age that I’m gal” claims Erimokkori-chan. It’s been over 10 years since she became ganguro in middle school.
“When I joined middle school I saw two of my upperclassmen who were ganguro and thought it was so cute I wanted to be like them. It was shocking”
She says she wasn’t a very confident child. I wore the clothes my parents bought for me, wore my hair the way my parents did it for me. I didn’t really have anything I wanted to do and looking back I couldn’t say the things I wanted to my friends.
She entered middle school around the end of the ganguro boom. However, after that fateful meeting, Erimokkori-chan started taking the train to the tanning salon in Koyama city.
“If your skin isn’t dark you aren’t gal. Even if your hair is died, nails are done, if your skin is still white you’re just half-assing it”
Sometimes she would ride her bike there 2 hours both ways.
“I wore the clothes my upperclassmen didn’t need anymore. That’s how I would save money so could tan for at least tan for 10 minutes”
It’s not surprising that her parents were against it at first. They banned her from going outside when people would be about and were constantly throwing away her clothes.
Despite that it’s probably thanks to the support of her close friends that she became stronger.
“Almost everyone looked kind of Yankee but I didn’t think that was cute. Everyone was riding around on big scooters at festivals and such but I was the only gal. It felt weird lol. Even though just I was the only one that was different we still got on great. We’re still close now”
It isn’t just the harsh eyes of the world that make it hard to be ganguro. It costs a lot too.
To start, 10cm long decorated nails cost around 25,000 yen a time. Extra strength hair bleach is 30,000-40,000 yen a session too. Tanning salons cost at least 20,000yen a session but if you don’t go frequently it’s impossible to upkeep the dark tan. When you pile top of that, circle lenses, makeup and clothes that rack up to around 20,000-30,000 yen, the monthly upkeep costs are enormous.
More than that, it takes a lot of time too.
“Normal people spend 3-4 hours getting their hair done at a stretch right? When you are ganguro you go to the salon at 10am and you won’t be done till 8 or 9pm. Nails take all day too. When normal people say have a ‘beauty day’ they mean getting hair, nails, maybe a facial all in one day but that would be impossible for me. Obviously on those days I can’t go to work.”
Even at the best of times, it’s hard to be a ganguro gal. As time has passed, there are less places to go, people to hang out with, resources to use, and it is getting even harder to be a gal.
The tanning salon Erimokkori-chan has used for the past ten years raised it’s prices. The circle lenses and dark makeup she uses are also gradually going out of production. Gal clothing brands are disappearing one after another so now she has to rework clothes or make them from scratch herself.
“As the times change it is getting really hard to survive. Back then many other people were gal too and there were clothes and things so it was easier to be I think. But I guess back then it was considered more ‘normal’ wasn’t it? Now, girls that do gal are individuals, girls that don’t want to be like everybody else, girls that are daring do gal. Probably back in those days I would have chosen a more simple style. ”
Despite the hardships, as the leader of the gal circle BLACK DIAMOND she has gained a lot of admirers from her appearances on twitter and in the media.
“To those girls I say ‘Do what you want when you want or you’ll regret it’ but a lot of them say ‘Oh but my parents/school…’ or ‘I live in the country so I don’t know what people will think of me’. But, if you are worried about things like that you can’t be gal. You don’t have the heart of a gal, I feel.”
“I want to do it so I’m doing it” That is a gal’s heart.
However, perhaps these days people think more about fashion or what other people think than following their hearts.
“A lot of girls want to be popular with guys. Before, a younger member of BLACK DIAMOND appeared on TV with me. When she was asked ‘What kind of gal do you want to be?’ she said “I want to tan but still be popular with guys. I don’t want to be so dark guys don’t like me”. As soon as you start talking about what guys like, you aren’t thinking like a gal. The darker you are the cuter you are and rather than getting guys, doing what you want is key. That’s why I say something has changed.”
Not that what other people think is not important, just there is a time and a place to consider it. It isn’t wrong to want to be liked. However, “What happens when it stops you from being true to yourself…?” she wonders. “Isn’t fashion supposed to be a tool for self expression?”.
Of course there are downsides to being so true to yourself.
Firstly, you can’t meet guys says Erimokkori-chan.
“Guys I like tend to hate gals. I’ve heard things like ‘If you were regular…’ ‘If you were more subtle then we could date but I would be bothered walking around with you like that’. But if you feel that way about my outer appearance then whatever. Of course I also have times where I feel that clearly being gal is no good and everyone prefer simple styles”
As she gets older she feels conflicted. One of the 3 super dark flashy girls in the circle got married this year and graduated from gal. She even returned to her home town which as a big blow.
Before that girl went back home the 3 of them had a tear-filled retirement ceremony for her. There is only Erimokkori-chan and one other girl doing this flashy style left. It’s lonely.
“After I turned 20 I started thinking about when I have to give up gal a lot. I turn 25 this year and I’m starting to think about marriage and stuff…
Maybe it’s a weird sense of responsibility but I am the leader and I wonder if without someone doing flashy styles like me will the group would be able to attract members? I thought I should make the group bigger before I quit.”
What is Erimokkori-chan aiming for by keeping gal alive?
“I think I want to increase the amount of gals. Rather than making it trendy again, I just think there are too many people that say “Even though I want to do it I won’t”. Besides, I think gal is the cutest style and I like gal so I think it would be nice to have more people that think the same and do the style.”
I ask “What kind of grandmother do you want to be?”. Only later do I realise how foolish a question it was.
Erimokkori-chan, as I guess I should have expected, said “I haven’t thought about it! I have no idea!”
Gal is all about living for the now after all.
If you want to meet her go to Shibuya Cafe!
Erimokkori-chan works at ‘Ganguro Cafe’. You can meet BLACK DIAMOND’s ganguro gal members too! You can try ganguro makeup. You can also take pictures with the members.