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Hub Culture Tokyo Salon: Hot Youth

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2nd Oct 2008

Friday, 27 April 2007

In a nutshell: that whole Harajuku girl thing is gone, gone, gone and Japan is now the place to shop, shop, shop. This and other insights unfolded at Hub Culture's Tokyo Salon, held recently with a group of individuals who had a lot to say on the whims of today's global youth.

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Trends are dead. Gone. It's down to this.
For a long time Tokyo has been considered a hotbed of cultural ferment when it comes to youth culture from Japanese school girl fashion to mobile trends, and while Hub's discussion showed those areas still play a role, Tokyo has definitely moved on to a more subtle, refined feel.

And while the innovation watchers have their eye on the girls, its the boys who are the center of attention now in Tokyo. Led by the new Shibuya 109 men's center, rock and roll punk is huge and center stage, Men, go straight to the 6th, 7th and 8th floors!

Several perspectives joined for a saki-fuelled, tatami mat dinner at Teyandei, a cute private restaurant tucked into swank Nishi Azabu, Tokyo's new center of cultural gravity. High end and understated, Nishi Azabu is home to the new Tokyo a more globalized view with larger venues and cutting edge fashion, all price-tempered by Japan's recent deflationary experiences.

So who showed?

Tomo Murakami, BBH

Marc Wesseling, UltraSuperNew

Ayumi Ai, MSN

Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine

Audry Ai, Central Weddings

Charles Spreckley, BeSpoke Tokyo

Mari Kawasjee, Louis Vuitton (over lunch prior)

Dinner opened with Bryan's observation that Tokyo remains the start and end of youth culture in Japan and as goes Tokyo, so goes Japan. While the rest of the country sags into old age, Tokyo is the magnet for young Japanese and increasing numbers of nomads. The young here are not as focused on the green causes sweeping other hubs, and remain somewhat insulated from growing global ecological consciousness.

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Mixing social networking with mobile in fascinating ways
Beyond that, a new backlash against the idea of urbanization seems to be swelling, but even the lost generation (now not really categorized as youth) have rejected the economic formula of Japan's corporate state: the coolest thing now is to be individually independent.

Marc echoed a lot of others when he said "there are no longer trends", because in Tokyo at least, the cycle of adoption and rejection has accelerated to such an extent that as soon as something is identified, it is rejected. The cool kids have gone even more underground, and are totally aware that the world is watching how they dress, act and move. This has culminated in the birth of secret languages that now cover Japan incomprehensible communications via mobile and SMS.

Early forms of this were documented in Hub Culture, (the book), but it has now blossomed into sets of fully impenetrable languages that adults can not even begin to understand. Sites like mixi.jp and status builders are driving this revolution, mixing social networking with mobile in new and fascinating ways. Marc claims that the number 1 language for blogs in the world is Japanese, and they have become a daily part of mobile life for most Tokyo youth.

This has led to a massive shift in strategy for companies that wish to reach youth, putting the web at the CENTER of Japanese media and outreach strategies a recent development that has caught the old guard off guard.

Tomo echoed the death of trends angle: his work for Levis through the agency BBH has seen the brand fluctuate in popularity among young people, but even Levis is abandoning the idea of trying to guess what kids want next instead they are moving to bespoke and special productions that let customers segment themselves meaning that everything they want is uniquely, quietly available.

"People hate anything they can't get away from, and today that means advertising is despised."

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Paris Hilton head2toe in Samantha Thavasa
Ayumi was one of Japan's top trendwatchers when trendwatching was cool, but has left that world for the safer confines of MSN, which claims over 5 million users in Japan focused largely on IM. Unlike the rest of the world, the Japanese internet is largely a mobile one, so companies like MSN use it to innovate ahead of other markets. She observed that Japanese youth tend to have smaller social networks an average of 12 close friends versus as high as 30 in Spain. They spend 7-9 hours a day on mobile, and traditional TV is almost completely over. Only the old watch it.

Ayumi on idolism: "Japanese are taught to be equal, so there is less desire for fame and celebrity. The west is taught to excel, so there is intense pressure in this area. Young people see idols in Japan but don't want to be them -- although it is changing."

Switching gears, Audry weighed in on the wedding market her company Central Weddings is a Hong Kong based outfitter that deals in the best luxury brands. They are seeing soaring demand from China for occasion weddings and younger and younger customers who demand the very best. For them, its all about having the best "brands" - off the shelf is fine, and almost always by rental. Unlike older Generation X groups who "just weren't focused on marriage", they are clocking younger and younger couples taking the plunge. A security response?

One of the most interesting observations came in from Mari in the fashion arena at a seperate lunch. You wear Marc Jacobs, but what does Marc wear? Jun Takahashi. Jun's label Undercover remains the last word in cool, along with Green, Number 9, and Sosu.

Other notes: In music it's all about samurai.fm progressive Japanese beats changing the music scene in a big way. For handbags, forget Gucci, it's Samantha Thavasa, which draws from Japanese materials but links to LA celebrity culture. Private member clubs are the new rage "people don't want to mix," and clubbing is enjoying a resurgence: Womb, Yellow, Ageha and Air are all large and rocking filled with a new dance rave scene that had all but died out early in the decade, but with a definite punk flavor. Emo is everywhere!

A final note on the Nintendo Wii such different perspectives! While the Wii in the US is getting fat kids off the couch and promoting fitness through action, in Japan they use it "to keep Grandma occupied and intelligent."

What more could one ask for in one dinner? Thanks gang!