Last Halloween, ten Tokyoites showed up at the Kawasaki parade dressed like something out of Victorian H. G. Wells’ vision of a sci-fi future. They caused a stir in the media, appearing on Nippon TV’s morning show Zip! among others. Representing a style known as “steampunk,” they were accompanied by a small wave washing up on the Tokyo shores: TV coverage, scene bibles like Steampunk Oriental Laboratory (in two volumes), the appearance of UK brand Corset’s steampunk series in select stores, and a few other creakings that this massive global trend was starting to flex its retro-machined muscles.
But with annual conventions in the US drawing thousands of attendees, and IBM naming steampunk the biggest trend for 2013-14 in fashion and interior design, why is the global capital of street fashion and cosplay lagging behind? Is 2013 the year steampunk takes off in Tokyo?
In Japan, the steampunk aesthetic is rife in pop-culture. Notable examples are Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, especially Howl’s Moving Castle, and the Final Fantasy game series (especially FFIX), which combines Disneyesque princesses and castles with airships and heavy machinery. Initially a Western literary concoction of fantasy and science fiction, the genre has evolved and infiltrated international art, fashion, cinema and music. Influenced by the novels of H. G. Wells, Charles Dickens, and Jules Verne (among others), steampunk fiction is often set at the dawn of the industrial age (most typically the British Victorian era or America’s Wild West). It embraces the eras’ dream of infinite possibility and fuses it with the knowhow of modern technology, giving rise to a re-designing of the past—or re-imagining of the future. Western steampunkers often buy regular clothes and modify them to their needs, or make them from scratch. Over here, the majority of subculture fans buy brand name goods and only accessorize with handmade items.“Steampunk won’t get any recognition in Japan until there’s a steampunk-specific brand—for better or for worse,” say rock band Strange Artifact, who seem to be leading the movement here in Japan, along with several others. Among these is Rui Itsumi, a young and recent convert to the style, who creates ingenious accessories and stunning outfits. She was initially into Gothic Lolita fashion in junior high, but about two years ago found a steampunk website by chance when searching for information on how to make a corset.
“After I started exploring some blogs, I found that steampunk was closer to my own aesthetic: romance, adventure and history. It challenges my creative side more and I don’t have to be a silent princess,” she says.
Another promoter and supporter of the trend is D’s Valentine of Artism (www.artism.jp), an organization dedicated to promoting underground subculture groups such as Goths, club kids and various fetishists. Valentine is also the publisher of Alamode magazine and organizes its related events, which are places for artists to meet, collaborate and promote themselves. Most recently, Alamode held a steampunk fashion show as part of one of their live events—with a surprisingly large turnout. The combined growing interest in the style along with the collaboration of other subculture groups may prove to be Japan’s ticket to board the steampunk express.
haberdasheryHardcore steampunks will often design and construct their own accessories, but for those in Tokyo less inclined to blowtorch a hole in paper walls, there are alternatives. Many stores in Harajuku, Shimokitazawa and Koenji carry much-needed accessories and watches. Elsewhere, neophytes might peruse some of these tinkerers’ shops.
The owners of A Story have organized steampunk events and exhibitions in-store. Creators of “stories,” they make and sell handmade watches and jewelry with antique effects. Designer Tomoko Tokuda’s fascinating, intricate jewelry can also be bought via their online store http://heavenscafe.net. 3-27-14 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-6315-3656. http://handmade-watch.com
Ken’s Shop boasts metal works, antiques, custom-made rings and silver accessories in all forms. Check out their beer tabs, pencils and made-to-order wedding/couple rings. Ken’s lavish, exclusive and personal artistic talents can be coordinated to realize any customers’ designs. 2-4-6 Kichijoji Minamicho, Musashino-shi. Tel: 0422-47-1855. www.kens.nu
Designer Haruo Suekichi has made his name as one of the hottest artists in the global subculture. His intricate and painstaking works can fetch anything from ¥15,000 in the store to ten times that amount on eBay and Yahoo auctions. Though Suekichi started making watches unaware of the steampunk genre, he has since moved on to create staples such as goggles and shoulder armor. Part of his appeal is the mystery that surrounds him and his works. He’s difficult to get in touch with directly, but if you’re lucky, you may find some of his items on sale in the Setagaya area. Tabatha: 2-13-13 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-5430-1247. Seiyo Hyakkaten: 2-25-8 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-3468-7000
Poorman’s Gold Label offers handmade leather items by Mary and 130JET, of the band Strange Artifact. Their brand of leather accessories can be found online, at their live shows or at certain Artism events (http://strangeartifact.cart.fc2.com). From April, they will be available at Sanrio Puroland’s The Nursery, in collaboration with the Alice in Wonderland-themed shop Arundel. If you want to appraise the goods in person, visit their shop in Jiyugaoka. Jiyugaoka Es Bldg 3F, 2-13-3 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku
Kraken These apparently goggle-sporting octopodes are legendary sea monsters found in 13th-century Nordic sagas and mentioned in Jules Verne’s 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. H. G. Wells’ Martians and H. P. Lovecraft’s monsters also had similar features. Kraken make prolific appearances in SP fashion as accessories.
Goggles Practical and stylish, this ubiquitous steampunk accessory could also be handy this spring to protect against raging pollen.
Ray gun/pistol Fantasy history is a dangerous place (see kraken).
Gears Take a clock, break it. Pilfer the gears and attach them to your outfit. Voila!
Top Hat What any discerning gentleman or lady of good taste would wear.
Mod S’wot you do to make your clothes and accessories fit the bill.
Tea Dueling The nouveau Victorian art of dipping a biscuit into a cup of tea for five seconds, then proceeding to eat it more quickly and most importantly, more neatly than one’s opponent. Dropping of biscuits back in the teacup, on the floor or onto one’s person equals defeat. See The Honorable Association of Tea Duelists website for your edification: http://teaduel.yolasite.com
GOINGS ONWant to get out and meet some folks in the scene? Well do ya, steampunk? Goggle up and head out to some of these gatherings of the faithful.
Party in the park with gears and flowers at Sakura Steampunk—no retro-future dress code enforced, but drinks, snacks and food to share are both welcome and encouraged. Attendees are welcome to come in their best outfit and to bring samples of steampunk-related works (accessories, props, literature) to show off or demonstrate. Photo shoots with some steampunktacular attendees will be accommodated. Yoyogi Park, Sun Apr 7, 11am at JR Harajuku Station (Omotesando Exit). RSVP by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post to the Facebook group page: http://meturl.com/steampunksakura2013
Steampunk aficionados from all over Japan will be attending Artism Market for a fashion spectacular of epic proportions. There will be a dedicated area for enthusiasts to hunt for pieces for their retro arsenal. Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Trade Center, Apr 20.
The bi-annual international art and design expo, Design Festa, features designs, fashion and art from every possible source. Poorman’s Gold Label will be present, selling their leather craft goods. Tokyo Big Sight, May 18-19.
Antique Jamboree is the largest antique and toy collectible show in Japan, with antiques from all over the world. Tokyo Big Sight, Aug 3-4.
Combining period set pieces and food, Antiques the Globe features glorious décor and a treasure trove of interior goods, furniture and sweets. 2-7-8 Ikejiri, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-5430-3662. www.globe-antiques.com
Located in a large, two-floor atrium that previously housed a Meiji-period bank, Café 1894 has wooden pillars supporting its intricately paneled ceiling, and large windows letting in the light. It offers seasonal Western-style dishes made from Tokyo-grown vegetables and other Japanese ingredients. Look out for menu collaborations with the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum Tokyo (MIMT) in which the café is housed; such as the Clark exhibition tie-up, with a main of sautéed shrimp and scallop, accompanied by three different hors d’oeuvres (¥1,680, plus ¥300 for a drink set). Sweet-toothed punters should look at the dessert menu, featuring delicacies like the walnut chiffon cake, served with a dark chocolate sauce, to be poured on “as a painter covering his canvas” (¥880). Nearby in the same building find Store 1894, with no collection-specific items, and a variety of Chocolat Bonnat bars from France (¥1,155 each).
2-6-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda Mon-Thu, Sat-Sun & hols 11am-11pm, Fri 11am-2am Tel: 03-3212-7156. http://mimt.jp/cafe1894