Milk Spilled Over from the Heavens Above Turned into a Small Little Shop?! : MILK, Harajuku, and Kawaii Culture ––The Kawaii Theory 2.0 #9

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Milk Spilled Over from the Heavens Above Turned into a Small Little Shop?! : MILK, Harajuku, and Kawaii Culture ––The Kawaii Theory 2.0 #9

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So far in these series, we’ve followed the trajectory of “kawaii”(“cute”) culture since its appearance in consumerist society from the 1970s. Consumerist society turned “kawaii” into a symbol and then through commercialization, and continued to revamp and reinvent it to target girls’ desires. Up until now, we’ve seen how media aimed at girls, such as an・an, JJ, and Olive all played a role during this time. All of a sudden the “kawaii” movement was dominating Japan’s youth culture, which I have proposed calling the First Kawaii Revolution, or First Cute Revolution.

Read the previous volume/

Following Seiko Matsuda, Idols Come Programmed with Cuteness : The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory vol.8

Read older posts
vol.1 : Finding Where “Cuteness” Currently Lies
vol.2 : What is the Exact Origin of “Kawaii”?
vol.3 : Kawaii Culture Didn’t Exist at the Beginning of the Modern Age?!
vol.4 : Consumerist Society and the Birth of “Kawaii” Culture
vol.5 : The Word “Kawaii” Becomes Just for Girls, to Re-affirm Their Girliness
Vol.6 : The Magazine “Olive” Made Japanese Girls Aware of The Rare Value of Girlhood and Maidenhood
Vol.7 : Just Who Exactly Was Momoe Yamaguchi, the Popular Idol Who “Sang” Realistic Stories About Everyday People?

The First Kawaii Revolution, broadcast alongside idols on TV, was able to complete its first mission. At this point the 80s end and the 90s begin. Here, a different “kawaii” culture from that in the past begins to take shape. This is where the story of the Second Kawaii Revolution starts.

The story of Olive’s kind of romantic “kawaii” ceases to continue on as it had before. The idol craze began to wane, and it was countered and replaced by singer songwriters and punk rock bands who were making waves in the charts. The consumerist targets the First Kawaii Revolution had created had suddenly stopped appealing to people’s desires.

Olive magnif

Olive’s kind of romantic “kawaii” / magnif


That said, there is no lapse between the First Kawaii Revolution and the Second. Moreover, the Second Kawaii Revolution isn’t born out of rejecting the First. Instead, the latter takes shape and makes its advance by improving, or “updating”, the former.

So, this means there needed to be some kind of bridge between the two. But who, exactly?

Let’s go back in time a little bit. During the “kawaii” culture of the 70s, there was one brand that was born out of Harajuku. On this particular brand’s homepage, which is still around today, you can read the story of its birth, which should be aptly titled, “Genesis”.

“It all started with something that happened in 1970. Up in the skies of the Heavens, visible to no man, God had just finished breakfast and was drinking the rest of his milk. Plip, plop… The glass slipped out of his hand and drops of milk spilled out of it into Harajuku. “This is terrible!”said God, and so in the spot of Harajuku where all the milk had fallen, God put a magical store there for girls called MILK.”

Screenshot from MILK website

Screenshot from MILK website

At MILK, the tiny shop made from the milk that spilled over from the heavens, Director Hitomi Okawa’s designs attracted much attention, and soon the shop became a big hit. The milk color-based women’s clothing made by Okawa were bursting with individuality not seen in other Japanese brands, and immediately captivated girls across the country who wanted to be cute. The inside of the shop was also the same, simple milky color, and its narrow three-mat size made it feel safe and secure like a little girl’s room. It was the first time Harajuku culture and “kawaii” culture had been meshed together.

Today, Harajuku is full of fancy shops and famous Japanese brands, and the place to feel closest to “kawaii” in Tokyo. However, when Okawa first set up her shop there, it only had a handful of goods and coffee shops, and its streets were not nearly as lively as they are now. Nonetheless, along with MILK there was Leon, a café where creative-types would gather, and the Harajuku Central Apartments that cultured types would use as offices, and out of these cultural magnetic fields you could say that the Harajuku culture that continues on today was born.

“Harajuku is a great place, with the kind of free atmosphere that invites you in with a ‘Welcome’. In grown up terms, it’s got the same feel as everyone’s favorite pub. For young adults, at every corner there’s a shop catering to their interests and hobbies, and there they can freely talk about them without it being seen as strange. ”

For example, Kyoko Koizumi in her essay, “One-Hundred Scenes of Harajuku”, reflects on her youth spent there, writing about the day she casually went in to MILK and became acquainted with Ms. Okawa. Once in an interview, fashion designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, who had a huge influence on Tokyo street fashion in the 80s, nostalgically talked about how he would visit the MILK atelier shop everyday.

In short, Harajuku’s “kawaii” culture started with MILK, and grew along with it. Then as the brand matured in the 90s, MILK remained as a guardian of this “kawaii” culture.

Then in the 90s, so-called “blue letter” magazines were launched one after another. These blue letter magazines were different from the feminine-seeking “red letter” magazines (named after the red letters used for their titles) like JJ and an・an that came before them, and were aimed at casual girls, featuring street fashion from Harajuku and the like. Next time we’ll take a closer look at the relationship between blue letter magazines and “kawaii” culture, where you’ll see that MILK appeared a number of times in CUTiE, a leader among these magazines. I’ll introduce to you MILK’s special feature in its April 1990 edition, titled “I think I’m in love with MILK”. The model dressed in this feature’s MILK fashion is Riho Makise, although she was still unknown during this time. Even Soen, a well-established magazine and medium for Japanese women’s high fashion style that just welcomed its 80th anniversary, featured a 20-page editorial on Hitomi Okawa for their April 1990 issue.

But why was MILK able to lead the way for “kawaii” culture? In the sixth volume of this series, I wrote about the “Olive girl”. If we take another look at its details, it’s apparent that MILK had exactly the same elements admired by Olive girls. It had ruffles and fantastical designs. It was similar to Paris and London street fashion. The brand paid extra attention to its accessories and goods. MILK was the direction that Olive girls had set their sights on.

The Magazine “Olive” Made Japanese Girls Aware of The Rare Value of Girlhood and Maidenhood : The “Kawaii 2.0” Theory vol.6

However, this poses another question. Why was MILK able to keep from fading and why did it continue to be admired by girls, even though the Olive girl romance began to gradually disappear after the 1990s? In an interview with author Novala Takemoto, Ms. Okawa had this to say about MILK’s brand image: “Really, it (MILK) follows fashion at its very core. It’s able to accomplish this without anyone noticing, but for those who see it, they know. Being for girls and all, it has the girly image of cuteness, but is also a little impish like having an angelic side and a devilish one.” (Novala Takemoto, Fetish – Takemoto Novala ALL WORKS)

Indeed, MILK merged with the contemporary fashion of its time, and was able to create a completely new fashion. For instance, Ms. Okawa frequently appeared in the tremendously popular 80s fashion magazine Takarajima. Takarajima was responsible for the creation of a number of music scenes, including the indie/punk rock boom in the later half of the 80s. As soon as MILK became part of this phenomenon, it was already making soft punk-style fashion that attracted girls everywhere. With this foundation laid out, even during the street fashion boom that occurred from blue letter magazines in the early 90s, MILK was able to command a large presence.

MILK website

MILK 2017 MILK website

I’ll go into more detail on this later, but in the later half of the 90s, the gothic lolita boom happens. Here again, MILK will be worshipped by lolita girls as a pioneer. This “girl with an angelic side and devilish side” image is one that likely lined up perfectly with their tastes. In this way, MILK was not only a part of the First Kawaii Revolutionary Period, but was able to keep its influence even when this revolution’s flame had burnt out in the 90s. At the eve of the Second Kawaii Revolution at the beginning of the 90s, MILK was there. The meaning of this will gradually become more evident as we delve into the details of the Second Kawaii Revolution, which we’ll reveal in the next volume.

Translated by Jamie Koide

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Writer, Book Reviewer. Having the degree of MA. (Japanese Literature) I love Japanese Girl's Popular Music, such as YUKI, Chara, Makoto Kawamoto, and Seiko Oomori.

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