Right now, there’s one creator at the forefront of the Japanese girl’s culture scene, who is using expressive ways like fashion and film to constantly rewrite it. This creator is none other than the designer of knitwear brand Rurumu, Kanae Higashi. You may know her from her costume work for Dempagumi.inc, Seiko Oomori, and Nana Komatsu, who plays the protagonist in the movie Oboreru Knife. Her handmade and hand-sewn works destroy conventional ideas of cuteness, and express a new kind of cuteness, filled with emotion, desire, pureness, or madness, and every feeling in between. Between November 25 and November 30, 2016, Higashi opened her second exhibition, PLAYHOUSE, with the concept of getting people excited for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, and I visited it with Omoka Chiba from Petit Passpo☆, an especially energetic face amongst the current idol scene.


The exhibition took place at Harajuku Rocket. Located at a small, two-floor storefront in the backstreets of Harajuku, the space is full of satin canvassing the room, creating a fantastic, whimsical feel. It’s a small, girlish space, and feels almost as if you could touch the light, pink air- its waves filling every crevice of the heart. Old plush dolls and toys litter the space, and I can only wonder what was going through Kanae Higashi’s mind when creating such a space.

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-It’s been a year since your first exhibition, and I can still remember the impression it made on me. Not only were Rurumu’s outfits on display, but radical imagery as well, and I can remember visitors experiencing and “seeing” Rurumu for the first time. Now a year later, you’ve put on a second exhibition, and this time instead of “seeing”, it feels like being embodied in its space.

Kanae: This is thanks to the great amount of help I received from Harajuku Rocket. When I took the structure of the gallery into consideration, it seemed like the easiest thing to do. I also thought it would be great to make the installation the main piece.

-This time, what were you looking to express most in creating the space?

Kanae: This is something I’d been considering for quite a long time, but I think that to most people, what I want to do closely resembles that of a girl’s room. There’s this feeling like gazing at a girl’s private space or peeking a DOLLHOUSE by opening the ceiling. So this time, I was highly conscious about this space as a room. In that way, I think SNS now conveys that very well. I mean, isn’t that was social media really is? Even though it’s something super private, it’s there for the whole world to see. It’s like two sides of the same coin and I like it.That’s why I chose the title PLAYHOUSE for this exhibition. It can be a fake toy house or a holy theater where presenting clothes by letting girls wear them. Girls come this holy fake place with super private feeling and leave here. That’s how it works.


-Dare I say that in the room, both reality and unreality are present. The cuteness on display is not exactly so simple. For that reason, those viewing it also feel themselves surrounded in something mysterious.

Kanae: I think so. Recently more and more people have gotten to know Rurumu. One reason for that might because Nana Komatsu wears a costume of mine in the movie Oboreru Knife. But at the same time, the feeling of cute you get from it is the same as the cuteness you might feel for a Sanrio character. I also think Sanrio characters are cute, but this cuteness is different from the one tied to my spirit. In other words, I’d like to inspire people to think about what cuteness actually is. Suppose that things what people think cute are fake, I’d like to reveal non-fictional thing under cuteness.

-Judging by the comments people have made about the exhibition on Twitter, there are an increasing number of people trying to describe in their own words what you’re doing.


Kanae: I think so, too. When I participated as a Miss iD judge, hosted events, took promotion video’s supervisor,  I feel I’m getting deeper emotional connection with them.This time there was a person who came to the exhibition that tweeted, “Rurumu gave off a magical feeling that was able to show me things like anger, hatred, curses, and prayer wrapped up perfectly in “kawaii” while lacking the silent pressure that comes with the idea that “cuteness is without ideology”. I’m glad that now there are more and more people putting what they’ve felt into words. I met girls who were writing graduation thesis on Rurumu and researching on Rurumu’s relation with psychology, informatics, mathematics, and economics. At least year’s exhibition there were those who got quite a shock or traumatized, and also there was someone who fainted. Well, to be fair it was my intention to create something incorporating some rather extreme video footage. Being able to know that the receivers were also changing was the biggest benefit of this exhibition.

ーAnd this time not only was there video, but an installation.

Kanae: That’s right. I did it about four times, maybe. Two of those times I uploaded them on the net. To be honest, I’d like to have sex here or share a deep kiss, or something on that level on it, but I gave up because then it would be R-rated thing(laugh). But for now I just did something bordering on that. I think that kind of lifestyle mirrors reality. Girls have kiss and sex if they have boyfriend, wear uniforms and eat ramen, or sleep with lights on. So I wanted to do something like that in this kind of fake fantasy-like space. You couldn’t really see it in the video, but there were sanitary napkins placed on top of a paid gas bill slip. It was something similar to what Seiko Oomori did in her “Kyuru Kyuru” MV.

ーThere was even a video on the net of Watashi-chan, from the Miss iD 2017, at the exhibition performing. Was that something you had originally conceived?

Kanae: No, not at all. (laugh) It was like, Watashi-chan just came by and was like, “Should I dance?” There aren’t many girls who could just improvise like that and just dance with or without music. Perhaps Watashi-chan’s spirit and mine are somehow similar, although I liker her dance. Everyone who sees what she’s doing is surprised by her talent, you know? Even though she was getting so much praise for her output, but what she’d come home to was something completely sad. That part of her real self and her surroundings that were messed up, but her dance is very sophisticated. It sounds like conflicting situation but I am sympathetic to that human nature. It was a coincidence but I’m glad that the video resulted in success after all.

ーAre the things on display from your home?

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Kanae: They are. There are many things I’d bought as art objects to decorate with. Well, for the most part I’d just left them in my bag after getting home with them. But it’s because of using personal things like these that I wouldn’t really consider living here. If I were to live somewhere like this for a long time, I’d pretty much go insane. Maybe if I were to live here a long time like in some kind of fantasy, it would have the same effect as a drug. Awakening, feeling dopey, and hallucination (laugh). It’s enough to just visit it once a year or watching online.

ーIn whatever you do, whether it be video work, or Seiko Oomori’s “Kyuru Kyuru” MV that you previous mentioned, or your film Heavy Shabby Girl, a single house or room is a consistent concept of yours.


Kanae: You’re right. A room is something that everyone has, right? Everyone has a place to finally come back to. So if, for example, if is an office lady who dresses sharply in suits, you don’t know what kind of house she returns to when she goes home. It might be an otaku-looking room with 4.5 mats or a room at highrise condominium withthree rooms, a living room and a dining room-kitchen. I think that’s where that person’s spirituality truly lies. Everything there is what that person is all about. I like that kind of reality that includes daily life, or what resembles human nature. There’s a bit of a contradiction in liking that and fantasy, but I feel as if I’d like them to always exist together. To only extract fantasy and romantic from human nature is a lie and something I don’t like.


ーBy the way, do you have any desire to hold an exhibition overseas someday?

Kanae: I totally want to. But how would I be able to get it there? (laugh) Maybe I could get everything locally. (laugh) Taking about a month to buy everything and doing it that way seems like an fun idea. I mean, basically everything here is American and European vintage, like these plush dolls and dolls. I think I could get all of them overseas if I wanted to, so it would be fun to do that and use them.

ーThe kind of “kawaii” (cute) accepted abroad is mainly the one promoted by Coll Japan. But your version of “kawaii” is much different than that. So I think you would have the power to destroy that idea. If you were to go abroad, I think people would realize that the Japanese “kawaii” is much more diverse.


Kanae: I’m really curious what oversea people would think my spatial representation using Western vintage and religious instruments. I were to use American fabric to express cuteness. Would it not be nostalgic for them? There are grafitti by kids on vintage clothes. But my own self-expression is pretty much stateless, or more like, the nationality isn’t clear. I use things from America, Europe, Korea, Thailand, and Japan…so stateless and no religious faith there. So I’m curious to know what people overseas would think. I’d especially like them to see my videos. I receive some reactions on social media, but if possible, I want to exhibit them at like a foreign film festival.

ー I think even your video work has been influenced by foreign works. So I think there would be some common points with those overseas.

Kanae: It seems to me that girls’ culture which Japanese girl include me like was mostly influenced by Western girls’ culture, especially movie and fashion.  It has been recreated in unique way mixed with Japanese non-religious style though. Even things like Riot Girl. So that’s why I’m curious about how Western people see people like Seiko Oomori or myself among Japanese girl’s culture. So in that sense, if have the chance to, I’d like to go abroad.

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The exhibition venue was full of girls (and a few guys) relaxing around as if they were visiting a friend’s house. Facing each of them was Kanae Higashi, enthusiastically chatting away. Those who visited and inspired by Rurumu were touched, and you could see the expressions of pure joy on their faces. Even Omoka Chiba from Puchi Passpo☆ seemed satisfied, saying that she’d known of Rurumu from way before, and had always wanted to try wearing one of her pieces, and was really glad. I’m looking forward to seeing what hand Kanae Higashi will have in girls’ culture in the future. Also, I sincerely hope that one day, Rurumu or Kanae Higashi’s name will become one known around the world.

Related links
Rurumu website : http://rurumu-usagikanae.tumblr.com/
Rurumu Twitter : https://twitter.com/rurumu_official
Kanae Higashi Twitter : https://twitter.com/usagi_kanae

Omoka Chiba Twitter : https://twitter.com/chibaomoka
Petit PASSPO☆ website : https://twitter.com/putipasspo

Photos by Kenji Harada
Translated by Jamie Koide


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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