Introduction to Subcultural Anthropology: Kogal

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 12, 2015 10:37am | Post a Comment
Even disregarding the sense having to do with bacteria, there are many definitions of "subculture." The longest that I've found is that of the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition:

A group within a society that has its own shared set of customs, attitudes, and values, often accompanied by jargon or slang. A subculture can be organized around a common activity, occupation, age, status, ethnic background, race, religion, or any other unifying social condition, but the term is often used to describe deviant groups, such as thieves and drug users. ( See counterculture.)

No one will ever be able to document every subculture, or even agree upon what they are. With this series I will examine subcultures primarily organized around two things, music and clothing. That way I can largely avoid the can of worms which are gangs. For gangs, both music and clothing are of considerable importance but the engagement in of criminal activity is assumed to be their raison d'être. Also, I don't want to provoke a bunch of angry, misspelled comments written in all caps. 

This week's subculture: Kogal


The kogal (コギャル) subculture arose in Japan in the 1980s and became widely known in the Japanese mainstream after the airing of a 1993 television special, ザ・. コギャル NIGHT ("the Kogal night"). The subculture were further featured in the fictional 1997 film バウンス ko GALS ("bounce Kogal") (1997) depicted Kogals turning to prostitution to fund their insatiable materialism. In reality, many Kogals were apparently engaged in "paid dating" although for the vast majority that means involves little more than accompanying a man to karaoke in exchange for money and drinks. 

A look at Tsukioka Yoshitoshi on his 175th birthday

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 30, 2014 12:32pm | Post a Comment
Portrait of Yoshitoshi
Kanaki Toshikage portrait of Yoshitoshi

One of Japan's greatest artists, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, was born on this day in 1839, which I reckon makes it as good a time as any to blog about him. For those unfamiliar, Yoshitoshi is widely regarded as one of ukiyo-e's greatest innovators, as well as its last major practitioner. He produced an enormous body of work (about 10,000 pieces by some estimates) although he's best known for his bloody pieces -- which comprise a large chunk of his oeuvre. After falling out of fashion amongst Japanese art collectors, he was "rediscovered" in the 1970s and is now rightfully placed amongst the ukiyo-e greats.


Yoshitoshi was born Owariya Yonejiro (米次郎), in the Shimbashi district of Edo (now Tokyo), in 1839. His Photographic portrait of Yoshitoshifather, Owariya Kinzaburō, was a wealthy merchant and samurai. The identity of his mother is unknown, although Kinzaburō's mistress, apparently not wanting the share their home with the child, sent him off to live with an otherwise childless relative, Kyōya Orizaburō, when Yonejiro was about three. At the age of five, after showing interest in art, the pharmacist uncle (or cousin by other accounts) began offering the young boy art instruction.

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Piko Piko - A look at Picopop on the 34th birthday of Yellow Magic Orchestra's debut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2012 12:44pm | Post a Comment
Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978)

Back in 1978, on 25 November, pioneering Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their influential, eponymous, debut full-length. The album and group are widely credited with being very influential on the development of several music genres, including ambient, chiptune, electrohip hop, house, J-pop, synthpop, and techno, to name a few. 

The band (also known as YMO) were also on influence on another Japanese scene that emerged around the dawn of the 21st Century, picopop (or ピコポップ). Bands and performers such as EeL, Hi-Posi, Motocompo, Plus-tech Squeeze Box, Sonic Coaster Pop, and Strawberry Machine updated the shibuya-kei (渋谷系) style popularized in the 1990s by Cibo MattoCorneliusFlipper's Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Original Love by adding some good, old fashioned, electro elements with a sensibility that often recalls YMO.

Happy birthday, Hokusai!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 31, 2012 02:49pm | Post a Comment
Self-Portrait of Hokusai - 1842
Self-portrait of Hokusai from 1842

Today is the date traditionally recognized as the birthday of one of my favorite Japanese artists, 葛飾 北斎 (Katsushika Hokusai). Without a doubt he is one of (if not the) most famous Japanese artists of all time. His best known work is the ukiyo-e woodblock print series 富嶽三十六景 (Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji), published around 1831. The collection includes his single most recognized work, The great wave off Kanagawa.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa
The great wave off Kanagawa

Hokusai was born in the Musashi province of Edo (now Tokyo) in 1760. The exact date of his birth is somewhat uncertain although it is often said to have been the 23rd day of the 9th month of the 10th year of the Hōreki era, which would be the 31st of October in the Gregorian calendar. His adoptive (and likely biological) father was Nakajima Ise, mirror-maker to the shogun. Since Hokusai wasn’t named as his heir – it is sometimes assumed that his mother was a concubine. Hokusai’s childhood name was
姓は川村氏 (Kawamura Tokitarō). He later went by 鉄蔵 (Tetsuzo), 中島八右衛門 (Nakajima Hachiemon) and about thirty other (usually quite colorful) noms d'artiste.

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Higashi Honganji Obon Festival 2012

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 7, 2012 10:44am | Post a Comment
Higashi Honganji Obon 2012

(お盆) is a Japanese holiday on which observers honor the spirits of their ancestors. Within Japan as well as the Japanese diaspora, Obon has been observed on different dates since Japan’s adoption of the Gregorian Calender in 1872.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Little Tokyo
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Little Tokyo

In LA and Orange County there were also Obon festivities on different dates that took place not only in several Little Tokyo venues but also in Anaheim, Gardena, Little Osaka, Venice, and West Covina. I attended the Obon Festival at Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple (ロサンゼルス東本願寺別院).

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