Living in Tokyo’s shadow

Living in Tokyo’s shadow – The South China Morning Post

Copyright – The South China Morning Post
In Japanese, gosurori means GothLoli, or Gothic Lolita. At comic book fairs and youth shopping malls in Hong Kong, it is not unusual nowadays to come upon such “Lolitas”, young girls or women dressed in Victorian-style clothing to look like porcelain dolls.
Others put on Japanese schoolgirl uniforms, kimonos or various cartoonish outfits – popularised by famous characters in Japanese manga comics – to simulate the appearance of an under-aged nymph.
Mainstream boutiques and department stores in main Japanese cities were apparently already selling Lolita clothes in 2000. As a youth sub-culture, it must have been entrenched well before then in Japan – so we in Hong Kong are more than half a decade behind.
Local pop star Kelly Chen Wai-lam recently dressed as one at a Halloween bash at Ocean Park. It was rather embarrassing: it doesn’t matter how old Chen is, she is clearly past the age limit on posing as a fake Lolita.
It’s depressing to think how we are always playing catch-up to the latest in Japanese (sub) culture, from youth fads and high cuisine to underground porn and social pathology.
While Japan’s gangsters are busy producing high-quality pornographic VCDs and DVDs, our triads can do nothing better than pirate their Japanese counterparts. If the Japanese porn industry were to collapse today, triad gangsters in Hong Kong would have to go on welfare.
We are even behind when it comes to depression and mass psychology. For years, Japanese media and health-care professionals have been writing and warning about the growing hikikomori phenomenon. Reports are only now surfacing in local papers that we, too, have our own reclusive adolescents and young adults who live in abject isolation and shun all human contact.
The Hong Kong Christian Service released in July what is believed to be the first local hikikomori study of its kind, estimating there are about 6,000 such troubled youths among us. I would bet the problem has been there all along, but we only now recognise this social malaise in our midst.
In the past, local social workers, educators, parents and media pundits had bemoaned youths who spent all their waking hours on games and computers in their own room, interrupting their cyber-routine only when they had to eat or go to the toilet.
What did we think their problems were?
Because we were late – as usual – to the internet craze, we were paying more attention to the games rather than the gamers – the symptoms and not the disease. Hikikomori can mean both the social phenomenon and the people who suffer from it.
In a sense, it’s nothing new: what can be more ordinary than for lonely, misunderstood and confused youths, under intense pressure from family and school, to withdraw into a cocoon of their own making?
The much-hyped Japanese film Train Man, which did well last month at the local box office, underlines the public interest in this trend. It tells the story of one such recluse who rescues a girl and wins her heart, with help and advice from fellow hikikomori on the Net.
There is no shortage of experts, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, to explain the hikikomori phenomenon. But why some young people are caught up in it while others outgrow it is ultimately as perplexing and unexplainable as many other social diseases.
It is serious food for thought. Perhaps Japanese culture, even with all its malaise, malice and dysfunctions, has a lot more to offer than the meagre, imitative “culture” of our “world city”.
Alex Lo is a columnist and senior reporter at the Post

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