Ganguro (early 1990s- ), which means “face black”, is a fashion youth subculture among Japanese girls where they make their skin brown, their lips and eyeshadow white and their hair orange, yellow, white or silver grey. It reached its height in 2000, but you still see it. Their look is a take-off on black American singers. Some see it as an effect that hip hop has had on Japan.
Ganguro girls like to wear brightly coloured clothes, platform shoes, tight miniskirts, rings, necklaces, bracelets and hoop earrings. Their platform shoes make them 10 to 15 cm taller than most women.
Their hair is often straight as a pin, like Japanese hair is naturally, but some get it done in an afuro or buraku style – that is, Afro or black.
Their skin: the ganguro girls make their skin brown by going to tanning salons and using plenty of brown make-up. Not just their face, but their whole body is brown.
Some of the magazines they read are Kawaii, Popteen, Ego System and especially Egg.
They also have their own slang.
Though they seem to be copying black American women, they often wind up looking more like tanned Californian white women with their light brown skin, long straight light-coloured hair and the blue contact lenses that some wear.
Darker and more extreme offshoots of ganguro are the yamanba, manba and gonguro styles. Romanba is a ganguro that favours pink clothes, pearls and flowers.
The male counterpart is sentaa or centre guy. They also have brown skin and strangely coloured hair.
The ganguro style is completely overstated and runs against Japanese ideas of beauty. For example, while most Japanese women want their skin to be as light as possible, the ganguros make their skin brown, sometimes even dark brown. The more extreme dark-brown yamanba style is named after an ugly old mountain woman from the storybooks.
Many in Japan think they look ugly and feel sorry for them. The Japanese press and television looks down them. So do employers. So some are just ganguro on the weekends. Most give it up in the early 20s.
They are seen as strange looking, carefree and living for the moment, not particularly deep and with nothing to look forward to in life. They are seen as being more interested in hanging out with their friends than in doing well at school or work.
Some see it as acting out against Japanese society, which puts tight limits on how you can express yourself. This is especially true for schoolgirls, who are required to wear uniforms and have straight black hair.
Some say that being a ganguro girl is an escape: from failure at school, lack of love at home, a boring work life or the lack of freedom in daily Japanese life.
From an American point of view they seem like they want the freedom to be themselves.
When asked why they do it, they say because it is cool and sexy.