Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno

Title: Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno: Tokyo Teen Fashion Subculture Handbook
Authors: Patrick Macias and Izumi Evers
Illustrations: Kazumi Nonaka
Publication Year: 2007 (America)
Pages: 147

When a friend gave me this garishly pink little book as a present, I saw the name “Patrick Macias” on the cover and immediately prepared to be disappointed. Macias has authored and co-authored numerous books on Japanese popular culture. Two that might be familiar are Cruising the Anime City: An Insider’s Guide to Neo-Tokyo (2004) and TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion (2001). These books are not only boring but were also outdated on the day they were published, primarily because Macias’s fascination with Japan’s popular culture during the seventies and early eighties fails to hold the attention of those of us who want to know what’s going on in Japan right now. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that Macias’s earlier books might have been better served if they were marketed as cultural histories instead of as guides to contemporary popular culture.

While it’s true that Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is only up-to-date as of around 2005, and while it’s true that this book contains quite a bit of cultural history, I found it to be one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a long time. Maybe it’s because of all of the bright and eye-popping photography. Maybe it’s because of Kazumi Nonaka’s fun and plentiful illustrations. Maybe it’s because of the concise prose and scandalous quotations. Or maybe it’s because of all the pink. In any case, once I picked up this cute and trim guidebook, I had a hard time putting it down.

One thing that I found especially charming about this book were all the suggestions the authors offer as to how to achieve these schoolgirl looks yourself. Far from being helpful, these sections actually serve to pinpoint how outrageous the fashions are. Another fun, recurring segment are the illustrated “A Day in the Life” inserts, which usually end with captions like “Mom says, ‘Take a shower! You two smell awful!’”

So, if you’ve always wanted to know what’s going on inside the heads of the Gothic-Lolita princesses, or if you’ve always been curious about how exactly the Mamba girls put on their makeup, this is the book for you. Even if you’ve never had the leisure to wonder about those things but have spent time in Tokyo, this is also probably the book for you. And if you really, really love pink, then I honestly can’t recommend this book enough. Go out and get it before it goes out of print. For the win. I’m serious.

4 thoughts on “Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno

  1. Great review. Thanks.
    I was thinking, though. If you are looking for a more substantial and less dated take on Japan *right now* I recommend a book called Japanamerica. I read it last month and it’s prettty awesome. It’s probably the best book I found on J-Pop style, fashion, anime, manga, food and everything else flooding the world from Japan. And it is fun to read.

  2. To Patrick Macias:

    Sorry. >_<

    Obviously, I am not someone you should be insulted by – I’m just a lowly grad student. Also, I own and have read just about every book that has your name on the cover, so you should also consider me as something of a fan.

    I’m not going to take it back, however. You had me running around Akihabara and Nakano like an idiot when the real party was in Ikebukuro, so I’m still a little bitter.

    That being said, I loved Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno. So much so that I’m thinking of making it required reading for an “Introduction to Japanese Society” class that I’m TAing in the spring of next year. I think the points you made about how Japanese society allows kids to get away with this kind of behavior are extremely interesting. I also like how you discussed the kids from the suburbs and the nearby countryside who flock into Tokyo to participate in this culture. Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno is really a wonderful book, as are books like Cruising the Anime City, in their own way. I applaud you as an author, and I’m sorry I insulted you. It could be that I’m extremely jealous. ^_^

    Please allow me to respond to you at greater length in an e-mail. Until then!

  3. To Alex Daniels:

    You’re right, Japanamerica is a wonderful book, and it was so fun to read that I couldn’t put it down, even at the risk of embarrassing myself on the train. All of the “insider information,” as well as Kelt’s assessment of the industry, was extremely valuable to me both as a student and as a fan. It would be really fun to review it. Thank you so much for your suggestion!

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