• Jenny Xu

How Fashion is Challenging Japan's Mental Health Stigma

Japan’s “kawaii”(cute) aesthetic, is popular in all corners of the world. A branch of this

aesthetic, yami kawaii, is a style of clothing that recently appeared in the streets of Japan.

The style first originated in Tokyo, and the term generally translates to “sick-cute”. Yami kawaii portrays the darker side of harajuku, a general term for kawaii subdivisions. The style

incorporates medical motifs, like syringes, bandages, and pills, as well as tools often used to commit suicide, such as guns and nooses. These themes are incorporated into pastel clothing and combined with hearts, ruffles, and cynical messages written in pretty fonts, as the “kawaii” part of yami kawaii.




The Creator:

Bisuko Ezaki is an artist and designer. His comic, Menhera-chan, pioneered the development of yami kawaii; the comic focus on mental illness, but it also covers issues surrounding abuse and raises LGBTQ awareness. The comic’s main character, Menhera, is named after people who suffer from mental illnesses, and she gets her magic powers whens she cuts herself. Menhera is known for her signature pink hair and bandaged wrists. Bisuko first began drawing Menhera-chan while living at home with his grandparents. His grandparents verbally harassed him and drawing Menhera-chan became his escape from reality. At the time, Bisuko was dealing with many personal issues regarding stress from school, relationships, sexuality, and depression. As his comic slowly turned into a business, Bisuko began designing yami kawaii clothes for his fans.


Bisuko Ezaki



Menhera-chan











The significance:

Despite having one of the highest suicide rates in the world, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues in Japan. People are rarely willing to discuss or find support for their mental health, and they have no emotional outlets. However, Menhera-chan’s rising popularity has led people who suppress their feelings to begin speaking out through their personal style; those who dress in yami kawaii do so as an outward expression of their inner pain.


When asked about his comics romanticizing depression, Bizuko said, “I don’t worry about that. I think that it takes a very deep pain and a lot of courage to commit suicide and I don’t think my work inspires that. My fans usually pay attention to the dark, underground culture of yami kawaii, so they understand my concept and take the good parts of it.” The emergence of such a controversial style in Japan is the first step towards breaking down the stigma surrounding depression that prevent many from seeking help. Through the work of artists like Bisuko, Japan will hopefully become a more open and supportive society.



Sources:

https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/global-currents/how-sick-cute-fashion-is-surfacing-japans-mental-health-issues

https://anotheranimereview.com/tag/ezaki-bisuko/

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/yami-kawaii-fashion-harajuku-style-dark

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