Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The social and cultural fabric of the United States of America — the country of freedom and families — is in peril. As the Index of Culture and Opportunity compiled by the Heritage Foundation clearly points out, fewer Americans these days embrace the ideal of equal opportunity and the influence of families and communities on the culture is on the decline.

And as globalization has progressed, this is no longer a challenge the U.S. can address by itself. China, for example, not only runs its network of Confucius Institutes that aim to spread pro-China feelings, but Beijing has also disseminated its propaganda through radio broadcasting, as the  Reuters news agency reported in November 2015. That makes it all the more urgent for the U.S. and Japan to come together as allies, to wage a cultural war against a range of enemies in a fight that does not respect national borders.

Fortunately, there already exist deep cultural bonds linking the two allies.

The United States has been always cool for young Japanese of postwar period. Gangro gyaru, marked by their blonde-dyed hair and gaudy style, avidly got sunburns at the tanning parlor, painted around their eyes with a black marker, and filled the Shibuya district of Tokyo with a distinctive swagger in the early 2000s.

It was the era when the gyaru culture swept across Japan. Jun Yoshida, a charismatic hairdresser who helped originate the gyaru culture, observes that “the young people who are now called gyaru had once been called known as ‘Yankees.’” Yoshida created many styles for the young people who embraced gyaru culture, not just gangro but also the milk-tea treatment that dyes hair light brown and the wolf-cut hairstyle that covers the neck with long hair.

“We have longed for America but never imitated it,” Yoshida has said.

Yoshida worked as an exclusive hairdresser for Schwarzkopf, a venerable German hair care brand, but soon found it wanting, despite its reputation, compared to the liberating freedom of American alternatives.

“Europe is not everything,” he says. “Although France has a traditional form of beauty called ‘le mode,’ the United States has the cultural climate to explore hair design freely with various races and cultures. We thought of pursuing that freedom, too.”

But any “new” culture must also be grounded in heritage and tradition if it is to take root and bloom. Yoshida bases his styles on common sense but also draws on his mother’s skill as a beautician of Japanese hairstyle, a style very suited to kimono – Japanese traditional clothes.

Japanese hairstyles, Yoshida says, “require bilateral symmetry, which is close to the French mode. We can change the style and make it slightly asymmetrical, but only after understanding the old traditions. You cannot create a new culture without knowing its basis in society.”

Although many celebrities have come to visit Yoshida’s Tokyo hair salon ISM, his headquarters salon is located not in such high-class districts as Ginza or Aoyama but in the more modest, traditional Kita-Senju area of northeast Tokyo. Yoshida explains, “I was born and raised in Adachi-ku” — where Kita-Senju is located — “and feel like I can be myself there.”

He expanded rapidly in Kita-Senju “since the warmth of the town helped my business and I became more inclined to take root in Kita-Senju.” He goes to a Japanese public bath after he finishes his work and then drinks at a familiar local bar — embracing aspects of traditional Japanese life from a culture that cherishes family and freedom.

Not surprisingly, Yoshido admits to a deep interest in the hairstyle of President Trump: “Some people make fun of it but I want to say, ‘Well, could you arrange his hair like that?’ The hair stays in place even after he has put in a long day of hard work. The amount of hair must have decreased considering his age. One must always select a hairstyle that matches the customer’s hair volume and type, and then shape it carefully. You can see that President Trump seems dynamic, but is actually a person with very fine sensibilities.”

Yoshida says that when he watches the U.S. president in the news, he feels inspired creatively by Mr. Trump’s Americanness — something he did not feel under President Obama.

“I did the best in Japan,” Yoshida says. “As the word kawaii — cute — has become popular in the United States, I would like take on the challenge posed by the market in the country of freedom.” Thus does the Trump administration inspire a Japanese entrepreneur to accept a challenge in an unexpected field.

History is filled with such examples, where the natural interaction between people of differing cultures and heritages sparks new ideas and ventures. Just as Yoshida, who reveres freedom and family, chooses the United States as his next frontier, there will be many more “unseen friends” from America who will be inspired to come to Japan.

As such cross-cultural exchanges accumulate, cultures are enriched and become more robust. To help that process along, we can no longer overlook the excessive individualism that undermines local communities and forces people to rely on the government, paradoxically narrowing our liberty. The United States and Japan, who have spent so much time and effort working together since the war, should work together here in this area as well.

Principled fellows in the United States, please welcome Yoshida warmly.

Jun Yoshida

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