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Japan's fashion rebellion goes West

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Manba has its own dance which is like a crazy form of line dancing

By Nina Robinson
BBC World Service, London

An underground youth culture in Japan which makes a rebellious fashion statement against traditional rules on eastern beauty, is taking hold on Britain's youth.

Manba involves devotees wearing dark tans, white make-up around their eyes and hair that is often a combination of neon colours.

British teenagers like 18-year-olds Eilish and Declan got caught up in manba after an interest in Japanese culture led them to start researching on the internet, where they came across the style.

Manba in Japan is also known as ganguro, gonguro, yamamba and mamba.

Yama-uba in Japanese is the name of a mountain hag in Japanese folklore whom the fashion is thought to resemble.

It has been around for nearly a decade and is an eye-catching statement against conformity.

When the practitioners began darkening their skin, widening their eyes and wearing blue contact lenses, they were making a rebellious statement against the traditions of fair-skinned beauty.

The rebellion has now, perhaps somewhat ironically, been taken up by Britain's naturally fair-skinned youth.

I went to spend some time with Eilish and Declan to find out why the fashion appeals them to.

Glitter

When I met them early one morning, they had already started applying their make-up as they planned to meet other British members of their Japanese circle later that afternoon in London's China Town.

Declan
I just think it looks good - nowadays it's more popular to be tanned
Declan

They start their routine by applying self tan to their bodies.

Eilish rubs the self tan on her neck but her face is darkened much more heavily.

She smears the coffee-bean powder on her pale skin and tries to rub it in so that it does not look "patchy".

Declan explains that he buys his foundation from Afro-Caribbean shops as normal shops do not sell powders that are dark enough.

They then use black eyeliner pencils and a white marker pens to create big eyes which look like they droop, framed by false eyelashes.

The look is finished off with glitter and white lipstick.

They tell me they learnt to apply the make-up through watching make-up tutorials on YouTube.

Declan and Eilish say they have been accused of racism for darkening their skin in this way, but they say this could not be further from the truth.

Eilish insists that she is "not mocking anybody" and Declan asks, "what black person looks like this?"

Another member of the group says that she does not like her white skin and covers up if she is unable to get a spray tan.

"I just think it looks good - nowadays it's more popular to be tanned," Declan adds.

The British followers of this Japanese subculture are also into the music, which is called Eurobeat, and practise dance moves called Para-Para.

"It's kind of like line dancing," says Eilish.

"But it's a group dance where everyone does the same thing and it just uses your hands."

Group following

Eilish's mobile phone rings every time she receives a message on Facebook.

Her social networks are important as she has friends in Japan and the US who are also into the style.


We're Western girls trying to be Japanese girls, trying to be Western - it seems like a funny circle to go around
Gabby, manba follower

"There's a Japanese Facebook [type of site] called Mixi and there are a lot of manba on there and when they find out that you're manba in the UK, they're like, 'what?!'"

"They all speak in Japanese so I have to use a translator to talk to them. There are also some in America. I'm quite good friends with some of the girls who do it in America."

Eilish's father Peter thinks that his daughter might look a bit strange, but she is, he says, "learning about another culture"

Her mother insists that the style is about much more than just "dressing up".

She tells me she thinks that this is more about creative expression and that she admires her daughter for her interest.

As we all walk out the house and down the street, people look.

Brightly coloured hair, clothes and unusual make-up sets them apart from the crowds who are travelling into London on the underground.

Eilish says that people often don't want to sit next to them.

In China Town, Eilish and Declan meet some of their follow manba followers.

Gabby, 22, with her bright pink hair and sunglasses, says she loves the style.

"I think it's adorable, it looks really cute, it takes a lot of skill," she says.

"Some people have the attitude that Western girls can't do it as well, but we're doing our own thing."

Toni, 21, says she really likes to have make-up that creates really wide eyes.

She acknowledges though that it might "sound really silly" because what they are doing is trying to be like the girls in Japan who are trying to look like Western girls.

"We're Western girls trying to be Japanese girls, trying to be Western - it seems like a funny circle to go around."



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