Although it sometimes sounds a bit like bragging, when people ask Japanese people what they like most about Tokyo, they can't help but say that there is almost everything. Now, don't get me wrong, there are things you can't find in the Japanese capital, but pretty much everything we looked for, we found. And we even covered some things without knowing we were looking for them! For example, about a week ago we learned that Tokyo has its own quarterly steampunk festival! So we can think that the city's reputation is not useless.
The concept of Steampunk is just beginning to be recognized in Japan, although there have been many works that incorporate Victorian aesthetics, as shown in many manga such as the animated film Steamboy or Full Metal Alchemist. Surnamed Steam Garden, the first Steampunk event of the year takes place in January in Harajuku. Steampunk Store asked a local student, Misato, to find out more.
Kenny Creation and Luke Chaos, friends based in Tokyo, have been passionate about this subculture for some time and last year they founded the Steam Garden, a regular event. Their fourth convention, on the theme of "Celtic Fantasy" for which Luke and Kenny rented the entire Christon Cafe in Shinjuku (a thematic restaurant filled with European relics) is a special place that dressed up for the occasion. They filled it with tribal fire dancers, art shows, gourmet food and live music on period instruments.
Each event has a different theme, revolving around a past era. Previously, Steam Garden held a Meiji-themed show - a tribute to the era when Japan opened its doors to the West and merged Victorian fashion with traditional Japanese kimonos and obis.
This festival may be better than a time machine.
This time, the password was Celtic Fantasy: "a blend of industry, fantasy, and adventure set to a soundtrack of exciting tribal and Celtic music." Braveheart wandered the room, dueling fences with a Scottish accent. If you got tired of dancing to the bagpipes, you could order food - a plate of meat on skewers, to fit the mood.
One section of the space contained tables that sold pocket watches, steampunk accessories and other brass clockwork instruments. Some of them were from Harajuku's A Story, a store that sells only Victorian clothes.
The fair attracts an interesting crowd to see how young people in Tokyo have adopted the Steampunk style to make it into something typically Japanese. There is often a cute (Kawai) element, like the gothic Lolita dresses with googles.
Steam Garden is held every two or three months, and people from all over Japan come here to attend, as it is the only regular and organized Steampunk event in the country. According to "Celtic Fantasy", this underground scene will continue to grow. As Luke said, "Let's hope the airship keeps rising!"
We were able to get a pretty good answer from Luke who manages Steam Garden. Steampunk is a kind of re-invention of 19th century science fiction, like a punk-attitude version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We love the classy, dressy aesthetic of the 19th century, the sense of adventure, the do-it-yourself aspect of crafting and building, and the satirical, playful approach to history."
Good news, we're on the same page. It's a strange feeling when we share our passion on the other side of the world! The movement actually seems to work very, very well in Japan as well, thanks to the mix of traditional and contemporary culture of the Meiji era.
Kenny had this to say about steampunk in Japan. "I think the Japanese mottainai (don't waste) culture is a good influence on recycling and creating things out of waste. I really like that part of steampunk."
Adding to Kenny's comments, Luke explained that some aspects of Japanese steampunk are still very new. "Esthetically, Steam Garden really pioneered what we sometimes call the wild east style of steampunk, a more intense version of the Wa-yo-setyuu style of fusion of east and west, and that seems to inspire a lot of young steampunks to take pride in the Japanese style, rather than copy a Victorian or American look.
Whatever the origin of the idea, it seems that Steam Garden has snowballed. It even started with a bit of a bang! When asked about the growth of the festival over the past four years, Kenny told us, "I thought the first one would be a small trade show. Maybe 40 people. But we had to rent a small nightclub. So we chose a bigger place next time, and filled it up again. Each time it got a little bit bigger."
"During the DJ and lounge hours, you can enjoy hookah, sit and chat with the best-dressed, classiest and friendliest crowd in Tokyo, and dance to the adventurous sounds of our DJ's.
The entertainment, music and even the booths at each event are carefully selected to match the theme of the episode, whether it's a party or an event; Whether it's rodeo girls at a 'Wild Wild Wild West' fashion show or Katana samurai playing traditional Japanese music live for Meiji Democracy. The performers are always top quality, including acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, professional fighters, famous Shamisen players and more.
Now, if you're worried about not having anything to wear, Luke assures us that you don't have to wear a steampunk or historical costume. It's not quite necessary, but he added that "most attendees make a hell of an effort to look awesome," so it might be worth making an effort to at least wear something vintage to really get into the spirit. Anyway Misato had a great time, she asked to cover the event for us next year.
That's good news from Japan, soon vaporists for a new article on the intoxicating world of Steampunk!