Enter the Ganguro Café, and Savor a Stylish Slice of Shibuya’s Fashion History!
Ganguro—What in the world does this strange word mean? Well, originally it meant anyone who tanned his or her skin. While the “tan” part has certainly stuck through the ages, “Ganguro” is now a catch-all term for all facets of the so-called “kuro gyaru”—a culture of young Japanese women who compliment their extreme tans with mile-long nails, flashy panda makeup, and bright neon or blonde hair the size of Hollywood palm trees. Unfortunately, since this trend began over a decade ago, the so-called “Ganguro girls” are now even rarer than Kyoto’s geisha. Even in Shibuya, Tokyo’s most fashionable spots for young people and the primary Ganguro hangout of yore, you will hardly ever see anybody dressed like this anymore. Can’t afford a time machine? Lucky for trendspotters and trendsetters alike, there is at least one place there where can you go if you actually want to catch a glimpse of these walking masterpieces in their natural element today: Shibuya’s one and only Ganguro Café!
Time warp over to the Ganguro Café & Bar, unassuming outside, ganguro style inside!
Café by day, bar by night, Ganguro Café & Bar is only a 7-minute walk from Shibuya Station’s Hachiko Exit. True to its name, the cafe offers Ganguro-themed everything! The flashy boldness of Ganguro fashion isn’t reflected in the understated location, however—There’s a clothing store on the 1st floor, but the bar is actually on the 5th floor. If you’re still lost, just look out for the “Chimera Bar” sign.
Upon entering the bar, be prepared to be greeted by those extreme fashionistas, waving at you with their unclipped eagle talons for nails! Forget getting any real work done, let alone going to the restroom. How they can do anything with those is a mystery for the ages.
As unique as the girls are, the café interior is a mysterious world unto itself that almost tops them! Notice the leopard print tables with discontinued ganguro and kurogyaru style magazines spread out here and there, complimented by old para para trance mixes wafting in the background. Enter here, and your Japanese fashion timewarp will be complete!
Similar to other themed cafes in Japan, the Ganguro Café’s menu offers an array of special themed drinks and foods. No need to worry about reading Japanese either, this café also offers an English version of their menu.
If you order a Ganguro Staff original dessert, you will be able to receive an autographed photo card! Maybe I can send one of these as a post card back to my Mom!
The Iced Tea and Ganguro Balls were surprisingly good despite their wacky name! They’re kind of like takoyaki, except with sausage and cheese instead of octopus inside! I wonder if kuro gyarus use their nails as toothpicks for takoyaki…
To top off the whole ganguro time slip experience, I took in an original para para performance. It looked like a great workout!
Interviewing Mr. Asano and the Ganguro Café Staff
Curious about what goes behind this café and how this all started, I sat down with Mr. Asano (owner), Konomin (café manager), and Ayutama (Staff).
1.What is a ganguro Café?
The Manager (Konomin-san): Basically it’s like a ganguro version of a maid café. We just opened this past January, in Shibuya and it takes 7–8 from Shibuya JR station. Our entire staff are made up of true ganguro girls. Not only do they serve the food, but they cook it, too! We also have staff who speak English so foreigners can feel at home. If you come here you can feel the real “gyaru” Shibuya culture!
All staff are members of Black Diamond, which is the official “gal unit” (Ganguro “club”) of Japan.
2．What is Black Diamond?
Asano-san (owner): Black Diamond is a gyaru circle which is includes 99% of all Ganguro girls in Japan.
Black Diamond started out as nothing more than a fun get-together club [for kuro gyaru], but it was so unique that people started taking notice. After it got 10,000 likes on Facebook, the group began releasing CDs and having international “gal unit” events; it’s getting more popular overseas. Black Diamond recently had events in Paris, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
3. Why did you start the ganguro café?
Asano-san (owner): Now that kuro gyaru culture is getting smaller, there’s less energy these days. To protect endangered ganguro gyaru culture, we felt it was important to open up this café. As we told you, 99% of kuro gyaru are Black Diamond members, and we are the sole café promoting that culture. It feels like it was destined.
4. What’s makes this café unique or different compared to others?
You can be a maiko-san in Kyoto. You can get a makeover, your hair styled, to transform yourself into one of us. And then head over to the picture booths with our staff and take some one-of-kind pictures.
5. In one sentence, how would you describe the ganguro café?
Konomin: You can meet real gyaru. For many people, Disney is “where your dreams come true”. For anyone into Shibuya’s fashion culture, our café is “where your dreams come true.” You can’t have that experience anywhere else.
Only here can you experience true gyaru culture as an outsider. Many Japanese people tend to conform when it comes to fashion. Even though someone may have a secret desire to be a ganguro gyaru, they hide it. This is the place where that hidden desire can be released.
6. Why did you decide to become a “ganguro?”
Konomin: I wanted to be a gaijin—blonde hair, tan skin, toned body. So I started tanning, dying my hair, having manicures, putting on heavy makeup, and wearing more revealing clothes and flashy accessories. I changed myself into my ideal image and it resulted in a kuro gyaru aesthetic.
Ayutama: My favorite manga is “GALS”. When I was teen, I asked my mom if I could dye my hair and finally she let me. From there, I started wearing “high heel trainers”, tanning, wearing heavy makeup and styled nails.
7. What do you like to do during your off time?
Konomin: We don’t go out except when meeting up with friends or eating out. Otherwise, we get rushed by people in public. So mostly we stay in. When we’re trying to meet up with friends, it’s pretty easy to find each other because we stand out—oh look there’s my friend with pink hair! (laughs)
8. How long does it take to put on your makeup, do your nails, etc.?
Konomin: It really only takes 20 minutes!
9. How often are you “ganguro?” Do you ever have a “day off” from ganguro style?
Konomin: I live the ganguro lifestyle everyday—it’s my world! (laughs) [As a Japanese] with this tan skin, what else would I do?
10. Give me a breakdown—what kind of people visit your café?
In terms of Japanese people, 70% men, 30% women. Some couples, teens interested in fashion, and former gyaru women.
As for foreigners, 60% men, 40% women. They usually have heard of our café and want to stop in during their vacation as a sightseeing spot.
We tend to get more Westerners than Asians. People come from America, Germany, France, Brazil, Korea and Indonesia.
11. How do most people react to ganguro style and fasion?
Most Japanese people think it’s weird and rare. Foreign people still think it’s one of Japan’s main fashion genres, and they tend to have a favorable reaction.
14. What do you recommend ordering at the Ganguro Café?
Our most popular item is the Ganguro Balls made with squid ink, sausage, cheese. The gyaru working here created the dish, and they’re giving it a trial run. It’s kind of like takoyaki, but better!
15. Do you have anything you would like to say to foreign tourists?
Even if you don’t speak any Japanese, you can enjoy our café. Here’s where your dream comes true in Shibuya.
So if you love Kurogyaru and Ganguro Fashion or want to see these stylish girls up close, stop by the Ganguro Café in Shibuya the next time you’re in Tokyo!