Gyaru — the term comes from the English word “gal” – it is a fashion style, a consumer subculture, but also an attitude.
Hair dyed any variety of blond, clothing flashy and sexy – the gyaru has a long history in post-war Japan, but is now a kind of working class female subculture. Adherents of this style idolize the look of African-American stars like Beyonce and tend to spend big on clothes, nails, makeup and cigarettes.
As an aside, the cigarette market in Japan remains unfettered by many of the health regulations commonplace elsewhere in the developed world. Japan has several brands targeted at young women including innovations such as a flavour capsule inside the filter that can be cracked open by the smoker at the desired moment to receive a shot of mint or other flavour.
Unique dominance of night-time employment
It is worth noting here the stunning figure reported by one social researcher that a fifth of women aged 15 to 22 aspire to work in the night-time entertainment industry.
What does this mean?
These establishments come in a variety of grades: The majority are kyabakura, (derived from the English ‘cabaret club’) which are hostess bars where the girls sit with male customers both pouring drinks and engaging in flirtatious chit-chat.
In addition to the physical toll of late nights, heavy alcohol consumption and smoky rooms, the psychological demands of this type of service work are taxing – girls are pretending to enjoy the company of older men when the reality is they probably don’t.
It is essentially an acting role that lasts for hours night after night. This hiding of the authentic self is exactly the same skill which enables incredibly high standards of customer service across Japan in restaurants, hotels and the like.
The recent rise in the popularity of this type of work is often taken as an indicator of poor employment opportunities for women and the attraction of the high pay on offer.