Tokyo Damage Report

KOGAL interview.


There used to be 1,000,000 identically dressed kogals in Tokyo, now there are 5 left, and they keep them in a museum.  Where did the rest go? It turns out that  one of my friends was one – I  had known her for over a year and would never have guessed she used to be a Kogal. Not only was she a Gal, but she was in EGG magazine, and worked at 109.  A real primary source! She was nice enough to come over, talk about what was up with that, and put up with my armchair sociology.


TDR: Where did the kogal trend start?

YYY: It started in Shibuya. But at that time, I was in Shizuoka, so I really don’t know more than that. I think it started with brands like Alba Rosa.  Alba Rosa was originally a surf-wear brand. So Japanese kids who were interested in surfing turned into Gals. That explains the tans, anyway! And at the same time Alba Rosa was blowing up, there was a popular singer named Amuro Namie, who all the young girls copied. And of course Amuro Namie was copying Janet Jackson! So that’s another explanation for dark skin, sexy dancing, and street fashion.

(Below: Amuro Namie)

TDR: It was a synthesis of surfing and Jackson-ism?

YYY: Yes, a synthesis of cool looks.

TDR: Why would a Japanese girl choose the Gal tribe over, say, the Punk tribe or the Goth-loli tribe?

YYY: Well, Gals were the most popular tribe. They had the biggest population!  And guys liked Gals more than Punks or whatever. So that was a big reason to join – you could still be popular. It attracted girls who felt good about themselves.


YYY; I became a Gal in ’97. I was still in high school, in a small city called Shizuoka, a few hours from Tokyo.

TDR: Did you guys get yelled at?

YYY: Yeah! I mean, we weren’t as far-out as Tokyo Gals, but Shizuoka is a pretty small, conservative city, so we still got in trouble. If you had blonde hair and loose socks, everyone looked at you like you were a teenage prostitute. If you went to 7-11, the clerks would accuse you of stealing, even if you hadn’t taken anything: “Give it back!” “Give what back?!?”

TDR: Were there any specific rules you couldn’t stand?

YYY: Oh yeah! You had to wear your school uniform skirt beneath your knees. You couldn’t get pierces or makeup. Those kinds of school rules – I hated them!

TDR: What did you and your friends do in Shizuoka?

YYY:  We’d sneak into clubs. . .  get hit on by guys outside the station. . . We did around 4 or 5 ‘gokon’ per week! (gokon is a sort of blind-date party where 4 or 5 high-school girls and 4 or 5 high-school guys meet).

TDR: Who organized the gokon ? Was it a professional matchmaking service?

YYY: No, no!  We’d would do it ourselves. We’d go to the beach, or karaoke or to someone’s house if the parents were not home.

TDR: In your email, you wrote “デタラメなるデタラメほど楽しくなると思った。” (‘At that time, I thought, the more fucked up it is, the more interesting!’) For example?

YYY: Well, we’d break in our school or break in the community center at night, and have a party. We’d do things without really thinking of the consequences.


(top picture: gal with her FOOT in the handle of the help-you-stand-up-on-the-train deal)

TDR: You were teenagers!

TDR: I often see archival photos of Gals squatting in the street, smoking, being kind of macho, but at the same time they are super nubile. That’s a wild contradiction! What’s that squat-pose called anyway?

YYY: ヤンキー座り (YANKIZAWARI) (literally ‘sitting like a Yankii’)

TDR: What did real yankii girls think of you guys?

(Below: yankii girls and ‘ladys’ (biker chicks))

YYY: Oh, they hated us!  Because they were the old trend, and we were the new trend – we always picked on them because they were ‘dasai’ (wack, uncool). In fact, a lot of junior high yankii girls turned Gal, and soon the remaining Yankiis were totally outnumbered. So they got bullied.

TDR: But both kinds of girls have this kind of ‘wild’ or macho attitude. Yankii girls make a mean gangsta face in pictures, Gals make these weird puffy-cheek gross-out faces. . . no one is being a typical ‘tee-hee’ girl. And you both do that squatting, smoking, in-your-face thing.

YYY: Yeah, but. . . they’re dasai!

TDR: Seriously, how is it different? I mean of course the surface – fashion and music – is different, but don’t they share a similar defiant attitude? How is the attitude different?

YYY: They’re very old -fashioned conserva- they’re just dasai!


TDR: And when you lived in Tokyo, what kind of Gal stuff would you do?

YYY: I moved to Tokyo when I was 18. Tokyo was all about the clubs.

TDR: How did you make friends in Tokyo?

YYY: My friend was letting me stay at her flat in Shimokitazawa, so I’d hang out in front of Shimo station all day! People would come up and talk to me  “What are you doing?” – and I made a lot of friends that way. They’d invite me to Shibuya clubs.

TDR: Did you do a lot of para-para at the clubs?

YYY: Naw, that wasn’t a trend yet. We didn’t really dance much at all! Just drank sake and talked all night.

TDR: How could you tell a noob Gal who had just moved to Shibuya? What gave them away?

YYY: You couldn’t tell!

TDR: When you and your friends would talk shit, who would you talk shit about?
Like what kind of female did gals really can’t stand her?

YYY: Other Gals. There were cliques. Even if they looked the same, people would fight for no reason. Because I’m friends with her and she’s fighting that other girl. Usually it’s in a club. You don’t like the way they’re looking at you. Someone throws sake in someone’s face. During the scuffle, one of our group can take their side’s purses and handbags from under their table. Sayonara!

TDR: It’s like rappers!

YYY: It was fun at the time, but then you always have to watch out for them the next time you go to the club, and the time after that – you just get tired of the drama!

TDR: Since Tokyo is a bigger, more cosmopolitan city than Shizuoka, was there more tolerance for Gals? Or did you get yelled at by strange old men here, too?

YYY: You’d get old guys who would say, “How much for sex?”

TDR: They’d just come out and say it?

YYY:  Some would hint, some would just start negotiating without any pre-amble. It’s the damn media – they give people the idea we’re down for whatever. But besides old guys, most Tokyo people were really nice. The old ladies or kids.

TDR: You ever had someone start lecturing you about how you should be a good Office Lady?

YYY: I was on the train, doing my makeup and putting on my perfume. The old guy next to me started asking, “Why do you use so much perfume? Do you have no confidence in your natural odors?” I didn’t like his tone, so I just said,”Huh?” and turned away. But he kept on, complaining about me. He was drunk! Another time I was in the train platform, checking my makeup in a hand-mirror, and a different old guy walked by and straight-up spat at my feet! I figure he was hot for Gals but some girl turned down his ‘enjo kosai’ offer and he was frustrated.

TDR: You worked at the famous 109 building at one point, didn’t you?

YYY:  Yeah, I ’99. I was still 19. But by then, I was already over the whole ‘Gal’ trend!  The truth is, I wanted to work at a Harajuku boutique, but the company that hired me (Laforet), the only opening they had was 109! I was like “Ahh, do I really have to go back there again?”

TDR: Did you sell these kinds of outfits? (points to picture)

YYY: No, our stuff was more for 20 year olds, more conservative.

TDR: Were the customers easy to deal with?

YYY: Definitely not!  They’d try to shoplift, they’d always be talking in exaggeratedly loud voices like “See what a fun bunch we are!”  They’d even talk to ME like that, like I was their homegirl – don’t be talking street to me, girl! I’m at work! I’m sure they’d use formal Japanese at a regular store, but because this was a Gal store, they thought they didn’t have to. I felt disrespected. You think this isn’t a real store?


TDR: When did you start seeing this “silver hair”?

YYY: 1998 or so. It was called  ‘messhu.’めっしゅ.

TDR: What’s that mean?

YYY: Isn’t that English? I thought it was an English word!

TDR: When did you first start seeing these ridiculous platform boots?

YYY: Atsuzoko-boots(厚底ブーツ) ’97 or so. That was an Amuro Namie thing! She had so many fans who dressed like her – they were called Amu-la. (short for Amuro Lover)

TDR: So it’s important to distinguish between the old-school Gals from like ’97 and the more outrageous, panda-lookin’ gals from ’99-2000.

YYY: Absolutely! Watch your step!  In 1997.(that’s about when EGG magazine started). there were very few Gals, but they were pretty low-key (at least compared to now!). ’97 was all about slight tans, blonde hair, loose socks, but not a lot of bright colors or white makeup. I can’t overstate the difference 2 years makes. By ’99, there were a million Gals, which encouraged the hard-core Gals to ever-increasing extremes. ( called gangyaru – or  later still, gonguro) The mass-media attention caused a population explosion of Gals, at the same time it made Society really angry at us.


1997 GALS:

1999GALS (AKA gonguro)

TDR: The media blew it out of proportion, but at the same time the media created it. It created it and punished it at the same time! When did you first start seeing Gangyaru. and Gonguro?

YYY: Late ’99, I guess.

TDR: Where did Gonguro come from? Was it new kids who read the articles in newspapers and came in with the wrong idea? Or old-timers, trying to be more extreme to stay ahead of the new girls?

YYY: It was the new girls! They wanted to stand out from the established Gals. They’d been reading the magazines and studying the Gals since they were 13, so they had basically passed through their ‘Gal’ phase while still in junior high. By the time they got old enough make a debut on the Shibuya streets, they were already past the ‘gal’ phase! Everything was superlative – darker skin, shorter skirts, brighter colors, more extreme dieting . . .

It’s just my opinion, but Gals were controlled by the mass-media.. For any given girl, even if she started out acting cool, if she reads a mass-media magazine saying “Gals are slutty idiots,” she’ll start acting like a slutty idiot. It was a shame! Another example, some famous comedian said “Gals say the phrase ‘choberiba!’ (derived from the Japanese slang superlative’ちょう’ (‘chou’) plus the English ‘very bad’).”  Anyway, I had never heard that phrase before in my life, and yet within a week, Gals were saying it for real.  So it was a media myth come to life.

TDR: but not you, of course.

YYY: I’m sure I said it as a joke, but not on the regular!

TDR: Sure you did. Another example?

YYY: In the beginning, we wouldn’t talk about sex even in front of our friends. But then  the mass-media started reporting “Gals always talk about sex without any embarrassment,” and then suddenly real Gals were doing just that. In a way the new breed of Gals was a creation of the mass-media.

TDR: so the vulgarity of ’99 gals says more about the purile taste of the mainstream than it does of high school girls. 

TDR: So why did you quit being a Gal?

YYY: I felt it had become like a parody of itself. It was like a race, to see who could be the most shocking. It was about competition rather than just having fun. I didn’t mind the fakeness – salon tans and rhinestones are quite nice – but I didn’t like how everything had to be a 24/7 performance. It was like people weren’t themselves, they played a larger-than-life club-girl role, and it was tiresome. Girls had this attitude of “LOOK AT HOW MUCH FUN I AM HAVING ALL THE TIME! PAY ATTENTION TO THE WHIRLWIND DRAMA OF MY FABULOUS LIFE!” . . .I really couldn’t stand it, s o I started getting more into Harajuku fashion – I got my picture taken by FRUITS magazine.

TDR: When Gals became a scandal in the media, pundits were saying that “A girl like that is messing up her prospects for a good job, a prestigious college, and a good husband in adulthood.” Looking back at your friends from that era, do you think those statements were true?

YYY: Oh, absolutely! I stopped being a gal pretty early, so I was able to get back onto a regular career-track. Me and my friends were Gals from 17 until 19 or 20 years old. But the girls that stuck with it after they turned 20, we don’t even have any contact with them anymore. I think 20 years old is the ‘tipping point’ in society. Even at the time, I was conscious of that.

TDR: Back to this ‘generational rift,’ did the younger Gals who just moved to Tokyo – did they look up to the 20 year olds? Or were they like, “Aah, you’re already over the hill.”

YYY: No, the younger ones respected the older ones.


TDR: So the ’97 gals, you were trying to be cute?

YYY: We thought, “If I do this, I can be cuter”

TDR: But these pandas – these, uh, gonguro. Did they think that was cute? Or were they deliberately trying to be ugly? Was it a revolution?

YYY: I can’t really speak for them. Everyone’s different.

TDR: Aww. Don’t be so PC!

YYY: Well (looks at picture). Maybe, if you are cute, but everyone around you is also cute, you want to stand out from them. And once you stand out, everyone else has to take it to the next level to stand out from YOU. It wasn’t so much an anti- society thing, it was more like an oblivious-to-society thing. All they cared about was out-doing their immediate circle of friends, and maybe getting in a magazine.

TDR: But even that is kind of revolutionary– girls only copying other girls, creating their own movement, not caring about getting the good husband, not caring if their looks scare off guys, not caring about succeeding in any of the ways a male-dominated society says is important.

Western feminists tend to romanticize this aspect. But in fact, just because a girl doesn’t care about mainstream doesn’t mean that she is independent of men! Wouldn’t Gals do almost anything to please a guy if they wanted him to be their boyfriend? Didn’t they get played, make sacrifices for love like anyone else?

YYY: Well, we were pretty concerned with  boys, but careful not to show it too much – we didn’t want to appear like the ‘normal’ girls who, boys were their main thing – that wasn’t cool anymore in ’97!

But, now I think about it, maybe our ‘cool’ act wasn’t an act at all- we were running around all day, enjoying life with our friends, absorbed in fashion – there wasn’t time really to think about boys.

Besides, guys our age – from our working-class neighborhood –  couldn’t afford all the brand-name clothes and bags, could they? We were interested in middle-aged guys who would give us an allowance.
But, at any rate, my feelings on guys changed so rapidly, my attitude was very inconsistent and often contradictory: Like a guy, don’t like any, like one but pretend not to, and so on. But that’s like any teen girl, isn’t it?

TDR: One of the most fascinating things about Gals is that on one hand, there’s this very cute/sexy side – designer goods, diets, obsession with models and idols – but on the other hand there’s this ‘wild’ side of dangling cigarettes, yankizawari, deliberately ugly makeup and making vulgar faces in photos. And yet to the Gals, there doesn’t seem to be any contradiction. Can you talk more about how Gals perceived the ‘wild’ attitude?

YYY: Well, we liked playing a role – consciously performing the ‘gal’ part. Overdoing things, standing out. We liked to think we were special!

TDR: Was there any sense that the ‘wild’ bits were macho, or at least taking powers and behavior formerly reserved for men only?

YYY: The way teen guys showed their ‘wild’ side was different than when we gals showed OUR ‘wild’ side, but I can’t explain more than that.


At the time, did you find that contradictory? How about now? Did you joke about it?

YYY: Well, us ’97 Gals, when we’d get together with no guys around, we’d get more boyish, louder, more vulgar. But when there were boys around, we’d act more girlish. But these girls (points to picture of ’99 Gal). . .maybe  they’re always kind of that way! I don’t know!

TDR: And what about the gonguro? The pandas? Did they dress like that to get guys? Or did they do it in spite of guys running away from them??

YYY: As a result of this ‘race’ that I talked about earlier, the competition between Gals to stand out the most, “getting guys” became less of a priority and “winning the race” was more of a motivation.

TDR: Well, the idea of a girl whose best friend is also her biggest rival/enemy is  a common one in girls’ manga.

YYY: Yeah, I guess so!

TDR: There seems to be a lot in common with drag-queen style – exaggerating femininity while at the same time sort of turning it into a cruel parody.  Did Gals or Pandas know about/like dragqueens?

YYY: No, no!  At that time, the arty Harajuku-fashion girls really loved them some drag-queens, though!

TDR: I bet.

YYY: I think Gals like this (points to picture) maybe they thought they looked like some African-American fly girls, not drag-queens.


TDR: Why do you think there’s no new tribes today that are as extreme as Gals/Pandas/Harajuku kids were 10 years ago?

YYY: Well, kids nowadays can do whatever they like! There’s no rules left to break, it feels like.

TDR: What? For example? What rules did you break?

YYY: We were the first girls to walk down the street wearing swimsuits. Or, we’d copy the weird facial expressions and difficult slang of the EGG models. You’d want to be the first on your block to do that! It was really enjoyable, because it hadn’t been done before. But nowadays it feels like everything has already been done. So it’s impossible to have that kind of ‘race to the edge’ in this age.

TDR: Here’s a weird thought I just had: It seems like the Gal lifestyle consisted of clubs, designer goods, purikura, cell-phones, karaoke, and sex. But all those things are very much part of the Japanese consumer-culture. Everyone does them. From that standpoint, Gals were very conservative! It seems they just got in trouble not because they were rebelling against a consumer society but because they bought slightly different things than the rest of Japan. But there’s no conclusions to be drawn from this insight- it’s just one of history’s many ironies.

YYY: Whatever.

TDR: In retrospect, did Gals and the ‘enjo kosai’ phenomenon have anything to do with the bursting of the bubble economy?

YYY: No.

TDR: Any final thoughts?

YYY: I’m sure we must look strange to an outsider. But if you could live with us, you’d see we were really normal, doing normal stuff but we were just doing it dressed as Gals! In fact one could say that the whole ‘race to the extreme’ happened BECAUSE we were so normal.  Everyone wanted to do the same thing (to be normal), so it became hard to stand out. So someone would do something more extreme to stand out, and then THAT would become normal.  And so on. We were a bunch of normal girls who were scared that our peers would notice, “Hey, she’s quite normal after all!” and make fun of us. It was a constant thing – “I have to make sure not to say something that will give me away!” I guess, in the end, trying to stand out is the mark of a very average teenage girl!

TDR: Word.

YYY: We didn’t think of it as “We’re so fuckin’ weird! We’re animals!” It was just doing normal stuff  – karaoke, clubs – but if you did it with crazy makeup, it was more fun! But it was all normal stuff in the end. That’s why I asked you why you were so interested in Gals. To see if you bought into the media idea.

TDR: Allright, thanks for your time and insights!

YYY: Thank you.

BONUS: KOGAL SLANG. (slizzang?)

YYY: First, a lot of things that are NOT slang now (such as, ~てゆうか (‘Y’know,~’) or ~みたいな (‘like~’)) were started by Gals – but our slang went mainstream.

Also, we’d add the English "~ING" to the end of Japanese nouns to turn them into verbs. For instance, シカトする(’shikato suru’ meaning, to ignore someone, to cold shoulder them) would become シカッティング( ‘shikatoINGU’.)

Words which were verbs TO BEGIN WITH, we’d contract them to just the final ‘RU’ sound. Like instead of saying デニーズに行く (‘Let’s go to Dennys’) , we’d say デニる (Denny-ru). or  タクシーに乗る (Get a taxi’) becomes タクる (‘taku-RU’).
ボコボコにする=ボコる(beat up)

Other slang was ばっくれる (‘bakkuru’), which means to ditch someone, or to sneak away when someone isn’t looking.

And  ちょムカ (‘chomuka’) , which was a contraction of  ちょうムカツク (‘choumukatsuku’) which meant to be wicked pissed.


4 comments Tags: , , , , ,

4 Comments so far

  1. amber July 28th, 2009 10:21 am

    hey ive linked to this on my blog,is that ok? thanks so much for the interview its very informative and interesting 😀

  2. Sarah November 14th, 2009 2:13 am

    That was very interesting. I wonder if ‘messhu’ is derived from the English word ‘mesh’?

  3. François November 14th, 2009 7:40 am

    More like derived from French “mèche”, a hairlock.

  4. J K May 19th, 2012 9:34 pm

    This was an interesting read.  But it seems like it overemphasizes the panda gongoru type, when there seems to have been a time in there perhaps from around 1999-2003 when the fashion style wasn't as extreme and was actually kind of cool.  The tans were more moderate, the many colors were there but it was trendy and fashionable, and though some of the makeup was strong it wasn't as bad as it got later.  So it seems like the article is overemphasizing the extremes of the gyaru behavior.

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