Editor's note: Journal-World Senior Editor Bill Snead was one of six American journalists who traveled to Japan in October as part of Japan-United States Journalists Exchange 2000.
The group conducted interviews in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Many of the journalists noted that it was difficult not to notice the fashion-conscious younger generation.
John Walker, an editor for Fox Television in Washington, D.C., and Bill Snead reported the following account on the changing look of street fashions in Japan.
Tokyo, Japan Best friends Miko and Nishimi are barely 5 feet in height, yet they say they feel 6 feet tall.
Not quite, but close enough.
Both are wearing the standard footwear of today's chic Japanese teen: Boots mounted on heels of no less than eight inches. Yes, platform shoes have taken over Japan.
The 15-year-olds, who say they want to look like the leggy models in Vogue, are themselves tiny billboards for the fashion industry. They dress in the latest styles, including micro mini-skirts and denim jackets. They color their naturally black hair blond, brown and red. They carry their cell phones in over-sized Burberry and Louis Vuitton handbags.
And they are not alone.
On this night, the girls are among the thousands of smartly dressed young people on parade in Tokyo's trendy shopping district of Shibuya. But in this vast sea of dyed hair, designer clothes and cell phones, it's the platform shoes that stand out. Some can barely walk on their chunky heels. Others cling to their boyfriends for support. It's a good thing no one is in a rush to go home.
The obsession with platforms began in Japan about a year ago. Now from Tokyo to Kyoto to Hiroshima, young girls are walking tall, while drawing frowns from their elders and stares from curious tourists. Injuries have prompted warnings about the shoes, but the faithful, including Miko and Nishimi, won't give them up.
"We like the illusion of long legs," says Miko. "It's what we want."
So the girls continue to inch their way from shop to shop in search of the next big thing.
Strolling down the avenue is the other 50 percent of this Clairol sub-culture: Teen-age boys.
Taking cues from such role models as actor Brad Pitt, who appears in television commercials for designer jeans, they highlight their hair with spikes of blond or red.
They don leather pants and jackets, or sleek three-button suits, usually black. They wear heavy shoes and belts.
For more drama, some adorn themselves with silver necklaces and rings with gothic designs. After all, a guy needs to look as good as the girl of his dreams, right?
It's not uncommon for a single man to improve his dating prospects by dropping a huge chunk of his paycheck on a designer must-have. If fashion is a game, then these boys play to win.
So why do Japanese teens take their clothes so seriously?
According to observers, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Back in the 1980s, Japan's economic boom allowed their parents and grandparents to indulge their passion for designer labels. Today, the houses of Chanel, Hermes and Gucci still have prominent strongholds on the Ginza, Tokyo's version of Fifth Avenue. So it should be of no surprise this generation of Japanese has a similar taste for status.
But with the country in economic turmoil, many wonder how they can afford it. The kids say they aren't worried yet. It's no wonder. Unlike their parents, they have cell phones to call home for extra cash.