If you live in Japan or have visited in recent years you might have noticed a ton of people in stripes. As a country that is known for mass trends and a tendency to avoid individuality, it’s not too surprising to see so many striped clothes. The trend has evolved into something more, a phenomenon. Stripe fashion is called “boh dah” (ボーダー) and it transcends all social constructs. You will see a housewife in Chiba sporting stripes, while hipsters in Shimokitazawa are wearing them too. Clearly Japan loves stripes and they are here to stay; at least for a generation.
Japan’s stripe obsession is a prime example of how common it is to see Japanese groups wearing the same outfits, with only slight variations. A trip to Disney Sea or Disneyland shows how prevalent this group identity-thing is, which can be a little weird to see. At Disney, flocks of teens with the same shirts, pants, and hats roam around. Only a slight variance in each one sets them apart, like sleeves rolled up on one teen or a hair band on another. The concept of fitting in with one’s group or organization is hugely important in Japanese culture. At times it can be disturbing and cause problems for those who have trouble confining to the rules of a particular faction. Other instances show how it can create positives, since the needs of the group outweigh those of the individual. It’s probably why Tokyo manages to stay so clean, compared to cities like New York or Rome.
There is a saying in Japanese that roughly translates to “if a nail sticks out too much, then it needs to be hammered down”. What does that do to a person who is different or has problems fitting in? Maybe that is why the suicide rate is so alarming? That is an issue for the sociologists to research. Hopefully the culture can retain its essence, but be more open to diversity in appearance, thought, and behavior. Personally, I feel as though a lot of creativity is being stifled right now in Japan. Companies are getting better at embracing new ideas and encouraging outside-the-box thinking, but the culture itself is still enforcing some old and tired concepts. The sea of stripe shirts is almost ominous.