Western Goth vs. Japanese Goth: La Carmina Explains the Difference at M/R/X-Wolfpak
Author and CNNGo contributor La Carmina spends much of her time hopping across the globe, from her hometown of Vancouver to Los Angeles, New York City, Hong Kong and Tokyo, the latter being the focus of her work. While she has explored various aspects of Japanese pop culture, including the cute cooking phenomenon (Cute Yummy Time) and themed restaurants (Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo), it's the coverage of Tokyo's small but inspiring gothic scene featured on her own blog that has earned her a worldwide following of alternative-minded music lovers and fashionistas.
Liz Ohanesian La Carmina with friends Ementhy and Lemon
Last year, when La Carmina stopped in LA, we headed to M/R/X-Wolfpak, the monthly LA party that she said most reminded her of the Tokyo scene. So, when she returned to LA last weekend for a series of book signings, we met up again at M/R/X-Wolfpak to discuss the differences between Western gothic culture and its Japanese counterpart.
La Carmina will be signing Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo at GR2 in West LA tonight at 6:30 p.m.
What do you see as being the difference between North American goth and Japanese goth?
In Japan, the gothic symbols, such as the crucifix, even images of morbidity, mourning, don't have the same cultural resonance that they do in the West. They don't share the same background of Christianity, the Victorian age and everything that came with that culture. Everything is taken at face value. You'll see people wearing very elaborate, elegant gothic outfits. In Japan, there's more detail put into the creation of the outfit, for example, you might see intricate lace. You might see gothic Lolita. In the West, you'll see a lot more casual gothic, it's the general American goth that you would imagine, t-shirts, dark pants, pleather, PVC. It doesn't have the same romance as the Japanese gothic scene.
Liz Ohanesian Japanese gothic musician GPK of GPKism at Tune in Tokyo
Were you involved in the American gothic scene before going to Tokyo a lot?
Yeah, when I was in college in New York, I would go to the Pyramid club and a couple of these industrial/goth places. Honestly, I didn't like the scene as much as I would have liked to. The fashion wasn't 100% for me. I didn't feel carried away the way that I do in Tokyo.
I think that the Japanese gothic scene fashion, there's more of an outer-worldly, romantic aspect to it that I didn't find in the American scene in the late-'90s, early-2000s.
When did you first become enamored by the Tokyo gothic scene?
I would always be traveling to Japan and Hong Kong with my family as a child. So around my early teens, mid-teens, that's when I started noticing the gothic scene. That's when I began to dress in alternative styles, particularly goth. That's when I first began to notice it. I began learning about the brand names, experimenting, trying the clothes on, until it's predominantly what I wear today.
Liz Ohanesian American Gothic: Gitane Demone at M/R/X-Wolfpak, 11/28/09
Musically, how does it differ?
It's a very small scene. Most parties bring in Western bands, Covenant, Skinny Puppy. They're very interested in these bands because people hadn't heard them before. There's a renewed popularity. They love Marilyn Manson.
A lot of the Japanese goth bands, they don't play what you think of as gothic music. A lot of it is more hard rock or with a Halloween element to it, think of Tim Burton soundtracks. It's extremely visual. Sometimes, it's more about the look, the spooky make-up, the costumes, than the music itself.