What is Ganguro?

Elan Kesilman-Potter

Ganguro is a Japanese fashion trend that began in the 1990s. This style features tanned skin with blonde or orange hair and is typically followed by young women. Ganguro literally translates as “black face,” and some experts postulate that the trend rose out of Japanese fascination with black icons such of the 1990s such as Janet Jackson and Naomi Campbell.

Assortment of artificial fingernails like those worn by ganguro.
Assortment of artificial fingernails like those worn by ganguro.

Aside from sporting a tan with orange or blonde hair, ganguro girls ascribe to a particular makeup style. The fashion trend calls for using both black and white eyeliner, with black liner closest to the eye and the white around the black outline. False eyelashes or heavy use of mascara are also popular. Many practitioners of the ganguro style use white lipstick and pastel eyeshadow.

Pastel eyeshadow is commonly worn by ganguro enthusiasts.
Pastel eyeshadow is commonly worn by ganguro enthusiasts.

Extreme forms of this style, called yamanba or manda, utilize more accentuated makeup. The white makeup around the eye is heavier, and there is often a white line on the bridge of the nose. In yamanba, the white eyeshadow is only above the eye, but manda fashion requires the eyeshadow below the eye as well. It is also popular to attach glittery or metallic jewels on the cheeks or around the eyes.

Ganguro girls favor brightly colored clothing with platform shoes, usually sandals or boots. Tie-dyed sarongs or miniskirts are also popular in this fashion trend. Vinyl or plastic fabrics are preferred. To accessorize, ganguro girls use multiple bracelets, bold necklaces and fake hibiscus flowers in their hair.

Followers of this fashion trend also pay particular attention to their fingernails. Ganguro nails should be long or fake with bright polish. Three-dimensional nail art is popular, as are shiny appliques and stickers.

The ganguro style challenges traditional concepts of Japanese beauty. Mainstream Japanese fashion does not condone ganguro practices. Ganguro is seen as rebellious and outrageous by many Japanese people, and the style has not spread to other cultures to any great degree. Some researchers see the style as a form of acting out against the constraints of Japanese society.

In the beginning of the fashion trend, one of the biggest ganguro icons was Buriteri. She was a model who appeared in a tanning salon's advertisements in a fashion magazine. Negative comments in the mainstream Japanese press eventually prompted Buriteri to shed the ganguro look.

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