I say this as something of a Classics buff who has accumulated various Japanophile friends (thankfully no apparent weeaboes, but at least one aspiring henna gaijin). Basically, ancient Rome’s philosophy for cultural superiority was to observe what works in other cultures, adopt it, and improve on it. Rome didn’t invent aqueducts and plumbing, they simply improved on the concept to a revolutionary degree. Similarly, the (relatively) primary inventions to come out of Japan in the 20th and (so far) in the 21st Centuries have been relatively few, and frankly, I can’t name a single one. On the other hand, like Rome, Japan’s method toward cultural superiority has been to take what works in other cultures, adopt it, and improve it; Japan has actually been doing this for centuries, it’s just until fairly recently in their history, their primary contact with gaijin, foreigners, has been with China, and then Korea (and of course, there was other foreign contact with Japan, but those two are the primary contact prior to Western contact). Japan has revolutionised many inventions that were once primarily made in the United $tates.
But Japan’s tendencies to revolutionise culture is not contained to household appliances and electronic gadgetry.
The fashion subcultures of Japan, most of which are indigenous to Japan and only exist in watered-down imitations in the Western cultures, are noteworthy for attracting adults as well as teens and uni students, and this seems to stem from the rigid expectations of day-to-day Japanese life that dressing up is an acceptable outlet. Then there’s the fact that when subcultures are imported to Japan, Japanese adherents will pick up on not only the outward and “superficial” aspects of that subculture, but a lot of the spoken and unspoken philosophies and subtleties for maximum immersion. This is where we learn something very important:
Japanese Mod scene music can be a very different animal from what the Anglosphere Mod scene expects.
As I’ve said before, there is something about the current state of the Mod scene that sort of… Just misses the point. When you look at the 1958-67 scene, you see a lot of colours, a lot of new and exciting music, and a lot of new and exciting ideas and ideals. The outfits described by Colin MacInnes on his unnamed narrator of Absolute Beginners were flashy for a man of nineteen, even by today’s standards. The Op-Art fashions pioneered by bands like The Who were sort of bizarre for their day. Mod boys were evening-out their complexions with pressed powder, donning eye-liner, and lacquering their hair in place nearly a decade before Glam rock emerged as an offspring of Mod. Today, you don’t see much of that: You see a lot of second-hand clobber, a lot of browns, greys, and blues, and a lot of people who seem to pride themselves on conformity more than innovation.
Of course, that’s not to say that everybody in the early 1960s was a fashion innovator; there was no shortage of copycats (as per my research) and no shortage of people who’d bend over backwards just to prove that they just weren’t the Ace Faces who stood out amongst the rest as something to strive for.
There’s something about the Japanese genre of shibuya-kei and the artists that perform it that clearly gets it without merely reviving genres of the past due to misplaced nostalgia. Songs are clearly possessing of a high influence from the 1960s, primarily French ye-ye and modern jazz, but also clear influences in soul, rhythm & blues, and even on occasion ska that makes it unmistakably clear that this is a genre best-suited for the Mod scene, if any.
Then there are the Japanese bands that may not necessarily innovate, but simply go over the top in genre/label purity to the point that it’s almost made a 180° turn into a different genre —or, at the very least, proves its unmistakable Japaneseness. Of course, this “turn it up to eleven” quality isn’t unique to Japanese bands (the UK group Makin’ Time really seems to hit Eleven and beyond at time, in a manner similar to Les Cappuccino), but amongst Japanese Mod groups with a Western audience, this seems to happen a lot more than with Western groups.
Now, I never said that any music from the 1960s was bad, indeed, I listen to a lot of it (as the playlists from my old Modcast and DJing at Direct Hits can easily prove), but if the Mod scene was ever intended to be a retro / nostalgia party, then wouldn’t the First Gen have worn second-hand clobber from the 1940s or even 1920s? (Though I must say, the 1920s influence on Mod fashion is very apparent) Wouldn’t they have been called something other than “Mod”, which is short for “Modernist”? I enjoy vintage clothes as much as the next man, but ideally, I’d be having all my own hand-tailored —or at least be making more of my own than I am; my second-hand items are more about budget than any notion of “playing by the rules”.