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Media-Hyped Fashion Figures Emerge as Role Models

December 22, 1999

Who comes to mind when asked to identify a charismatic leader? Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, or perhaps Mao Zedong? Ask a Japanese teenager today, and the chances are he or she will name a beautician or clothing boutique employee. Charisma (karisuma in Japanese) has become a label applied to people who define fashion trends, and its use has also been extended to cover DJs, martial artists, and even women in the sex industry. Who are these new charismatic figures, and where are they taking the young generation of Japan as we approach the end of the century?

Divine Powers
Charisma is derived from a Greek word meaning "gift of God's grace." The word was originally used in reference to the divinely inspired powers of miracle workers, prophets, and others who were sent by God to lead the people. Sociologist Max Weber later expanded the word's definition to include dynamic military and political figures.

In Japan, those considered charismatic have traditionally been limited to outstanding achievers in the fields of politics and science, as well as superstars in sports and the performing arts. Over the past couple of years, however, the word has begun to take on a somewhat different meaning.

The charismatic beautician is one of the new karisuma figures. These are individuals who work at stylish salons in the trendy districts of Tokyo like Aoyama and Harajuku who count the rich and famous among their clientele. Appointments for a cut by these hairdressers are booked months in advance. Fashion magazines run features on the lifestyles of these individuals, who have gained celebrity status and even have groupies.

The use of karisuma in this way, however, is quite removed from Weber's definition of having inspired talent. On the contrary, aside from their hairdressing skills, their karisuma is derived mainly from the high level of exposure given to them by the media.

Expert Advice
Yoshiko Ikoma, deputy editor-in-chief of Vogue Nippon magazine, views the current karisuma boom as a manifestation of diversifying tastes in fashion. "It's natural for people to look up to beauticians and shop attendants who can offer expert advice on how to achieve the latest look," Ikoma notes.

Another view sees parallels between karisuma and the "my boom" phenomenon (where groups of individuals set their own trends). Today's youths tend to band together with others with the same tastes in fashion. Those commanding the greatest respect within these limited circles are the ones regarded as being charismatic.

Recently, some karisuma coiffeurs were discovered practicing without a license, which prompted some to suggest that the charisma trend was becoming passé. However, with new charismatic figures emerging in different sectors of society, this boom looks poised to continue for quite some time.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.