Young People's Fascination With Retro Culture

Junkissa (vintage cafe) 1
(Photo courtesy of fujunkissa dope.)

   All around the world, retro fashion and items are experiencing a surge of popularity among Generation Z — people born between the mid-1990s and the 2010s. One example of this is the revival of "Y2K fashion" from the 2000s. The bright and glossy clothing, short shirts and skirts, and pop bead accessories that were popular at the time are now back on trend for a second round. The unusual thing about this revival is that it's happening globally all at once. But, for this article, let's focus on Japan—what is it about the retro aesthetic that's striking a chord with young Japanese people?

The Retro Revival Is Everywhere, and It's Big in Japan

   Music streaming services are common these days, but another audio medium is making a global comeback: cassette tapes. Although they fell out of fashion for several years, Japan now has stores dedicated to cassette tapes that opened in the mid-2010s, and their popularity is growing among younger generations of music lovers.

"waltz" is a music store dedicated to cassette tapes, and it's a hit with music fans. (Photo courtesy of @waltz.)

   The biggest reason for their revival is the audio quality—more and more people are growing to appreciate the gentler, more mellow sound of cassettes over the digital tones you get from online streaming. Many people also like the very fact of cassettes being around, and enjoy sharing pictures of them on social media or seeing them lined up at specialist stores.

The Attractive Natural Quality of Single-use Cameras

   A similar regression can be seen with cameras. In the past, single-use cameras were all the rage in Japan. These cameras, which originated in Japan and consist of a built-in roll of film inside a plastic camera casing, first went on sale in 1986. Since then, over 1.7 billion units have been sold worldwide. Single-use cameras were an explosive hit because they were cheap and readily available—they could be bought not only in camera stores, but also at train stations and tourist spots. They were easier to operate than regular cameras, too. But due to the rise of digital cameras, the number of single-use cameras being sold in Japan peaked in 1997 and then began to decline.

Utsurun-desu(QuickSnap)single-use cameras include a lens and a roll of film for 27 photos.They are popular among Generation Z. (Photo courtesy of FUJIFILM Holdings Corporation.)

   These cameras, too, have been gaining popularity in recent years.
Smartphones and digital cameras produce clearer images, but film offers a distinctive graininess and muted colors that a lot of people find more atmospheric and charming.

A comparison between film and smartphone; the film image is on the top. Everything is sharp and clear in the smartphone image, but the unique quality and colors of film have more character.

   The process of winding the film in a single-use camera and pressing the shutter button also differs from smartphones. Although it requires more effort, many people enjoy this extra step, as it heightens the immediacy of the feeling of taking a photograph.

   Unlike smartphones and digital cameras, which let you take as many photos as you want and check the results immediately after shooting, film cameras can only take a limited number of pictures, and you can't see how they turned out until the film is developed. This adds an extra frisson of suspense to each shot, which some people find exciting and appealing.

   For Generation Z, which is regarded as the first "smartphone native" generation, single-use film cameras are a fresh new experience, which might explain their resurgence.

"Retro" on the Menu

   The retro revival also extends to restaurants and cafes. For example, more vintage Japanese cafes (called junkissa), some of which have been running since the 1960s and 70s, are gaining a new following from people in their twenties.

   One of the reasons young people, especially Generation Z, are drawn to junkissa may be the novelty of entering a place that has been there since before they were born. The atmosphere of the unchanged 1960s decor, and the design of the old-fashioned tableware may look fresh and attractive through unfamiliar eyes.

A junkissa with distinctive red sofas and lighting. (Photo courtesy of Coffee SEIBU.)

The Appeal of Fluorescent Drinks

   One of the classic drinks on a junkissa menu is the Japanese "cream soda"—a scoop of white vanilla ice cream floating on emerald-green soda with a bright-red cherry on top. The drink originated as a variation on the "ice cream soda," or ice cream float, which was a combination of soda water and ice cream that was first sold in the Ginza area of Tokyo in 1902. Now it's capturing the hearts of many young people, and doesn't show signs of stopping.

Lots of customers order cream soda together with caramel custard pudding, which is served in a stainless-steel stemmed cup. (Photo courtesy of fujunkissa dope.)

   Part of the reason for its growing popularity is how different it looks from modern drinks, like something out of a different era. The soda, ice cream and cherry create an attractive contrast of vibrant colors, and the old-fashioned glasses that differ from modern designs are another part of the appeal.

   As young people's tastes change with the times, some things that were popular in the past are being rediscovered by a new audience —from cassette tapes to single-use cameras and vintage junkissa cafes. If you visit Japan, be sure to check out these retro things that have found their way back into the limelight.