Panic on The Streets : No, The End of FRUiTS Magazine is Not The End of Harajuku Fashion

Harajuku street fashion is world-renowned because of the work of one person above all others. In 1997, years before it became cool for western celebrities to attach the word “Harajuku” to any random project, Japanese photographer Shoichi Aoki started a little magazine called FRUiTS. FRUiTS Magazine’s format was simple: every page featured a single large photograph of a real person in an exceptional —often outrageous — outfit on the streets of Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood. Small text printed over the photo listed the person’s name and brief details about what they were wearing.

FRUiTS has always been a niche subculture magazine, but thanks to Aoki’s previous publishing experience (he founded the London-based STREET Magazine in 1985), FRUiTS got international distribution through Tower Records and other independent bookstores. It became an immediate hit with designers, artists, musicians, and other creatives around the globe.

Before social media, apps, and blogs, FRUiTS Magazine gave the world a window into the incredibly fresh fashion experiments undertaken by kids in Harajuku. FRUiTS soon caught the eye of the prestigious art publishing house Phaidon, whose release of several high quality photo books — along with exhibitions at galleries around the world — cemented both FRUiTS and Harajuku itself as parts of the cultural consciousness.

To many people, in fact, the words “Harajuku” and “FRUiTS” became interchangeable:
“These Japanese kids are dressed in super colorful Harajuku fashion!”
“These Japanese kids are dressed in super colorful FRUiTS fashion!”

So it’s no surprise that Aoki’s recent announcement that FRUiTS Magazine would cease publication after a twenty-year run broke a lot of hearts. FRUiTS was not just a magazine that documented Harajuku culture. It had become a beloved and — to many — integral part of Harajuku culture. After deep sadness about the news, the panic set in: what does it mean for Harajuku’s future if FRUiTS Magazine is calling it quits?

Aoki announced FRUiTS would stop publishing via a short article on the Japanese website Fashion Snap. Within days, several English-language blogs declared Harajuku over, writing that there must not be enough cool kids left in Harajuku for FRUiTS Magazine to continue.

FRUiTS Magazine was dead, Harajuku must be dead too - so the theory went.

The only problem with that theory — put forward by people who may or may not have ever even visited Harajuku — is that Shoichi Aoki never said that, and he definitely doesn’t believe that Harajuku is dead. In fact, only days after the FRUiTS announcement, we ran into Aoki on the street in Harajuku. What was he doing? Looking for stylish kids to photograph, as he’s been doing for the last twenty years.

If Aoki is still shooting Harajuku kids, why did FRUiTS Magazine die — and what does it mean for the future of Harajuku street fashion?

First, FRUiTS is not dead. FRUiTS Magazine is dead, but FRUiTS lives on. When we talked to Aoki shortly after the announcement, he assured us that he plans to keep shooting Harajuku street fashion. He’ll continue documenting the Harajuku street fashion scene, publish several new FRUiTS books (including an upcoming one on Japan’s colorful Decora subculture), and spend time working on new Harajuku-related projects.

If FRUiTS lives on, then why did FRUiTS Magazine end its run? Aoki did not share the reasoning behind the end of FRUiTS monthly publication, but we can speculate based on our own experience running a Japanese street fashion web-magazine for the last 10+ years.

Print Magazines are Dying Everywhere

FRUiTS Magazine is known around the world, but their main follower base in still in Japan where their demographic is quite young. How many teens are subscribing to print magazines these days anywhere in the world? Numerous Japanese fashion magazines closed their doors before FRUiTS. In many ways, it’s a tribute to FRUiTS popularity that it survived in print format for as long as it did.

Advertising Money Isn’t Easy To Come By These Days

If you’ve ever looked at FRUiTS Magazine, you know that there are very very few ads in each issue. This is not a big glossy fashion magazine where 80% of the pages are advertising. It more closely resembles a 1990s punk fanzine with only one or two pages of ads in an entire issue. If less people are subscribing to magazines, and just a few of their already-few supporting advertisers disappeared, the math would get ugly very quickly.

Less Subscribers & Advertisers Means Less Staff

Aoki has run a number of street fashion magazines in several countries since the 1980s. To make them all work, he has a staff that helps with “hunting” and logistics. In street fashion terminology, “hunting” means walking around the streets for many hours searching for someone you want to photograph. In years past, it was common to see multiple FRUiTS hunters roaming the streets of Harajuku day and night. In recent years, as other print magazines were shutting down, there were noticeably less FRUiTS hunters on the street. People are happy to see Aoki himself around the streets more often — but for a business, less staff means that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep everything running. You can’t spend 12 hours a day hunting — and shooting and also have time for editing and publishing a magazine.

Social Media is Instant and (seemingly) Infinite

Since 1997, FRUiTS Magazine was published once a month and featured a handful of Harajuku kids in each issue. In the time it takes to read this article, hundreds of Harajuku kids will have shared — in apps like Instagram and Twitter — outfits that they are wearing right this second. There are also several popular online magazines — including FRUiTS itself — that upload street snaps from Harajuku to social media daily. While some people understandably have nostalgia for traditional publishing, it’s not clear in 2017 that there is a need for a print magazine showing months-old street fashion.

Documenting Harajuku For History is Less Critical Today

One of the most amazing things about Shoichi Aoki is that he appears to have understood from the start that he was documenting something extraordinary on the streets of Harajuku. He did not want the art that these kids were making to be lost to history. Most of the outfits that you see in FRUiTS existed only once in history, on that specific day. The next day, the coordinates would be different. The next year, the kid would graduate from college and disappear from Harajuku into “the real world”.

Aoki realized preserving these Harajuku moments was important — not just for sharing in FRUiTS Magazine, but for fashion history. In interviews, he has discussed his plan to donate his amazing FRUiTS photo archive to a museum so that it will be preserved forever.

Before smart phones, there were not a lot of people shooting Harajuku street fashion on a regular basis, week in and week out. Aoki’s documentary photography was important cultural anthropology. Today, when literally every Harajuku kid takes photos every single day, a lot more of history is self-documented. There is far less risk of extraordinary moments being lost forever in 2017.

FRUiTS Magazine Thrived for Twenty Years

Harajuku is famous for constantly changing. Twenty years was an amazing run for a magazine whose focus was on street fashion looks that didn’t survive for more than a few hours. In twenty years, FRUiTS put Harajuku on the map globally, became a source of inspiration for creative people all over the world, supported indie designers by featuring their work at a time when support didn’t come easy, encouraged countless Japanese young people to visit Harajuku (some of whom went on to become fashion designers themselves), and built a street fashion photo archive that will someday be acquired by a museum for future generations to study. After all of that, and all of those years, maybe it’s just okay if Aoki wants to work on photo books, writing, and other projects.

If FRUiTS Magazine ceasing publication wasn’t because “Harajuku is dead!”, does that mean there is nothing to worry about? Not exactly. Harajuku is facing a lot of issues as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approach. From gentrification to tourist overcrowding to fast fashion, rising rents, and internet bootleggers — there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be concerned about the future of Harajuku. I wrote about several of these concerns in this Medium article last year (and I am working on another one to be published here soon).

For every reason to be concerned, there is also an argument for why Harajuku may yet surprise the skeptics and outlive us all.

Change is Scary, But Not Always Bad

Someone declares Harajuku “dead” every few years. Usually it’s because they got a little older and no longer recognize the place they once loved. One of the truest cliches in history is “You can never go home again.” It’s also true that “You can never go to Harajuku again.” Things are always changing here. If you go to Harajuku today expecting to see the kids from 1990s FRUiTS Magazine, you will definitely leave disappointed.

The average Harajuku kid probably spends two years roaming the neighborhood’s streets before they move on, maybe double that if they’re a fashion student or in the fashion industry. Human beings like familiarity. It’s not uncommon for people to look around Harajuku after a few years only to realize that many of their friends are gone and their favorite shops/brands/trends have changed. At that point, some immediately think, “Wow, Harajuku sucks now!” But the reality is that the new younger kids and brands are having their turn, trying to remake Harajuku in their own image, just like the older kids did before them. And the cycle repeats.

Harajuku is Where The Shops & Designers Are

While there are many threats to the future of exceptional street fashion in Harajuku, one of the biggest points in Harajuku’s favor is that many of the most interesting boutiques in Japan have flagship stores in Harajuku. Several key Japanese brands maintain their only brick and mortar shop in Harajuku.

The very fact that people must visit Harajuku to truly experience Dog Harajuku, Never Mind the XU, 6%DOKIDOKI, GR8, Neighborhood, Tokyo Bopper, Bubbles, the LaForet Harajuku youth department store, and countless others means that it is a de facto center of fashion. Whether subculture fashion, streetwear, or high brands (including Comme Des Garcons, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto), the head shop for many important Japanese designers is either in Harajuku or within a very short walking distance — assuring that avant-garde fashion lovers will continue to be drawn to the neighborhood for years to come.

The “Next Harajuku” Never Happens

For many years we’ve been hearing from one source or another that some neighborhood of Tokyo is going to be the “Next Harajuku”. Rents are too high, too many tourists, everyone is going to move for sure this time. Whether it’s Nakameguro, Koenji, Shimokitazawa, or some other neighborhood, the reality is that Harajuku has remained Harajuku. The “Harajuku” brand is so strong that it doesn’t seem likely any other neighborhood is going to steal the title of “Street Fashion Capital of Japan” anytime soon.

Bunka Fashion College & Nearby Japanese Fashion Schools

One of the secrets powering Harajuku’s eclectic street fashion scene is that the world famous Bunka Fashion College — along with a number of other prestigious fashion and beauty schools — is located nearby. These schools enroll thousands of new students every year. A high percentage of those students make their way to the streets of Harajuku — a place where it’s safe to experiment with the concepts that they’re studying in school, or dreaming up in their heads. So many of the Harajuku kids are also Bunka students that Harajuku is almost like an unofficial satellite campus.

Harajuku Attracts Creative People

In addition to the local Japanese fashion students, Harajuku attracts creative people from all over Japan, and around the world. It’s not uncommon to see famous designers, artist, musicians, models, and others on the streets of Harajuku. In addition to celebrities, Harajuku has its own cast of local eccentrics, artists, and unique personalities. There are not too many neighborhoods around the world that inspire creative people like Harajuku does. Creative people inspire other creative people, and this cycle so far remains unbroken in Harajuku’s street fashion scene.

As long as Harajuku keeps inspiring and attracting creative people, it seems likely to retain its title as the epicenter of Japanese street fashion, and one of the most famous street fashion scenes in the world. Is there a chance that it could all disappear tomorrow? Sure. Is it likely? No.

Does the end of FRUiTS Magazine mean that Harajuku sucks now and there are no more cool kids left? It might look like that to some people from a distance — but to those of us who live on its streets, Harajuku looks alive and full of kids experimenting with fashion much like they did even before FRUiTS Magazine began.

On a personal note, we want to say Thank You to Shoichi Aoki for twenty amazing years of FRUiTS Magazine. TokyoFashion.com — and numerous other publications and fashion brands around the world — would not exist without inspiration from FRUiTS. We’re looking forward to seeing — and supporting — Aoki-san’s future Harajuku-related projects. See you on the street!