The Menhera fashion remains one of Japan’s unique fashion languages we cannot overlook. The Japanese fashion industry has always been an eye-catcher for the global fashion industry, inspiring most fashionistas. But while a majority of youngsters have chosen traditional cosplay as their default fantasy world, there is a small subculture that has added a very special, deeper touch to the dress-up and fashion trends.
Tokyo, the district of Harajuku, is known for its extravagant fashion. Harajuku is popular with many young Japanese people because it is home to many shops and boutiques and is one of the country’s most important fashion centers. The punky youth fashion offered there has even created its very own style–Harajuku-Kei.
They reserve Sunday afternoons for the youngsters to flaunt their elaborate and imaginative costumes on the small bridge between Harajuku Station and the entrance to Yoyogi Park. Cosplayers and Lolitas cavort there, but also just as many photographers and many bands. In short: In Harajuku, fashion is celebrated and not just on the surface.
It was only a matter of time before a subculture developed here as well. A fashion scene that not only reflects a cheerful, pastel-colored little girl’s fantasy but also has a meaning beyond beauty. Which draws attention to something that remains a taboo subject in other parts of Japan: mental health. With this goal, a fashion scene developed that gave itself the name Yami-Kawaii.
Kawaii means cute, childlike, sweet. Yami means pain or illness. It is a counter-cut between two seemingly mutually exclusive styles. Can you be sweet and express pain at the same time? One can.
What is Menhera?
Bisuko Ezaki is the artist who drew Menhera-chan – a manga mascot for the movement. Menhera means mental health in Japanese. The mascot has incorporated various signs of vulnerability into its character. For example, she often wears a plaster on her face, several injuries on her arms, and a gauze bandage around her arm. Last but not least, she shows the middle finger on many motifs – a gesture that runs counter to the girly charm of the cute kawaii trend.
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. A report by the World Health Organization shows that the suicide rate is 60 percent higher than the world average. An average of 70 people commit suicide per day, including a worrying number of children. In 2014, suicide was the number one cause of death among teenagers between the ages of ten and nineteen. The numbers continue to rise, although suicide rates around the world are declining.
The main reasons for this are problems at school, such as demanding homework or bullying. Every twelfth child in primary school and every fourth child in secondary school has depression.
Artist Bisuko, who created the character Mehera-chan, felt bullied by his grandparents, according to his account on Refinery29. Drawing the vulnerable girl was a way out of this situation for him.
Menhera, like many other Yumekawaii fashions, often comprises oversized shirts, patterned tights, and skirts, but is mixed with medical motifs, such as bandages and syringes. These darker motifs brought about the umbrella term “Yamikawaii”, which can be translated to “dark-cute”. These motifs, though considered Yamikawaii, can be used with color schemes that fall into the category of Yumekawaii, deeming them. The usage of byojaku, heavy under-eye blush, is also commonly used in Menhera to bring on a more sickly and fragile appearance.
Yami-Kawaii is also a way for many other Japanese people to add new accessories to their repertoire. Many buy t-shirts that say things like “I love you” and “I kill you”. Still, others hang a rope with a noose in their children’s room. To put it another way: There is hardly a young person who cannot and does not want to show a vulnerable side of themselves, and we see such trends on social media, including Pinterest and Instagram.
The trend also brings something good with it. Because maybe it also offers other young people besides Bisuko a chance to find refuge. A chance to break out of bullying and depression by giving fashion a chance for young people to express themselves in a way that was not possible before in a world of pastels, unicorns, and schoolgirl uniforms.
Bisuko Ezaki Achievement with Menhera Chan
The red-rimmed eyes are also typical as if one had just had a crying spasm, according to Bisuko Ezaki. He really got the look rolling with his self-imagined character, Menhera-Chan. As you can already guess, the development behind the whole thing wasn’t particularly nice. His parents divorced when he was still a child, which he suffered from throughout his childhood. During this time, he had to endure a lot of insults and humiliations, because of which he developed a mental illness.
The story behind Menhera-Chan is also anything but pretty. She is a superhero who gets her power by slitting her own wrists. By Menhera-chan and Bisuko, the followers of this movement post their open wounds on social media. Very worrying on the one hand, but Yami Kawaii helps them break the silence about their problems, according to Bisuko.
He regularly gets messages from people that Yami Kawaii and Menhera-Chan saved them. Bisuko has since set up his own shop in Tokyo, where you can buy his Yami Kawaii fashion. We don’t know what to make of this bittersweet style yet. On the one hand, it is positive that people can break their silence in this way. But still terrible because such topics are taboo not only in Japan but also in most countries in the world.
Since mental well-being is not something that is easily discussed in Japan and some other countries, the Menhera fashion can help people feel or even understand that they are not alone if they are not in good health. The Menhera further encourages patients to find support in one another and helps in removing the negative stigmas attached to mental health challenges.