Perry goes stylin'

Dear bear friends:

Perry Bear Ewer, your fashion trend reporter, here! After a day spent in the Harajuku district, I'm ready to share all the hottest Japanese fads and fashions.

Japanese schoolchildren work very hard at school. While American students go to school 180 to 190 days a year, the Japanese have a 220-day school year. That's six to eight more weeks of school, each year!

A longer school year isn't all that Japanese children must endure. Evenings and weekends, many attend juku--a special, private school to help them pass important examinations. Add homework on top of long hours in school and juku! Riding the subway, I'm not surprised to see children hard at work on their studies as they travel.

Even hard-working Japanese children have amusements, however! On a Saturday afternoon, the place to be in Tokyo is the Harajuku district: a crowded, cheerful mix of shops and arcades, all devoted to the things young people love. Hip clothing stalls, toy stores, video game arcades and food shops sprawl over several blocks--and your stylin' friend Perry Bear made the scene!

Let's start with fashion. Even on Saturday afternoon, most young people wear their school uniform. Groups of boys in high-collared jackets with a nautical design compare purchases on the corner. Pairs of girls in dark pleated skirts and sailor middy blouses stroll by beneath a single umbrella.

Uniform colors are dark and severe: black sailor suits, navy blazers and slacks, a few green jackets paired with green plaid skirts.

Even in uniform, Japanese children display their fads and fashions. Hot for girls: skirts that are short, shorter, shortest! Some girls have taken six-inch hems in their uniforms! Others practice a simpler method--they roll their waistbands several times until the stodgy pleated skirt swings at mid-thigh level.

Beneath the swingy skirt, girls wear baggy socks, white ones. Sold in all the clothing stalls, the knee-high slouchy socks look like legwarmers. You have no claim to fashion savvy in Japan if your socks don't slump around your ankles!

Boys show their fashion sense with footwear, and the word is, "Nike!" Check that swoosh from beneath those dark trousers!

Both boys and girls display another fashion trend: they replace their standard uniform sweater with a same-color model from Ralph Lauren Polo. Cardigans and pullovers are both popular, so long as they bear that polo pony logo!

Japanese children, like American children, love video games. Sega, Nintendo--all the familiar names in gaming are Japanese! Video arcades sandwich between shops selling "American-style" clothing. Currently popular: racing games and scrolling arcade games.

For girls, the current rage is making photographic "Print Shop" stickers! Arcade-style photo booths are everywhere--and for 300 yen, they'll make 40 small stickers with your photograph on them.

Start by choosing your machine. Some machines offer cartoon character themes, others feature pop music artists like Namie Amuro. Pay 300 yen in the coin slot! Next, choose the design for your sticker from the 30 or so different borders offered.

Now for the photo! A video camera lets you adjust your picture just the way you like it. When you're happy, push the button and flash! Your photo has been taken. In just a minute, you'll receive a small sheet of adhesive stickers. Hey! That's me, Perry Bear, with two cartoon characters!

Girls make photo stickers and trade with their friends. The stickers are kept in small albums. Often, five girls will crowd into one small booth to make their stickers!

One fad shared by American and Japanese children: Tamagotchi, or virtual pets. Most girls' backpacks feature a tiny portable phone and a Tamagotchi, swinging from a keychain on the strap. Newest Tama version: gold or silver Tamas, decorated with angels. They're expensive! 3950 yen--or about $33. Miss Cynthia wants to go back to the Harajuku with her American Tamas. Perhaps someone will trade with her!

I made many friends in the Harajuku, and learned a new word: kawaii! It's pronounced kah-wah-EEEE, and it means, "cute!" Perry Bear Ewer is VERY kawaii!

And in Japan, kawaii is COOL!

Your bear friend,

Perry Bear Ewer

Perry's Travels: