From mountain hags to style rebels: gyaru culture makes a bold statement in contemporary Japan.

Tokyo’s Ganguro Café and Bar is taking visitors on a trip back in time with a retro trend: the counterculture ganguro style of women’s fashion. A rebellious culture that started in the late ’90s, ganguro was the target of criticism at home and fascination abroad—but it didn’t end there. Since it first hit the scene, ganguro has expanded into a wide array of styles, all of which are part of the hip contemporary image of the gyaru. Gyaru is the Japanese pronunciation of “gal,” but it doesn’t mean just any gal. Instead, gyaru refers to fashion-conscious women who stand out from the crowd—let’s call them “Gals” with a capital G.

The first generation of the Gal, the kogyaru, were known for their short skirts and accordion-like loose socks. From there came the ganguro, famous for their tanned skin, white lips and bleach-blonde hair. The style probably first caught on as an anti-establishment fad, a rebellion against conventional beauty standards, which idealize the combination of jet-black hair and pale white skin. The most extreme ganguro girls were called yamanba or “mountain hags.” The term comes from old Japanese folklore, and refers to a scary, supernatural woman with wild hair and a penchant for human flesh. Though the word was originally meant as an insult, the community embraced the term, turning it into a name for a counterculture movement.

But the greatest gyaru diversity has appeared in the last decade, which saw the rise of the neogyaru (ネオギャル) or “NeoGal.” She’s known for mixing the gaudy stylings of Harajuku and Shibuya culture, expressing herself through eccentric street looks. The NeoGal doesn’t dress to please men, and she also doesn’t look up to Japan’s bubblegum pop idols. Rather than cutesy, the NeoGal prefers a more mature look influenced by stylish foreign celebrities. Taking a cue from these international fashion and makeup trends, the NeoGal also influences non-Japanese mega-stars. Remember the halcyon days of Gwen Stefani and her major Harajuku Girl fetish? These days, the NeoGal has taken advantage of social media forums like Instagram, expanding her fan base to the everyday foreign fashionista.

So what exactly are the rules of NeoGal culture? First of all, the hairstyle has evolved far from its bleach-blonde origins. Now, anything goes—even futuristic, anime-inspired looks. These kakkokawaii (かっこかわいい), or “cool-cute” looks, can be as edgy as a pearl-toned combination of wild pink, purple and blue locks, or as subdued as a bob tucked strategically behind the ears. Makeup trends include a black cat eye with cosmetic contacts, deep red or purple lip stain and eyeshadow to out-colour a stained-glass window. But don’t just take it from me—grab a PC or a plane ticket and go Gal sighting today!

Learn the many faces of gyaru culture


Curious about this quirky fashion phenomenon? Here’s a handy historical guide to some of the most eye-catching Gals.


Yamanba ヤマンバ (ca. 2000)

The dark-skinned, pale-haired “Mountain Hag” Gal took the ganguro trend to an extreme, launching the culture into infamy and beyond.


Neogyaruネオギャル (ca. 2010—)

With her multi-coloured tresses, jewel-toned makeup and edgy urban attire, this “NeoGal” is just one among many possible sightings.


Himerori 姫ロリ (ca. 2007—)

The uber-feminine “Lolita Princess” wears romantic clothes with lace and ribbons, and styles her hair in big, tumbling cascades.

Illustrations by Chieko Watanabe