You need a gimmick to stand out in Japan's crowded idol sweepstakes, and Kamen Joshi ("Masked Girls") have too many to count.
Their world is a stage full of girls in serial killer style hockey masks, wearing eye-popping day-glo outfits, singing, dancing while swinging around weapons like in a demented fighting video game.
"We also use toilet paper guns", Nanaka Kawamura -- who is wearing a schoolgirl uniform along with colossal Crocs-style sandals shaped like monster feet that squeaks when she walks in them -- adds proudly, "...guns that can shoot a roll of toilet paper during our live performances."
Kamen Joshi is actually made up of three subgroups: Alice Juban, Steam Girls, and Armor Girls, each of them performing in a slightly different style. Everyone performs at the official Alice Project Theater at the Pasela building in Akihabra: a multistory maze of karaoke rooms, colossal honey toast desserts, and bizarre theme restaurants.
There is nothing normal about interviewing Kamen Joshi: managers and assistants whisk press away to waiting rooms dressed in leopard print and fur. The girls can be found learning new songs and dance steps all over the buildings. Questions have to be prepared and approved well in advance (ok, actually this part actually is normal in Japanese show biz etiquette). And those squeaky Crocs are everywhere. Having spent time in the court of other idol acts like AKB48 and BABYMETAL, they seem substantially less intense than the masked marvels presented here.
These pics were taken in Feb 2016. Soon thereafter, the girls got some minor international press for endorsing Donald Trump for president. I guess it's Kamen Joshi's world now and we just live in it...
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MONDO TOKYO: Snapshots from Inside Japanese SubcultureNon-Fiction
Japanese pop culture expert Patrick Macias takes you on a illustrated tour of astonishing people, places, and things found inside Tokyo's underground art, music, fashion, and otaku scenes.