Though it sometimes feel a bit like bragging, when people ask what we like best about Tokyo, we can’t help answering that it basically has everything. Now, don’t us wrong, there are some things you can’t find in Japan’s capital city, but just about everything we’ve gone looking for, we’ve been able to find. And we’ve even discovered some things without knowing we were looking for them! Case in point, about a week ago, we found out that Tokyo has its very own quarterly steampunk festival!
Dubbed Steam Garden, the first event of the year will be held next month in Harajuku, but we were dying to know more about it, so we reached out to the Tokyo Inventors Society to learn more about steampunk in Japan. Check our exclusive interview and get information about joining the fun below!
The world is overflowing with unique subcultures, but steampunk is perhaps one of the most interesting–though we have to admit it can be somewhat difficult to pin down exactly what it is! Fortunately, we were able to get a pretty satisfying answer from Luke, one of the founders of the Tokyo Inventors Society, which run Steam Garden. “Steampunk is a kind of re-imagining of 19th century science fiction, like a punk-attitude version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We like the cool 19th century aesthetic, the sense of adventure, the DIY aspect of crafting and building things, and the satirical, playful approach to history.”
Of course, generally steampunk evokes images of Victorian culture, but it actually seems to work very, very well in Japan as well, thanks to the country’s blend of traditional and contemporary culture during the Meiji era.
Kenny, one of the other founders of the Tokyo Inventors Society, had this to say about steampunk in Japan. “I think Japanese ‘mottainai’ (“don’t be wasteful”) culture is a good influence on re-making and creating things from junk. I like that part of streampunk a lot.”
Adding to Kenny’s comments, Luke explained that certain aspects of Japanese steampunk are still very new. “Aesthetically, Steam Garden really pioneered what we sometimes call the ‘wild east’ style of Steampunk, a more intense version of the Wa-yo-setyuu style of fusing East and West, and this seems to be inspiring a lot of the younger steampunks now to be proud of Japanese steampunk style, rather than copying a Victorian or American look.”
Now you’re probably wondering just what Steam Garden is. The event is actually only a few years old–it began in 2011 as little more than idea in a bar. As Luke put it, “We were sitting in a hookah bar sometime in 2011 and complaining about the lack of decent steampunky, gonzo-historical kinda festivals in Japan.”
“Most of our great ideas come in hookah bars,” Kenny quipped.
▼Kenny, pictured without a hookah
Regardless of where the idea came from, it looks like Steam Garden has developed quite the following. It even got started with a bit of a bang! When asked about the festival’s growth over the last four years, Kenny told us, “I thought the first one was going to be a small salon-party. Maybe 40 people. But we packed out a small nightclub. So we picked a bigger place next time, and filled it again. Every time it gets a little bigger. We are on the eighth one now.”
The next event, which is called “Meiji Democracy” is due to take place in just under two weeks on February 7 at Laforet in Harajuku from 2 pm to 7 pm. Admission isn’t exactly cheap at 4,000 yen (about $34) per person, but it promises to be quite the show.
▼There’s even a trailer–complete with pirates and bounty hunters!
If you’re on the fence about the price, this description from the Steam Garden FAQ should get you excited.
“During DJ and Salon time you can enjoy Hookah, sit and talk with the best-dressed, classiest and friendliest crowd of any event in Tokyo, and dance to adventurous neo-retro sounds from our DJ’s.
The entertainment, music and even booths at each event are carefully selected to match the theme of the episode, whether it is rodeo girls at a ‘Wild Wild West’ fashion show or Katana-wielding samurai and live Japanese traditional music for ‘Meiji Steam.’ The performers are always of top quality including Cirque du Soleil registered acrobats, professional swordfight choreographers, champion Shamisen players and more.”
Now, if you’re worried you don’t have anything to wear, Luke assures us that you don’t have to wear full-on steampunk or historical costume. It’s not entirely necessary, but he did add that “most of the attendees make one hell of an effort to look awesome,” so it may be worth at least throwing something quick together to really get into the spirit.
“It’s all about having a sense of adventure!” Kenny added. “If you’ve got that, you’re 99% ready to go!”
Sounds good to us!
If you’re not going to be in Tokyo in two weeks but you really want to see the event, we have good news! We’ll be there taking photos, so you can look forward to a full report…as long as our time machine doesn’t break and leave us stranded in the Meiji period.
For more information about the event be sure to check out the Steam Garden website.
▼The trailer for last summer’s Steam Garden