The Japanese "oshare" lifestyle: is it all fashion and cafes?

Do you know what "oshare" means? It literally means fashionable or trendy, but there's more to it than just clothes--there's coffee, and cafes, and the color of your hair...


Japanese Culture

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These days on TV, the only things I hear about are May J's version of Let it Go and how to be oshare. (And food. I hear a lot about food. I don't mind that, though.) I've heard ari no~ mama no~ -- the Japanese lyrics to the Let it Go chorus -- so many times I barely register it anymore, but as for the oshare part, I'm beginning to finally pay attention to that what means.

What does oshare mean?

Oshare, pronounced o-sha-reh (おしゃれ) basically means fashionable or stylish. It can also be used when referring to English phrases like sharp and smart, as in "you look sharp" and "she's dressed smartly." Looking it up in different Japanese dictionaries will give you varied results--some will specify it's all about makeup and getting dressed up, others will say it's about your hairstyle, and some will say it's all of that plus a sense of refinement.

Googling the word "oshare" in Japanese will give you a bunch of hits, including:

1. The tag #おしゃれ on the website Naverまとめ (matome), a popular aggregation website. All of the topics on the page are about seasonal trends, colors and patterns that are "in," fashionable accessories, and the like;

2. A page on the official Oricon website (Japan's top rankings for the music and entertainment industry) called "Today's Oshare Guys," which collects--you guessed it--photos of random young men on the street who are lookin' good today;

3. The official website for the TV show called "おしゃれイズム(oshare ism)," which is a talk show that interviews different actors and actresses. 

You'll also find a number of blogs and online stores advertising how trendy they are with the word. This is not something you can easily run away from. It's not only in Japan, either: is a site made by Rakuten that features oshare-ly dresses girls in Taiwan.

How is oshare used?

Everywhere. For everything. All the time.

Read a magazine? You'll find spreads about what people find oshare lately, whether the magazine is fashion, design, travel, entertainment or anything else. Watch tv? Most news and variety shows have corners about what's "in." Go to the store? You'll see displays for oshare coordinated outfits. Eat out? The menu will tell you what's oshare these days, i.e. what lots of people have been ordering.

So what's oshare?

If I tell you what's oshare this week in terms of fashion, it'll probably be different next week. But hashtags were created for a reason. Here is a small compilation of things people have tagged #おしゃれ (#oshare) on the Internet, from food to fashion:


How do I be oshare?

There are a few "rules" to what it means to be oshare. First off, let me say  that these "rules" aren't anything close to ironclad laws, nor are they written anywhere in some oshare bible, nor should you absolutely feel the need to follow any of them if you're traveling/moving to Japan. They have been collected from Japanese fashion magazines meant for women in their early to mid-twenties, or seen on television or promoted in stores. This doesn't mean that every twentysomething reads or sees these things or that every twentysomething finds that they suddenly must have see-through socks because their favorite magazine told them to wear see-through socks. People have their own tastes no matter what country you're in. Basically: have a little common sense. 

That being said, here's a short list on how to be oshare:

1. Follow the trends.

Which trends? All of them. Is red the "it" color for fall? YOU BETTER OWN SOME RED. Plaid is in, too. YOUR PLAID BETTER BE RED. To be fair, depending on what genre of style you're looking at, the trends are different. But whatever they are, they're on your list the next time you go shopping. 

2. Own a pair of fleece-lined UGG-shaped boots.

For some reason, these are very popular, and have been a winter staple in Japanese fashion for the past few years. You can go for the UGGs themselves, or save quite a bit of money and buy lookalikes. Or buy real boots.

3. Don't wear a lot of fast fashion brands.

I know what you're thinking. You're like, "BUT FAST FASHION IS SO COOL!" And honestly, this one can really go either way. But there is a school of thought that wearing a lot of "fast fashion" is ダサい -- dasai -- which means lame. It might be because the "fast fashion" slogan that the brands live by is seen as too mainstream--but who knows. The notion of oshare is pretty mainstream, after all.

4. Go to cute/cool cafes and just sit around.

If you want examples, think Cafe Banyan, which is in Omotesando, one of the most trendy areas in Tokyo. Cafe Banyan is a Hawaiian-style cafe and was featured on TV recently, so you know it's popular. Or the Canal Cafe in Kagurazaka, which is next to the river and has an open-air terrace where you can sit and watch people go boating. There's also Les Grands Arbes, which is a treehouse. Want more? Check out this ranking of oshare cafes in Tokyo.

You don't really need to do anything at these cafes (not that there's much to do). Order a drink, sit there, and possibly Instagram your drink. Or just hang out with a friend. Or read a book. Don't ask me why this is oshare because I have no idea.

5. Drink coffee. In fact, drink Starbucks.

Coffee is SO FASHIONABLE. Again, I have no idea why. I suppose it goes hand-in-hand with the cafe thing. But being seen with a cup of coffee on the go, especially a Starbucks cup, is very oshare. All the fashion magazine models do it, and the magazines always feature them with coffee on their days off (behind-the-scenes/everyday shots are common with fashion models in Japan). There's a special to-go Starbucks stand in Shibuya so you don't have to wait in a long line. Then you just walk around with a drink in your hand. This is actually extremely inconvenient as garbage receptacles are few and far between in the city, but hey, people do it. 

6. Go to the Daikanyama or Meguro area.

Daikanyama and Meguro/Naka-Meguro are places in the western part of Tokyo that are almost like the holy grounds of being oshare. Yeah, there's Harajuku and Shibuya, but Daikanyama and Meguro are a whole other level of stylish. It's the kind of stylish that makes you feel like you've made it in life: nice clothes, nice apartment, good job, stable future....and then you look into your wallet and cry. 

Daikanyama is home to what may be the fanciest Tsutaya (a bookstore/video rental/CD store chain) ever, as seen from the photo. 

7. Go to Hawaii. And look super cute in Hawaii!

Oh man, Hawaii. Hawaii is ALL THE RAGE. It has been, and probably will be, for a long time. Almost every Japanese fashion magazine has its own Hawaii guide, or has had a special issue dedicated solely to Hawaii: where to stay, what to eat, where to shop.

8. Eat pancakes. Or popcorn. 

Pancakes? Popcorn? What do breakfast and the movies have to do with being stylish?

A lot. This is not so much being fashionable as it is keeping up with the trends. There has been a "pancake boom" in Japan for some time now, and recently a "popcorn boom" has popped up as well. Popcorn stores and pancake cafes have popped up all over Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan, and the lines at these places are ridiculously long. If you want to follow the trends, you better plan on waiting for an hour or two.

9. Dress like overseas celebrities.

Does this contradict rule #1? Sometimes. Or you could say that dressing like overseas celebs--mostly Western, but also elsewhere in Asia--is a kind of trend in and of itself.

10. Dye your hair. 

Dyeing your hair is somewhat of a cultural norm in Japan--unless you're trying to look for a job, in which case you need to go back to your original hair color. And don't go too light brown, either, lest you be seen as a leftover from the hyped-up gyaru days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Blonde is okay...sometimes. Maybe just stick with the mid- to dark-browns. Want to go crazy with colors? That's going the Harajuku route. Is that still oshare? Yes...if you're talking Harajuku oshare. Didn't I tell you this was confusing?

So what's oshare? Take two

Oshare is nothing serious. Just like after you graduated from middle school and realized that not wearing acid wash jeans actually didn't destroy your life, not following oshare trends doesn't mean you're automatically blacklisted from society. Likewise, if you don't care about what people are wearing nowadays, that's cool, too! Don't want to go to cafes? Awesome. Think your hair is fine the way it is? Cool. You love Uniqlo? Me too! (Seriously.)

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether you're oshare or not, in Japan or anywhere. If you've heard rumors that everyone in Japan always dresses really nicely and that everyone is super fashionable, well, that's true to a certain extent, but it's only because I come from America and people wear their pajamas to class in college. Oshare is what you make of it. If you think you look good, then do you.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

About the author

Melissa Tolentino

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