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Schoolgirls in Yokohama

Japanese Schoolgirls

Want to see the real Japan?
Visitors to Japan generally hope to see a Geisha, or at least a women in a kimono. Cherry Blossoms and Mt. Fuji also rate high on the list of 'must-sees'.

But most visitors overlook what I consider to be the ultimate modern symbol of this country - the schoolgirls.

Exotic, mysterious, and occasionally bizarre - Japanese Schoolgirls are one of the most compelling symbols of Japan.
Enter 'Japanese schoolgirl' in any Internet search engine and you'll see just how much interest they attract.

To me, though, they're "Japans' Noisy Natural Wonder".
In a country where everyone follows the rules, Japanese schoolgirls stand out like flowers in the desert.

They laugh and talk loud. They smoke in public. They apply makeup while riding the train. 
Plus, they have those really cool socks that they hold up with glue.
Seriously.

But, while no one claims to understand them, everyone wants to know what they're thinking.
They may be the single most important economic group in Japanese society right now.
Beepers, cell phones, the entire pop music industry, faddish clothing, and photo booths are completely driven by the desires of these decidedly non-traditional Japanese females.

Of course, everyone wonders where these girls acquire their disposable income. No less an authority than Time Magazine attributes it to prostitution.
And I have to admit, there does appear to be an extraordinary amount of older men (with un-grandfatherly looks on their faces) wandering around with young girls who clutch brand new Gucci purses.

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Cultural exchange in Arashiyama

However, our contact with schoolgirls (and boys) has always been of the 'can we have our picture taken with you?' variety. Japanese schools reward the students for getting pictures with hairy foreigners, because the photo proves that the students communicated in a non-Japanese mode.
So, we're in a couple hundred photo collections around Japan.

After a day of riding trains with gray-faced, black-suited salary men, I always look forward to eating in a restaurant full of boisterous schoolgirls. Fortunately, they're never hard to find. McDonalds is their preferred habitat, which is convenient, since there's one on every corner.

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Check out the gravity defying socks

So if you find yourself in Japan, and you want to see the 'real heart of this country', forget geisha and cherry blossoms. Just pop over to McDonalds.
Sit down and watch these 'sailor girls' (a name that comes from the nautical appearance of their uniforms) for awhile, and you'll get a good look.
You'll see the power of the group.
You'll see the fascination with uniforms.
You'll see the love of fads.
You'll see the sparkle in the eyes of people who love to laugh.
You'll see Japan.