tsumori chisato

Japan is a popular place for studying abroad thanks to it’s lively pop-culture scene and dedication to high academia. With that, interest in studying fashion here has been intensifying over the past few years as well…which is why my inbox fills with emails from all corners of the internet asking about my experience studying fashion here and requesting advice.

So I think it’s time to let the cat out of the bag… this is going to go DEEP y’all. I`m neither going to sugarcoat the shit, nor going to water down the awesomesauce either. And perhaps not just fashion education, but for anyone who wants to study/work in Tokyo you might find some of the points into Japanese education/ work/ psyche extremely helpful. This article is written from the viewpoint of a [female] foreigner coming to Japan to study at a young age. If it happens to be educational to Japanese as well (who might want to know the differences in education) then cool.
私達が住む日本という国は、世界でも有数のポップカルチャー大国であることと高い国民的知的指数のおかげで、今でも留学したい国として世界中で認識されている。それと比例して日本のファッションの認識がどんどん高まり、海外から日本にファッションの勉強をしに来る人が後を絶えない(だから今でも私のメールボックスは溢れ返ってるわけです、質問はみな“日本でファッションの勉強をするに当たってアドバイス下さい!“ってな感じ。)だから今回、満を持して私の意見をぶちまけたいと思います。かなりディープな話になるから覚悟して下さい!笑 私の経験に基づく話だから、特別美化したり特別卑下したものでは無いのでご安心を。あと、ファッションに限らず日本で勉強をしたいと考えている海外の方には是非読んでほしいです。あと日本人の方にも、何か感じ取ってもらえたら幸いです。まずはストーリー設定、主人公は日本に留学をしに来た外国人の女の子。 

bunka fashion college
Bunka Fashion College as seen from above.
Background: I attended Bunka Fashion College from 2005-2007 in the stylist course for two years. It is a technical degree and as far as I know isn’t recognized in the US schooling system (maybe it’s an AA? I could be wrong…someone help me out here)… I`m not sure about anywhere else or the actual specifics of it, but make sure you are cool with spending two year of education on something that may or may not transfer back home (if you go back).
Why is it good to go to fashion school vs. just University? Well there’s this big myth that it’s like so way cooler to be in the fashion industry but not have any background in fashion. When I was a student we had a stylist come in and give special lecture and he was pretty pompous.. “None of my assistants are going to be fashion students. They’re boring.” Going to fashion school isn’t required at all, but it does give these huge benefits:
* Insider look at the workings of the fashion biz early on
* A school that will network for you
* A group of classmates and alumni who will ostensibly go into the industry and give you jobs later
* Being able to study a subject you love for several years
Now whether your school in Japan actually comes through with those is another story. My experience is 50/50. Let’s get started:




mode gakuen
Mode Gakuen’s Cocoon Tower in Shinjuku
So I was lucky to attend Bunka Fashion College which boasts a nice reputation among the world’s fashion institutions (supposedly it’s #3 in the world?!). It has alumni like Yohji Yamamoto, Kenzo, Tsumori Chisato, Limi Yamamoto (Limi Feu), Miyamae (new head of Issey Myake), Jun Takahashi (Undercover), and NIGO was here before dropping out…basically a who’s-who of the global Japanese fashion industry. Not to mention the Tokyo brands like Somarta, Matohu, Guts Dynamite Cabarets, FACETASM and many more.
So it’s a good school, but it’s reputation precedes it. HOMEWORK is insane, yo. Before I came over I was researching on the net about it I found only ONE tidbit in English that went something like, “This is the hardest fashion school you will attend due to the amount of work. Be prepared. Not everyone comes out alive.”
Whoah. Scary.


まず、私の行っていた文化服装学院は世界でも有数の評価を得ている学校だからラッキーだった(世界で3位だって?!)。ファッションの本場、モードの発信地パリから地球半周分も離れたこの日本という国にありながらこの学校の卒業生であるヨウジ ヤマモトや ケンゾー、ツモリ チサトやヤマモト リミ、イッセイミヤケのミヤマエさんにアンダーカバーのタカハシ ジュンさんなどは海外で絶大なる評価を得ているし、あのNIGOもこの学校に入っている(彼の場合はドロップアウトしたわけだけど)。それ以外にも、もちろん東京コレクションのメインブランドであるソマルタやまとふ、ガッツダイナマイトキャバレー、ファセタズムなんかのデザイナーも皆一様にこの学校の出身だ。



I knew the Japanese were hard workers, but this just had me freaked out. I wanted to rescind my application to Bunka and apply to “MODE Gakuen” in Osaka or something which looked like a frolic comparatively (and their commercials are awesome).
With that said, a Japanese technical school is basically 4 years of Uni work crammed into two years so yeah it’s going to be intense. And these teachers are strict. They expect perfection. How do you think the Japanese learn to be such perfectionists in presentation and detail?! It’s in the education. You will pour over your hand-drawn patterns, your stitches, and you will panic and you will start from square one over and over again.
However, I found that online blog post about it being a limbo to hell to be hyperbole and I survived just fine, even coming without ANY prior sewing experience at all. Of course, I was in the most “lenient” course as stylist which may have contributed. My roommate at the time was American as well and she took the design course at Bunka and I remember she hardly ever slept over the two years.


entrance catalog
Application page for study-abroad hopefuls. Yep, it’s only in Japanese!
“I want to study at Bunka, but I don’t speak Japanese. They have classes in English? And how do I apply in English?”
If they don’t even have an English application page do you think that they teach in English?! Don’t even think about coming to study without getting your Japanese ducks in line first. It doesn’t need to be fluent level, but 2 kyuu at least! I studied for 1 year before going to Bunka at their language school on campus that was full-time, everyday (but in my case it was more to straighten out my wacky Kansai-ben to Kanto-ben..keke). Test scores count high (much too high) in your grades and you’re going to need to study. And if you want to work here afterward at all, it’s very much necessary.
THAT SAID…over the past 5 years, the English competency in the Japanese fashion industry has increased exponentially. But still, learning the local language is flattery and flattery will get you everywhere.
Also, I hear Bunka actually started an experimental English course this year. I met a couple students from it, but I don’t have the details on what it entails, sorry.





bunka college
Featured in a book that gathered some top Bunka-alum industry pros.  
Ok, I gotta say the system just really doesn’t work for me. For example, it might go like this back home in the US:
Teacher: I want you to make a skirt. I don’t care how, just get it done.
Teacher: Do this, now do that, then we do this, next do that. Oh look, we have a skirt.
The process is heavily taken into account which means you MUST do it their way. There isn’t much room for thinking outside of the box, or even for going above and beyond. And it didn’t work for me because the steps were just too detailed and I can’t remember it at all. I didn’t understand the obsession with detail-especially in the stylist course- when costumes aren’t products made to last forever, but need to be made QUICKLY and EFFICIENTLY on the spot. I had a tiff with a teacher when I went out of order when sewing a tag on a dress I made. I mean, really??
This type of education works for some but not all…






Also, if you’re coming from the West, you will find that going to tech college here is like being in high school again. You’ll have to remember that education in Japan is very focused on memorization through highschool, so being in college is the student’s very first forays into public speaking, presentations, and group work.  But look at the bright side: your refined presentation skillz will make you a hero in your group! [Speaking of groups, sometimes the teacher will ask you to get into groups. A silence will fall over the class. Some of their faces will turn white. It’s like the teacher asked everyone to choose a sacrifice. Just be cool about it.]
Everything is also pre-planned. If you’re a non A-type person like me you will go crazy, but just remember it means the chance of failure is miniscule. Just be thankful that most people around WILL be type A and try not to piss your classmates off with your spontaneity.


bunka fashion college
Say it with me: SUGOI! I want this jacket! (From Bunka’s Culture Festival show)
Ok, in the west, fawning over things is seen as totally NOT COOL. Being indifferent IS TOTALLY COOL. But here, you need to give props to everything.
Did someone sew a button on a coat properly? SUGOI.
Did someone pack their own homemade lunch? SUGOI.
Did someone walk up the stairs instead of taking the escalator? SUGOI.
Just go with the flow and be MI-HA for everyone else  whether you are actually impressed or not (Mi-ha means to aimlessly fawn over something)..in return, they will be mi-ha for you. It’s a real confidence booster. It’s weird at first, but don’t be a jerk about it, ok?




And this is too long and I have stuff to do so PART 2 will come tomorrow (up now!)—
Tokyo Fashion Diaries by Japan Fashion blogger misha janette | ファッションブロガーのミーシャジャネットの東京ファッションダイアリー