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how we stan differently: japanese harry styles fans discuss

An exclusive extract from 'Fangirls', a new book by Hannah Ewens.

by Hannah Ewens
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12 August 2019, 8:00am

All photos taken by the author

Along with between two and three hundred girls Yukino is standing in the otherwise barren arrivals area of Haneda airport. The girls believe Harry’s flight will land at 5.55am, meaning that at some point close to the hour, he’ll be curving through the doors to their left and inevitably, following common practice and expectation, stop to engage with them on his way through.

The Sunday night just hours before, Yukino was sitting online, chatting to friends and winding down for sleep when she saw that a fan had posted a photo of herself with Harry at a New Zealand airport. From the time this picture was posted – knowing that the Japanese dates of his tour, the very final shows of the entire run, were imminent – she and others were able to deduce what flight to Japan he would be getting and therefore at which airport he would land at what time. This was confirmed to eager fans by a reply from the girl with the selfie. While each Japanese fan could’ve kept this delicious information to themselves, they shared the nugget, insistent that every girl possible be there. ‘After I saw the photo, I told my parents I had to go and they encouraged me even though I had school,’ Yukino tells me, making tiny anticipatory squeaks. ‘I just didn’t sleep at all. Luckily my other friends who love Harry live in the same area so we left the house together and got the first train.’

harry styles fans from hannah ewans - fangirls

Some might call this stalking. Within the One Direction (and later, their individual solo career) fandoms, this word is often used. In London, 1D stalking can get very competitive, and different groups, often bound by nationality, stick together. Laura, 19, says, ‘Everyone is sneaky because we all want to get the information to meet them without telling other people. To the point where people lie to each other. It’s mean but that’s true.’ Information will instead be shared within the group only. What you’ll do to get that access can be extreme and differs from fan to fan. Laura’s friend Grace, 19, only does it with public spaces, for instance, going to a rehearsal studio. ‘I wouldn’t wait outside their gyms, for example, even though I know the one they go to, because it’s their personal space. It’s a moralistic thing. I know a lot of people in New York who chase them in cars and call up airlines and pretend to be one of them to get their flight number.’ Nothing that extreme had to happen in Tokyo.

"The tears will not stop. I can’t go to school."

At 6.15 am, accompanied by bodyguards and airport security, Harry appears in wide-legged pink trousers. He autographs items held at stiff right angles and turns into their selfies; the mantra-like cries of ‘Harry, Harry’ rise in pitch as they sense his departure. It comes with a final wave. Yukino was close to the front initially but gets pushed away by others. ‘I was really moved by how he took photographs with everyone and signed autographs, but at the middle I think someone pushed him and it finished abruptly. Until it ended he was polite and nice. I was too far back so I couldn’t get anything signed but I did get videos of him signing... everyone else’s stuff.’ She starts to cry. She cries a lot. Her friends, composed despite disappointment, try to plug her tears with platitudes and condolences.

‘The tears will not stop. I can’t go to school,’ she tweets from her phone moments after. But they do go straight into school feeling dejected. Later she’ll tell me: ‘I’d tweeted about it so school people knew what had happened but when I arrived I cried again and everyone was nice to me, saying things like, “It’s okay, don’t worry. You still saw him.” I just wanted to welcome Harry in a warm way because he hasn’t been in Japan for quite a while. That was the sentiment.’ There is a respectfulness here, an acceptance that they are not close to his body, that they can never really be.

The first ‘Harry Girls’ I spot on Thursday are Yukino and her friend Rio in the pink jumpers, swinging bunches of pink flowers around. They had missed the surprise instructions and just brought them a day early of their own volition. ‘They’re for him,’ laughs Rio, ‘I didn’t know if we could throw flowers or not but I’ll take pictures. We bought them at the 100 yen store so it doesn’t matter what happens with them.’

harry styles fans from hannah ewans - fangirls

Yukino has a habit of looking between everyone as she speaks, as if we’re teetering on the edge of significance. She plans to make up for missing that connection with Harry at the airport tonight. ‘Because I’m standing not seated I’m going to go to the front and not pray…but worship, almost.’ Worship what, I ask. ‘He’s a god!’ she replies knowing the humour in the claim but meaning it all the same. ‘King,’ says Rio and they collapse into giggles.

What kind of girls would be into Harry in Japan? Generous girls, answers 19-year-old Yuika, who is here with her mum, who counts herself as another – albeit older – Harry Girl. ‘For example, I didn’t have time to get to the front to buy my merch I wanted for today, but this girl I didn’t even know said, “I’ll get stuff for you” because I couldn’t physically get there. She didn’t have to do that.’

They’re funny too. Usagi and Nana, both eighteen, scarcely stop for air between teasing each other. ‘I love Harry because he’s so kind and he’s so sweet, he is an ideal boyfriend, I love him so much,’ gushes Usagi. The first piece of information she shares is that her name means rabbit in Japanese and she half-bounces in a way that reminds me of one. Nana, in glasses, is calmer, no doubt because she couldn’t get a ticket.

‘Usagi’s going in tonight. I came along to buy merch. I’ll have to wait until he plays next May and leave her behind,’ Nana says, looking at a sympathetic Usagi. Without missing a beat, Nana sighs and pats Usagi’s arm patronisingly. ‘Harry may be Usagi’s boyfriend but he’s my husband so it’s fine to not see him.’

To my mind, there is something undeniably cool about these girls who choose to follow Western artists – stemming probably from the fact that they are casting their eyes outside the mainstream Japanese music offerings to find what they like, looking to online communities, overseas artists and culture. Most have a strong interest in British or American culture and, although some have official schooling in the language, there’s an impressive degree of self-taught English via music fandom. Usagi and Nana, before speaking, say that they don’t speak good English but then continue the majority of the conversation in it.

harry styles fans from hannah ewans - fangirls

Music has a global reach, increasingly so – it’s only natural then that in an effort to get closer to artists, fans want to speak their language, to speak to them if possible, to break down any barrier that keeps them at a distance. Lia is sixteen and has one Japanese parent and one African-American parent so speaks good conversational English. Her upbringing had exposed her to Western music, listening to Elvis Presley and *NSync. ‘From what I see, the British and American fans can speak fluent English so they know how to communicate with each other and with Harry in a way. For Japanese fans, most of us study English but aren’t perfect with it so I think in a way we have to communicate with impressions, not with words, so fandom gets different without knowing.’ By impressions, she means digital and physical methods – in spending and in sharing, retweeting, favouriting, liking.

Nineteen-year-old Chihiro heard from other fans that apparently on the first night Harry said to the room, ‘Who’s been to a One Direction show before?’ in order to prompt a positive reaction from the crowd. ‘No one in the room said anything, so there’s that disconnect in terms of communication. He said, “Never mind then”. That makes me sad that no one understood what he was saying, no one was able to react to what he said.’ She continues to talk of her own disconnect with Harry and his work. ‘The lyrics translation from Western to Japanese is not straightforward, it’s very roundabout, so to get some truth I’d rather try to read it in English rather than the translated version of Japanese. Generally with anything to do with Harry, I can’t absorb the information as quickly as people in the West.’

Some Japanese fans believe there’s tangibility to Western fandom as opposed to their more emotionally abstract one: ‘We think about him rather than being able to follow him in a more physical sense,’ said nineteen-year-old Misaki. Obviously no teenager is able to follow around a famous man who jet-sets from major city to major city, but Harry is pictured and described jogging around Primrose Hill every day, overlooking London for inspiration, or cruising, windows down, along the 101 freeway in LA and those are nearby places for some.

When I ask what the average Japanese Harry fan thinks Western Harry fans are like, Usagi goes up on her tiptoes and starts squealing and messing up her hair. ‘That’s a Western fan, they’re louder in the way they express their fanship. But a Japanese fan will go “Ehhh, Harry Styles”,’ she says in an airy voice, beating her hand lightly on her heart. But the general consensus is, as Nana points out, that despite cultural differences, ‘On the inside, every Harry fan in the whole universe is the same.’

This extract was condensed for i-D for online purposes. 'Fangirls' by Hannah Ewans is out now and available here.