Legendary Yamanba Aja tells us a bit about her life as a young Yamamba living in Shibuya's busy Center-gai.
Do you know “Yamanba”? Darkened skin with white eye shadow and lips. Hair that has been bleached so you look like a mountain hag? Those were some of the characteristics of 35-year-old Aja(あぢゃ), born in 1983.
“The boom craze around Namie Amuro (a famous pop singer from Okinawa) began when I was in elementary school. I began to look up to EGG magazine in junior high school. My hometown, Yokohama, mostly had yanki (delinquents), but I went to school in Shibuya and had my gal debut there.
I always hated to lose, so I became flashier and flashier. Then before I knew it, I was being called a Yamanba gal.”
"At that time, I was living in center-gai with some friends. To be precise, I would sleep in Miyashita Park, go to center-gai when I get up, and from there to a tanning salon."
“For a month and a half, me and my friends would take turns staying awake to be on the lookout in the park. One time, a homeless man even gave me some of his oden.
I did not have any job but I wanted to tan my skin, so for distributing 100 leaflets from the salon, I would get to tan for 20 minutes. Instead of taking a bath, I would use the faucet in the park to wash my armpits and private parts.
Groups like ours caught the eyes of the television industries and were frequently interviewed on the street. I often got hamburgers with my friends as a payment for participating. One day, I suddenly decided to go back home. Upon arriving at home, I looked so different as a Yamanba gal that my grandmother didn’t recognize me and greeted me with a “Haro”. (Foreigners are frequently greeted with this Engrish phrase of “Hello”.)
Around that time, I started appearing in the magazine Popteen.
Popteen became popular and I even got to appear on the front cover, it made me famous. When me and my friends gathered by the entrance of Center-gai to do para para, over 100 people would gather there with us.”
"I have a lot of precious memories from photo shoots in front of my favorite 109"
For Aja at that time, 109 was like a luxury liner. Fully-equipped with air conditioner and blasting music from Ayu (Ayumi Hamasaki). Whether it was buying clothes, eating or going to the bathroom, she could do it all at 109. “Because I loved it, I didn’t litter!”
"Maybe I will do Yamanba again"
The Aja that used to love Shibuya that much, now works as a hostess in Ginza.
“I used to go to the salon eight times a week, and now I walk around with a parasol! My face has turned back to white, and my arms do not tan easily anymore, but I still live the Yamanba experience. I don’t have any trouble talking to the customers, there are also a lot of girls my age, so it is exciting.
It would be fun to try Yamanba again like I did last halloween. I am really thinking about it. I love standing out.”