Perhaps you’ve heard the word ギャル (gyaru) thrown around a few times in conversation, but every time you ask, your Japanese friends tell you it’s just a fashion thing from the early 2000s, kind of like wearing Juicy Couture or having pencil-thin eyebrows.
But is that really all there is?
Then what did they mean by statments like, “She sounds like a gyaru”?
To fully understand, we must take a brief look at the origins, as well as how gyaru have evolved to bring us the modern day gyaru. We’ll also look at the specific language and slang gyaru use that can be hard to grasp for textbook Japanese learners. Just in case you make a gyaru friend!
- The Origin Story
- Gyaru Language and Slang
- The Modern Gyaru
The Origin Story
ギャル (gyaru) — a transliteration of the English world "Gal" — is a subculture that began in Shibuya, Tokyo in the 1990s. The word gyaru is used both for the subculture and the individual.
Naturally, the environment of the 1990s played a huge part in the birth of the gyaru. The standard society imposed on Japanese women back then was:
- quiet and subservient
- fair skin
- natural makeup
- a good amount of concern for her social standing
That was the “proper” daughter and housewife.
In comes the gyaru generation, not with a whimper but with a bang: an aesthetic with flashy clothes and dramatic makeup to subvert the Japanese norm at the time, gyaru subculture rose in opposition to the “good girl” standard Japanese women were expected to follow in the 1990s.
Young women in their late teens and 20s began to dress in skin-tight clothes, dye their hair and slather on heavy makeup, and generally act wild and rebellious. The classic look included blonde hair, super dark skin, heavy eyeliner and fake lashes, as well as revealing clothes in pop colors.
The Modern Gyaru
Many subcategories of the original gyaru look have popped up since inception. The boom peaked around the 2010s, but gyaru-type girls definitely still exist, even if they have toned down the dark skin and blonde hair a notch.
For the purpose of the word used today, gyaru is most commonly used to describe both aesthetic and personality; someone dressing in the gyaru aesthetic but without the personality to match would just be called 派手 (hade), or “flashy”. Personality-wise, gyaru tend to be cheerful and loud, generally the life of the party, and not afraid to speak their mind.
Today, calling someone a gyaru can have both good and bad associations depending on the context and a person’s personal views.
The bad connotations:
- party girl
The good connotations:
- protective of friends
Over time, numerous references have appeared in movies and pop culture, and there have even been manga and anime dedicated to gyaru. In fact, the unique way gyaru talk is still influential to young people today.
Gyaru Language and Slang
Gyaru have always had their own lingo or way of speaking, a quality that is alive and well in the modern day gyaru. For example, gyaru may exaggerate inflections and intonations in their speech, and add abbreviations and portmanteaus (fusion words).
Gyaru language has great influence on the way youngsters speak in general, whether they’re gyaru or not.
For example, popular slang used to this day include:
- まじで (maji de // for real)
- ～的な (-teki na // like; about)
- ガチ (gachi // seriously)
- それな (sore na // IKR?)
- ～なう (-nau // ~now; at this moment).
Many of these original gyaru sayings have become so normalized that people well into their 30’s and beyond use them. In fact, many would not argue they are not or never were gyaru slang — the origins of these things are so hard to track down, after all.
Some slightly outdated words include:
- テンあげ (tenage getting excited)
- かれぴっぴ (karepippi // a derivative of 彼氏 [kareshi], or boyfriend)
- 激おこぷんぷん丸 (geki ako punpun maru // a cute nonsensical word made up to mean “super angry”)
Though the gyaru is currently out of style, the influence lingers. To cover all the history and sub-styles of the gyaru scene in one setting would be near-impossible, but hopefully we’ve given you a good place to start.
Now you could even add some gyaru-speak to your own slang vocabulary!
If you want to learn more about how gyaru speak — about how any type of native Japanese speaker speaks, in fact — then head over to NativShark. ^_^