"The DJ is the perfect example of the Japanese searching for their own individuality," Maiko said. "They're independent: they just choose their favorites of everything—music, clothing, style. It's the same in fashion. Sampling is the new way."
To see Tokyo style with Maiko is to experience it as a DJ might, skittering across the surface of things, dipping into various riffs and licks and then pulling up abruptly to luxuriate in some unexpected groove. From Omotesando, the sedate shopping street that is Tokyo's analogue to New York's Madison Avenue, we will, one gray afternoon, head to Aoyama, where both high-end luxury and indie brands are sold at a patchwork of locations that, in typical Tokyo fashion (the city lacks numbered addresses), are infuriatingly difficult to track.
At the multifloor Laforet department store, hub of the teenage kawai, or "cutie" trend, labels like Super Hakka, Alphabet Club, and Tout à Coup are sold alongside the efforts of experimental designers so fresh on the scene that they barely have a business plan.
Akira Takeuchi and Tayuka Nakanishi's company, Theatre Products, for instance, makes T-shirts that are formed and affixed to a continuous fabric roll. To buy one, you cut off a length of cloth and then peel it free. It is at Laforet that we run into Kei-ichi Tanaka, the men's wear designer for Comme des Garçons. "In Japan," Mr. Tanaka remarks, as young women with blond hair and bee-stung lips crowd the candy-colored lobby, "the passion for fashion is immense."
The proof of that passion is at the intersection of Omotesando and Meiji-dori, where hip young Tokyo comes to preen in skirts over trousers, gauze dresses, baby-doll clothes, patent-leather raincoats, mop hair, mullets, hot-pink cardigans over olive-drab maxi skirts and flat Chinese acrobat shoes. Somehow even the most unlikely sartorial combinations appear pleasing and logical in this context. About the only thing that might jar the eye would be tastefulness.
From Meiji-dori we make our way to the Comme des Garçons store, whose canted window juts into the street from beneath a nondescript apartment building, to Prada, and then to 10 Corso Como Comme des Garçons, a brand-new collaboration between Rei Kawakubo and the Milanese store-owner Carla Sozzani, whose sister, Franca, is the editor of Italian Vogue. "I hate copies and I never, ever wanted to do another store," Carla Sozzani told me not long ago. "But doing it in Tokyo with Rei was another story; we could try new things."
Japan is a Shinto country with bracingly catholic tastes. That this seems particularly conspicuous to me now probably has to do with where I've just been. For the past two weeks I have been assembling my own mixed tape of fashion and style impressions, drawing mainly from Paris and Berlin. If I occasionally failed to come up with the same pitch of frantic activity Tokyo offers, I found much to confirm that style itself has become a global Esperanto.