Thursday, July 25, 2019

Shocking Update: Natural Kei Style Doesn't Exist (kind of)

Yes, you are reading that right. And no, it's not clickbait. And yes, I am just as surprised as you at this, and if you'll read on, I'll give you in-depth information on what I discovered, and how I discovered it.

To make a long story short, I had posted my previous blog post about natural kei on the mori discord server, and we were discussing it there. One of the mori folks there, wistwarbler, mentioned that maybe reading more from Japanese sources might clear up the issues with inconsistencies I had found. I thought that was a great idea, and mentioned I might do that in the future.

So, I had some free time that night, and I decided to browse a bit for articles to translate later on about natural kei in Japanese. However, I quickly ran into a massive roadblock when I discovered the term natural kei doesn't exist in Japanese. 

To clarify, the fashion itself that is associated with natural kei does exist. Clearly, pictures exist, PINK HOUSE exists, etc. That part of the fashion is accurate, but it is the term natural kei, and it's status as a collective "style" that does not exist in the way the English speaking community has long seemed to believe.

I'll get more into what terms do exist in a bit, and what the fashion actually looks like, but I ended up going down another research rabbit hole, and finding a lot of answers about many of the inconsistencies I found in the style, its dates, and its popularity.

So I wanted to give you an update on what I found, both for the history of PINK HOUSE and the fashion, as well as its proper names. While all info on the fashion I wrote about is still as accurate as I could find at the time, and still technically correct in the most important ways, there is just a bit more to the story.

I will be including sources in this post, but please be aware that all of them are in Japanese. You are free to check them out, but be aware you might not be able to read them.

So without further ado, let's get into the real state of natural kei fashion!


I know you are all desperate to know about the term and how the fashion doesn't technically exist, but before I do that I quickly want to talk about dates first. Doing so will set up a lot of context that will be useful to you later on, so I highly recommend reading this section and not skipping it.

To start out, according to Wikipedia, PINK HOUSE was established as an early design concept by its original creators in 1973, but the brand was not officially formed until 1982, making the date of the current styles conception beginning in the 1980s, with roots in the 1970s. This is consistent with the better sources I found, and gives us a clear date for the start of the style: 1982.

Additionally, according to Middle Edge, in the 1990s, Kaneko Isao moved from designing for PINK HOUSE to focusing on his own new brand, Wonderful World. This move is often cited in English sources as the move towards natural kei influencing Lolita, but his new brand continued designing clothing that is similar to his original designs and did not take a new Lolita twist at all. I'm not sure where this idea even came from, to be honest, as the designers associated with PINK HOUSE have maintained a fairly consistent style throughout the years.

Kaneko remained somewhat active throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and only stopped work in 2007, according to Wikipedia.

So here is what is important to know and keep in mind: One, PINK HOUSE and Kaneko Isao are both still active in creating fashion, both with a similar style despite the split. Two, both are still active (as in PINK HOUSE) or recently active (as in Kaneko Isao).

Keep these things in mind, especially Kaneko Isao's name, as we move on. He will become quite important.


When searching for terms that might bring up natural kei fashion in Japanese, I began with the term ナチュラルケイ/系 (natural kei in Japanese). This is what jumpstarted everything, because the term does not exist at all for this style of clothing, and brings up nothing. So my first thought was to look for PINK HOUSE fan coordinates from people on Instagram and other sites, and see what tags they were using.

For best results, I started with ピンクハウスコード(with is PINK HOUSE coord) and later substituted that with the modern word for coord, コーデ (code). This is a popular naming convention for Japanese fashion tags, so I was fairly confident this would lead me to people tagging the style with the term natural kei in whatever form it took in Japanese. But although that brought up a ton of "natural kei" coordinates, the tags were not what I expected.

Instead of finding a tag for natural kei, I found new terms such as ピンクハウスファッション or PINK HOUSE fashion in English, and Kaneko Isao, both as 金子功 (his name in kanji), and カネコ福(コード、コーデ、ファッション) or Kaneko coord/fashion/style in English.

Various brand names were also popular tags for these outfits, such as Mary Rose or メリーローズ, as well as INGEBORG, Karl Helmut, and of course WONDERFUL WORLD.


Firstly, what I am certain of is that the term "natural kei" does not exist in Japan. As for what it the proper name is, that is a bit confusing. As far as I can tell, the name PINK HOUSE is used similarly to big-name English brands, like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, within Japan. Meaning that it is recognizable as a brand name, but does not have its own style name attached to it. 

I'll get more to that in a moment, but first, a few sources as an example.

One example is a PINK HOUSE and Kaneko style resail shop, Daisy, which merely refers to the style as PINK HOUSE fashion, or by Kaneko's name. Additionally, the Morioka staff, a PINK HOUSE specialization store in Japan, refer to styles only by their brand names as well.

The most popular term as far as I can tell are any of the many variations of PINK HOUSE style or coord.


So even if "natural kei" as a term doesn't exist, what makes me say it is not a style? 

Firstly, let me say it again. The fashion started by the PINK HOUSE brand that we associate with the term natural kei does exist. What doesn't exist is the "kei" part of the fashion. 

Let me clarify. When we think of mori kei, or dolly kei, or cult party kei, or even other Japanese fashions like decora and lolita, there is a sense of not only a style that goes along with it, but an aesthetic and a community. Think of mori girl and lolita meetups, talks about lifestyle and activities that fit the fashion. "Natural kei" does not have that.

PINK HOUSE as a brand and fashion style does exist, but it has no community and aesthetic. It would explain why I could never find any real lifestyle or aesthetic attached to the style, just a very specific fashion style. It also explains why the style seems so rigid. If it is literally based around one brand, no wonder all of it looks the same!

And now that I know the correct terms, the only things I can find talking about it in Japanese are posts about the designers/brands, or people wearing the clothing from those brands, nothing about an aesthetic of community, or anything similar to that.

You can search for any of the proper terms for the style listed above, and you'll find the same. Many individual outfits, some discussion of its heyday as a style in the 1980s, and discussions of the brands, but nothing else.


There is one more thing I would like to touch on quickly, and that is the popularity of "natural kei." If you remember from my last post, I mentioned that many claimed the style was very popular, but I couldn't say for sure. But, I was able to find some mention of the style's popularity this time around.

Surprisingly, out of all the incorrect misinformation, the style's popularity is the one thing that is correct. According to NLab, in an interview with a TV actress wearing the style, she claims that the style, which she refers to as PINK HOUSE style, was a staple fashion style in the 1980s.

Additionally, in another source by naver MATOME, they claim that PINK HOUSE fashion, during its boom in the 80s, was even more popular than bodikon fashions (which were considered to be very popular at the time).

Lastly, according to an interview from Healthy Hawaii Foods with Kaneko Isao, PINK HOUSE had collaborations with Hello Kitty in 2010, and the popular idol group Momoiro Clover Z in 2016. They also said the Laforet Harajuku store started selling PINK HOUSE fashion in 2016, proving it's continued popularity within the collective consciousness in Japan.


So now that all this information about "natural kei" has been incorrect all this time, the next question is where did this term and idea come from? Clearly, in Japan, this collective "style" does not exist in the way English speaking fashion blogs have painted it. So what happened? And when?

First, I don't think there is anyone that should be "blamed" for this. I think this is most likely a spread of misinformation that slowly got worse over time as each new person reported what they had read, and so on. Kind of like a game of telephone, the information became more and more distorted as it went along, and with no way for those who don't speak Japanese to check it, it was allowed to run its course.

Obviously, someone is responsible for spreading misinformation deliberately, but I don't think it was any of the people who have discussed it any time recently. But we also can't say for sure if it was even created maliciously or purposefully wrong in the first place. Maybe the term was created by someone trying to give the style a clearer English name, and somehow people began to believe it was an actual "kei" like mori or dolly or cult party over time? Who knows for sure.

As for when it started, that is unsure. I can't find any source in English that doesn't refer to the style as "natural kei," and I am unsure where the term first started. However, what I do know is that, according to google trends, the first search term for "natural kei" came about in March 2005, with 100 searches that month. Presumably, the term came about sometime around then, although we can't say for certain. 

When looking for myself at search results on google, nothing can be found about the style before mid-2006. And it is not until October of 2006 that the term becomes an active search term at all. 

UPDATE 1/20/2020: According to a reader, the term Natural Kei in Japanese (or ナチュラル系) is actually used. I was searching for the katakana version of the word "kei" and not its kanji, explaining the lack of results in google search. However, although this term does exist, it does not describe PINK HOUSE fashions, but rather Japanese Natural Fashion Trends, which I wrote about previously.

It is possible that someone found this term that was used in Japan, and applied it to the style mistakingly. However, the term does not describe PINK HOUSE fashion at all, and is exclusively used for more natural trends type fashion, more similar to Mori Kei than PINK HOUSE. The term would indeed be foreign to those in Japan who do still wear PINK HOUSE and Kaneko designs.


So, what can we conclude about all of this information? Let's wrap it up in a few points.
  • The term Natural Kei does not exist.
  • The correct terms for the style focus on popular brands and designers.
  • PINK HOUSE fashion is not a "kei" fashion like other styles due to its lack of community and aesthetic.
  • PINK HOUSE fashion was indeed a very popular fashion brand, especially during the 1980s after it's official creation, and still remains somewhat popular to this day.


So all of this is quite confusing to me, and this was such a deep research rabbit hole, and I was pretty shocked at everything I found. However, what I'm curious about now is what do you think? Is the term natural kei still acceptable to use? Should we switch to the proper term PINK HOUSE? Does it really matter? Should we keep the name since it is familiar? 

So many questions! Personally, I think that the proper history of natural kei/PINK HOUSE fashion should be more widespread, and the fact that it is not the same as other Japanese fashions is important I think, but I personally don't think it matters that much what we call it, especially since it is what the majority of English speaking/international groups know it as. 

Really, what baffles me the most is that we have reinvented the entire identity of a style without anyone realizing it was happening.

Anyways, I'd like to hear your thoughts! What do you think about all this. Let me know in the comments!


  1. It is rather confusing as you say. The style that was around in the later part of the 1970 that at least in my part of the world (Baltic area) was inspired by the "Little House on the Praire" and "Holly Hobbie" was, as far as I can make out from photos from that period, a lot like the "Natural Kei" pictures on your former post on this subject. My grandmother tells me that it aslo was rather popular to wear clothes inspired by traditional country folk working clothes at that time, some called it folklore fashion (all of it). It could have been an inspiration for PINKHOUSE/Natural kei, perhaps? Who knows? I am impressed by all the research you have done for all these posts on "sisterstyles. Thank you./Molly

    1. Pink House/natural kei was definitely inspired by such fashions, and by the prairie fashion style in general, so you are right about that. I think I mentioned that in the last post, but not in this one. The fashion itself totally does still exist, and is inspired by those things. But it is the name natural kei and it's status as a "kei" style that doesn't exist. So yes, confusing! I'm still baffled at how everything got so convoluted haha! And thanks for the compliment :)

  2. What a fantastic deep dive! An excellent piece of research, and you put it all together in a very understandable way. :)

    As to what we should call it... I don't know. Pink House is an actual brand name and decades after its popularity peaked, someone else came along with a name that didn't originate with Pink House. On the other hand, we've built a community around that name.

    At this point, I don't think it matters anymore. We've used natural kei as a term for over a decade. We could, to be totally accurate, drop the kei and just call it natural style, but then we lose a piece of the puzzle and a piece of the history. It's part of a larger, cultural evolution, and it's actually amazing to witness it happening. :D

    1. Thank you my deer! I'm glad you found it easy to read!

      I agree with you that changing the name is probably not going to happen. And name changes, especially when facing a language barrier, is bound to happen (like how mori girl became simply mori for example). However, I do worry about how natural kei has been presented.

      The fact that people have created a history for natural kei that doesn't exist is troubling to me as a historian. Especially since those who actually wear the style in Japan, not to mention internationally, are practically non-existent at this point, and aren't around to stand up and say the actual history of the style. It's one thing to create new things as time goes on to add to the style, but it is another to write a fake history and spread it around (whether that was done maliciously or by accident).

      So yes, for the name, I think keeping natural kei makes the most sense, even though it has no original basis in the style. It's so well known now that it just makes sense! But the history part is important. I'd hate to think about people rewriting mori's history since I love it so much! So I think we owe natural kei the same treatment and honesty :)

    2. It is troubling to you as a historian. To me, it is a fascinating example of how we lose history and historical context. All that needs to happen today is for someone to say something that sounds right or 'logical' and we all agree regardless of it's accuracy.

      The corset is a great example: an article of clothing that women stole from men to achieve a certain look and was mass produced. You bought them by the dozen off the rack for about the same amount the average girl who lived in the poorest sections of London made in a week at her day job. (We'll leave her night job out of the discussion, but it is where we get the phrase 'loose woman' because she'd wear her corset loos at night to make it easier to get on and off.)

      Now, the corset is seen as a symbol of patriarchal oppression that was expensive to buy and costly to produce. And only the richest of the rich could afford them. Wearing a corset today, even as we shove ourselves into Spanx, can get you lambasted quick if someone notices. And this is even with corsets being the better option because they're adjustable. If it feels too tight, you can let it out. *shrug*

      Modernity looks on the past with a very uncritical eye. It is less concerned with historical fact than it is with judging people and actions of the past. We see ourselves as so much better, so much more enlightened, that we miss important pieces of context and reduce eras and people to one note traits and sound bites.

      And now I'm digressing. :)

      Thank you again for doing the research and digging into the deep well of a favorite fashion of many Mori Kei lovers. I absolutely love it when when of your blog posts shows up on my Old Reader dash and I jump to read it!

  3. This is an amazing post!! I stumbled on the link for it on facebook and I'm so thankful I took the time to read! thank you for doing all that research and compiling it in an easy to digest manner! This is freaking amazing!!

    1. Thank you so much my deer! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)

  4. If you go onto website and search ナチュラル系 (natural kei) in Japanese it actually does show coordinations for this style so natural kei is an actual existing style, is all in Japanese so maybe you didn't come across this website. It's not just about Pink House for natural kei, there are other brands that I thought of when I think of natural kei like franche lippe, Samansa Mos2/sm2 Keittio, Earth Music and Ecology and studio CLIP, and on they do have these brands tagged under the term ナチュラル系 /natural kei, especially Samansa mos2/sm2 keittio shows up when this term is searched. Pink House is a really expensive brand and most people here in Japan cannot afford such a brand so when most people think of natural kei these other brands I mentioned are more thought of when thinking of the term ナチュラル系 / natural kei. I live in Japan so I physically go to these stores and also use so this is my observation.

    1. You are thinking of modern natural fashion trends. Pink House style is in other brands as well (I just called it that for simplicity sake as they started the style) but the images that come up for natural kei are for modern trends not the same style that Pink House and similar affiliated brands create. I wrote a post on that style recently, but I didn't know it had actually adopted the name natural kei! That helps a lot in the search for where the name comes from. I was looking for ナチェラルケイ so that would explain why I couldn't find it before. If you're interested in the disctinction, here is the post on the style you are thinking of.

    2. To summarize, you're right that the term exists (although that is news to me so thanks for sending that my way!) but it still doesn't exist in the capacity that the western world has used it (for Pink House's specific style only, and that specific aesthetic).

  5. Ok thank you, I looked at your other post about *almost mori what is japanese natural* and yeah those brands I mentioned are like what you mention in that natural post, but for some reason here in Japan that is what the term natural kei is referred to, people always think of that modern natural style as *natural kei*, it seems Pink House is not termed as natural kei in Japan, but sometimes people refer to it as otome kei, or some sort of couture version of mori girl (because it is an expensive fashion brand so couture could be thought of). I also sort of seen it as like a more lolita take on mori girl? like if mori girl was more like lolita style but had the silhouette and layering of mori, Pink House has alot of sweet motifs like strawberries, using the color pink and other sweet colors, and other sweet motifs, which sort of reminds me of country lolita style but not the silhouette. I just did another search with the term *ナチュラル系* on the internet seach engine and it showed the type of images as in the modern natural kei that you refer to, there is no images of Pink House, so I am not sure how outside of Japan, in the international fashion commnuity how Pink House was categorized as natural kei.