Babies share TV fame in land of the rising mum mums

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At first sight, glimpsed on television or on the cover of their recent CD, there is nothing special about the seven young women, aged 18 to 24, who make up the Japanese pop band Lipless X Sister. Their dyed blond hair, thick mascara, huge white socks and platform soles are the uniform of the fashionable female in Tokyo. Their uneven singing and occasionally rocky dancing is standard among their pop contemporaries. Even their group's curious Japanese-English name is nothing unusual, alongside rivals such as Puffy, Mr Children and Blankey Jet City.

At first sight, glimpsed on television or on the cover of their recent CD, there is nothing special about the seven young women, aged 18 to 24, who make up the Japanese pop band Lipless X Sister. Their dyed blond hair, thick mascara, huge white socks and platform soles are the uniform of the fashionable female in Tokyo. Their uneven singing and occasionally rocky dancing is standard among their pop contemporaries. Even their group's curious Japanese-English name is nothing unusual, alongside rivals such as Puffy, Mr Children and Blankey Jet City.

Lipless X Sister's unique selling point comes in the form of the accessories which each of its members brings to their rehearsals, their recordings and, often, to their television appearances ­ seven pushchairs, each containing a boisterous toddler. In Japanese popular culture, Lipless X Sister are gyaru mama, or "girl mothers", the latest and most unexpected product of Tokyo street fashion.

The gyaru mama are the consequence of one of the most striking phenomena of 21st century Tokyo ­ the ko-gyaru, meaning "young girl". Ko-gyaru were divided into several sub-species, but all were young (mid-teens to early twenties), extremely fashion-conscious and tended to congregate in the clothes shops, burger joints and amusement arcades of Tokyo's Shibuya district. For 18 months, until late last year, they overran Shibuya in their drastic make-up, fake tans and stilt-like platforms, smoking, giggling, gossiping and flirting with their counterparts, the Shibuya boys.

The fashion bubble burst, as it had to, and the ko-gyaru look began to appear crude and dated, and was dropped. But the consequence of those Shibuya friendships is what is now being treated as a new fashion "tribe" ­ the young gyaru mama and their babies.

Out of this came Lipless X Sister, the creation of a 33-year-old singing teacher, Kenjiro Morita. "Like most people, I became aware of the teenage mother issue while watching TV," he told the Asahi newspaper. "But I didn't realise how pretty many of them were until I saw some of them walking through Shibuya. It was totally by chance, but I immediately realised that this could be a winning formula."

The job of recruiting Mr Morita's "Spice Mums" was made easier by the highly organised nature of the gyaru mama ­ Japan is a country where even single mothers have their own circles. He chose his seven singers ­ Yuko, Yoshimi, Megumi, Miyuki, Reiko, Risa and Junko ­ from a support group called Ripples Sister.

"By 'Lipless'," he explained, "I wanted to say, 'You can like us, but you can't kiss us because we're mothers.' The important thing was that they could sing, and that their husbands approved ­ otherwise there would have been problems."

With the easy availability of abortion, and conservative social attitudes, only one in a hundred Japanese babies are illegitimate, and four out of the seven Lipless X Sister singers are married to the fathers of their offspring. "I had my child because I wanted to see a baby with my boyfriend's face," Reiko Ono, who is not one of the four, told the Asahi. "But he left me, and I regret it now."

Of course the true significance of the gyaru mama phenomenon lies not in the girls themselves but in the opportunity they represent for others to make money out of them. Several of the gyaru mama circles have their own websites, which include auction sites for baby clothes.

Mr Morita is already planning a range of Lipless X Sister merchandise, including pushchairs and a bikini calendar ­ a nude photo book featuring the singers may also be in the offing. And in Japan's fast moving pop culture, there is no time to waste. Nobody knows how long this trend has left to run, but the girl-mothers of Lipless X Sister will be lucky if they are still stars by the time their babies have grown out of nappies.

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