One of the things Japan is famous for is its fashion scene. Japanese fashion designers conquer runways all over the world. In our Season 2 Episode 7 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we looked at theJapanese fashion triumvirate: Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo.
These three Japanese fashion designers are not only experts at seamlessly fusing traditional and modern, but they have unexpectedly made quite an impact on the Western fashion industry. You can’t really sum up Western fashion of the late 20th century without acknowledging the contributions by this Japanese avant garde trio.
This trio was repeatedly mentioned during my fashion school classes, highlighted for their unapologetic fusion of Japanese ideals in modern fashion. “Made in Japan” now carries a newfound prestige, and we have these fashion designers to thank for.
Here’s a recap of what we talked about Japan’s avant garde power trio!
The first fashion designer of the Japanese avant garde trio to reinvent Western technical and aesthetic values who we looked at is none other than Yohji Yamamoto. This pioneer of the 1980s Japanese New Wave didn’t, either. In fact, he studied law in university!
Now one of the most distinguished fashion designers of the industry, Yohji Yamamoto is known for his excessive usage of the colour black and the free-spirited concept portrayed in his crafty tailoring and androgynous silhouettes with a notion of concealing rather than revealing the body.
Yamamoto has his reasons behind the intentional usage of black, other than his perspective that black is a combination of colours. Black is modest and arrogant at the same time, black is easy and lazy but also mysterious. What’s better than black?
Yamamoto’s designs are made to be timeless, and instead of putting the garment on the body, he puts the body on the garment. A typical Japanese approach that is used religiously by Yamamoto is to start a design with fabric, rather than silhouette.
Apart from the dark, androgynous image he sets, Yohji Yamamoto is also especially famous for collaborations. Some might say he’s one of the first few designers who celebrates collab culture and gives access of high fashion to the masses. Y-3, anyone? This Adidas-Yohji Yamamoto collaboration that began in 2003 is one of the most successful collabs to this day, altering the perspective of menswear fashion and giving the male market an opportunity to play around with shape and movement just like the ladies.
Our next fashion designer is the one that has ruled the pleats trend for decades now. Issey Miyake was the first out of the three to showcase in France. Not only that, he was the first to restructure sartorial conventions, blinding in contrast to the conventional ways of Western designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel and Chistian Dior. Instead of obliging to the Western concept for women’s clothing of fitted silhouette and exposure of body contours, Miyake proudly introduced loose and baggy designs, free of traditional construction.
And just like his compatriot, Miyake has roots deep in traditional Japanese design philosophy, which is evident in all of his creations, and converting them into fashion-forward, modern Western pieces. Miyake didn’t think of his lack of western heritage in the world of Western fashion as a disadvantage, but an advantage. He introduced a new definition of aesthetics, and not by creating aesthetics itself, but by crafting it into a way of life (iki kata in Japanese) — the garment flows where the body moves.
And to this day, Issey Miyake’s brand — even though the mastermind himself has retired — continues on the legacy of approaching garment construction in original ways, prioritising the user first. If you think about it, that way of doing things is more of a product designer’s approach — and it obviously works out. He did once say, “I make tools. People buy my clothes and then they become tools for their creativity.”
Oh, and remember when I mentioned at the start that Issey Miyake is the pleat master? He’s Einstein when it comes to original fabrics, and the whole pleat thing came from his most commercially successful collection to this date, 1993’s Pleats Please. Instead of going for the traditional method of permanently pressing pleats before cutting out a garment, Miyake did the opposite — he cut the garment out twice the size, put it together and then started pleating.
And that’s only one of his creations. Another one worth mentioning is A-POC, or “A Piece of Cloth”, which is a concept by Miyake and his team, involving a long tube of knitted jersey which one can cut without wasting any material. Now that’s fashion of the future.
The last of the three avant garde designers, but most certainly not the least, is Rei Kawakubo — also known as the founder of Comme des Garçons. She once said she never intended to start a revolution, but she did — and we all have no regrets. If I could sum up Kawakubo’s aesthetics into three words, it would be: monochromatic, asymmetrical and voluminous.
With that said, Kawakubo is similar to Issey Miyake — in a sense of focusing on perfectly imperfect cuts and asymmetrical lines in her designs — and also to Yohji Yamamoto — with the dramatic usage of black. I guess you could say that she ties the trio all together, making the Japanese avant garde aesthetics coherent, but still very much a broad category.
As Kawakubo studied art in university, her collections for Comme des Garçons weren’t based on trends, but rather artistic concepts which create designs of unorthodox silhouettes that use exaggerated amounts of fabric. These all play a part in offering women to look “like some boys”…
This is about providing comfort and mobility. But most of all, Kawakubo’s designs scream to the girls who don’t want to succumb to the wants of men, seduction, approval and all. Unlike Yamamoto and Miyake, Kawakubo’s designs play around with exposing the body without them being sexy.
And then we have Dover Street Market. Kawakubo and her CEO (who is also her husband) created the multi-brand retail store that was originally in London on…Dover Street. Now with stores all around the world, the idea of it is to bring people from everywhere into one beautiful chaotic space. They succeeded — established and up-and-coming designers are free to display and sell their works as they please. Kawakubo still remembers her Japanese roots though — Dover Street Market goes through tachiagari. While in Japanese it means “start” or “beginning”, for these multi-brand retail stores, it’s the revamping of the space and basically giving it a fresh start.
We used a few fashion-related Japanese words in the episode. Here’s a list of them:
Abanga-do (アバンガード) — avant-garde, a French term to refer to works that are unorthodox and experimental
Sekushi (セクシー) — sexy
Kuro (黒) — black
Koraborēshon (コラボレーション) — Collaboration
Puritsu (プリツ) — pleats
Iki kata (生き方) — way of life
Ifuku no kōzō (衣服の構造) — garment construction, ifuku translates to “clothes” and kōzō kinda means framework
Otokoppoi / otokomitai (男っぽい・男みたい) — to look like a boy, which is basically Kawakubo’s brand name
Feminizimu (フェミニジム) — feminism
Tachiagari (立ち上がり) — start or beginning
And that’s an intro to the ultimate Japanese fashion designer trio: the dark, androgynous and still sexy approach of Yohji Yamamoto; Issey Miyake’s revolutionary fashion concepts and construction; and Rei Kawakubo’s inspiring feminism in fashion.
I’ve only just scraped the surface of fashion in Japan, but if you want to know more about these three designers, give the full episode a listen, over at the Nihongo Master Podcast page!
The kimono is one of the most significant Japanese cultural wear to date. If you don’t know what a kimono is, check out our previous article about all the things you need to know!
So what you might not know is that there are a few types of the kimono. They vary for occasions, and each type is different in components and ways of wearing. You definitely don’t want to accidentally attend a formal wedding in a casual yukata, do you?
We’ll look at the general parts of a kimono, the top 3 types of kimono, and where you would wear these various types of them.
Parts of a kimono
The kimono is most often considered as a whole piece of garment that is a simple robe. While it may be true to a certain extent, the term actually refers to the entire outfit rather than just one piece of clothing. The outfit consists of intricate parts to make up the kimono. Let’s take a look at some of the names of the main parts:
Sode (袖) refers to the sleeves of the kimono. The sodeguchi (袖口) is the armhole, and the sodetsuke (袖つけ) refers to the inner armhole of the garment. Kimono sleeves can come in a few different lengths. It’s believed that the longer and brighter sleeves are worn by younger maidens. The simpler sleeve styles, usually black and normal length, should be worn by married or older women.
The lower part of the sleeve that’s unsewn is known as the furi (振), which can be swung about freely. Performers like kabuki actors take advantage of this form of the kimono for their acts. There’s also a hidden pouch inside the furi part of the sleeve known as the tamoto (袂).
Only on the female kimono, there’s a small opening under the sleeve called the miyatsu-kuchi (宮津口) for the female kimono. This is used to adjust the fit of the kimono.
Eri (襟) refers to the kimono collar. The ura-eri (裏襟) is the inner lining part of the collar while the tomo-eri (とも襟) is the top piece of fabric,used as a protecting part that’s easily replaceable ifstained or damaged.
The inner lining of the kimono is called the do-ura (銅羅). In a female kimono, it’s usually a simple lining. The male kimono is often seen with more decorative patterns. This comes from the concept from ancient times where the men would flaunt their wealth based on the inner lining of the kimono. The lower lining has a different name called the suso-mawashi (裾回し).
One of the most popular types of kimono is the yukata (浴衣). This is a casual type of kimono made of thinner fabric like cotton, linen or hemp. That’s because it’s specially designed for summer use.
Unlike the other kimono types, the yukata doesn’t have an inner layer. It can be worn directly on your skin and tied off with the obi. The yukata is often worn with the traditional Japanese wooden sandal called the geta (げた).
When to wear?
Back in the day, yukata was worn for different reasons. The word literally translates to “bathing cloth”. That’s because the yukata was exclusively worn by the upper class as a bathrobe after they had taken a bath.
Now, the yukata is quite famously known as the most informal wear of all the kimono types. Unlike the rest, you can wear the yukata to sleep!
The most popular event to wear the yukata is to outdoor events like summer festivals and fireworks displays.
The furisode (振袖) is recognisable by its long sleeves and bright colours and motifs. It’s arguably the most glamorous of them all. This is made on purpose to symbolise the energy and beauty of youth. This type of kimono is exclusively worn by women, and more specifically unmarried women. Sleeves can be as short as 114cm to as long as 124cm!
When to wear?
The most common time to wear the furisode is during the Coming Age Day ceremony. Happening every start of the year, this is a celebration that marks the coming of age and maturity of young girls and congratulating them. The celebration is for both men and women, though.
Other occasions to wear the furisode is a wedding ceremony. You’d probably see more girls wearing this during a traditional Japanese wedding. The bridesmaids and female guests will put on their elegant furisode for the occasion.
Last but not least, there’s the tomesode (留袖). The best way to differentiate this type of kimono from the rest is by the motif position. This type is distinguished by having the patterns only below the waistline. There are two types of tomesode: one is the coloured one called the irotomesode (色留袖) and the other is the black coloured one, known as the kurotomesode (黒留袖).
The kurotomesode is the most formal type of kimono. It holds the family crest at five different places: one on each sleeve, two at the front of the chest area, and one at the back. The kurotomesode can only be worn by married women
Unlike the kurotomesode, the irotomesode can be worn by unmarried women and they’re not as formal as the other.
When to wear?
The kurotomesode is one of the highest levels of kimono. Because of that, it is only worn during the most special of occasions, like the mother of the bride or groom at a wedding.
As for the irotomesode, it’s not so strict. But it is still on the higher end of the kimono spectrum. It’s still worn during special occasions but not as exclusive as the kurotomesode. Other members of a wedding will put on this type of kimono.
What kimono type do you want to try?
These are only three of the many types of kimono. It’s so interesting to see how motifs and colours affect the use of the kimono, don’t you think? What kimono type do you want to try when you come to Japan?
This style of outerwear has been blowing up the streets and Instagram feeds. And when fashion enthusiasts (and even those who are not) find themselves in Japan, snagging a Japanese bomber jacket is basically senseless — it’s the perfect fashion souvenir.
While it’s been called various names, the Japanese bomber jacket is more famously known as the sukajan (スカジャン). What is it? How did it come about? How do I get one? All the information you need is here — read on to find out!
The Ultimate Fashion Souvenir
If you’ve never heard of the term “sukajan”, maybe you know it by its alternative names — does “souvenir jacket” or “rebel jacket” ring a bell?
The Japanese bomber jacket is basically a type of outerwear, usually made of silk, that combines a typical varsity jacket style with dramatic embroidery of Japanese motifs including tigers, eagles and, of course, cherry blossoms. Silhouette-wise, they’re based on the classic American baseball jackets popularised by 1930svarsity teams. And Japan is quite obsessed with baseball, so it’s no surprise that this style of clothing caught on.
You probably would’ve seen the sukajan if you’ve watched the 2011 film, Drive, with Ryan Gosling donning a similar one — a white silk quilted bomber jacket with an embroidered golden scorpion on the back.
This puffy and loose, ribbed-collared and cuffed-sleeved, cropped and embroidered jacket is a fashion piece that’s both a staple and a trend, casual and dressy — and is more than just a bold fashion statement; it’s a piece that retells your Japan experience. At least, that was how it began — and also how a lot of sukajan wearers are using it for.
Origins of Sukajan
Like most popular fashion designs, sukajan has a long, rich, cultural origin. In fact, just the name itself will give you a brief insight into where it came from. The term is believed to be a portmanteau — it combines the end half of the name of the naval base city, Yokosuka (横須賀), with the first half of the Japanese katakana translation for “jumper” (ジャンパー) which is just “jan” (ジャン). Put it all together and you get “suka-jan”.
Let’s travel back in time to the era of World War II — Yokosuga in Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan was the first few naval bases in Japan. American GIs are basically the original creators of this distinctive embroidered style. In fact, there was one specific American serviceman who started it all. When it was around the time their occupation drew to a close, he had the brilliant idea of taking his normal bomber jacket to the local tailor to have it embroidered, converting something that was regarded as a symbol of war into a priceless souvenir. His fellow servicemen followed suit as soon as they laid their eyes on this creative beauty.
The original sukajan combined the two countries’ symbols like cherry blossom and dragons, and geisha (芸者) and eagles. These motifs remain, to this day, as common designs on sukijan. What’s not as common nowadays is to see maps as motifs — but back in the day, some American soldiers did request to have them embroidered to commemorate their time there. As each soldier has their own experiences infused in their bomber jacket design, authentic and hand-sewn sukajan never had two of the same styles.
More and more American soldiers wanted to bring back this one-of-a-kind souvenir to the U.S. as gifts, or even to sell. The demand for these unique Japanese bomber jackets boomed, and the Japanese tailors had to be crafty — they pieced together leftover parachute silk with other fabrics to feed these demands.
As the sukajan was getting more popular in America, Japan was adopting the American prep style during the 1950s to 1970s. This whole fascination with American clothing and pop culture is known as the “ametora” effect — publications like Popeye magazine influenced the local trends and those who were looking to “westernise” their fashion style. ‘Bad boy’ icons like James Dean and Marlon Brando were all the rage in Hollywood, and kimonos were being swapped with biker jackets.
But not everyone was into it. Some took on the sukajan as an alternate outerwear and a way of making a statement — a defiant one. Just like how the Schott Perfecto leather jacket acts as a symbol of rebellion in the U.S., sukajan rapidly became associated with Japanese gangs like Yakuza and juvenile delinquents like the Yankii subculture, hence the nickname “rebel jacket”.
The Recent Evolution
The sukajan came a long way from a mere souvenir jacket to a symbol of rebellion, and now a fashion trend. While it has remained in Japan as an iconic fashion clothing piece, the rest of the world didn’t really know what sukajan was — even in America, the souvenir jacket began to fade after the war.
It wasn’t until the mid-2010s did the sukajan see its revival outside of Japan — I’d say we have Ryan Gosling to thank for that. Other Hollywood celebrities like Drake and Kanye West also added the iconic Japanese souvenir jacket to their wardrobe, and fashion magazines like Menswear Style declared the silk bomber jacket to be a “defining fashion item”.
Luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent incorporated silk bomber jackets featuring floral motifs into their collections. Streetwear brands, too, didn’t pass on the chance to be in the loop with this timeless style; Adidas and Converse were quick to release their own rendition of souvenir jackets, by incorporating the style of prints onto other fashion pieces like sneakers.
We have to admit: sukajan went from an item with a purpose to now holding mainstream appeal and becoming a worldwide fashion trend. Its journey is quite extraordinary, and personally, I see no limit to the reaches of this Japanese bomber jacket.
The sukajan, as we now know, isn’t just a fashion piece — its history and cultural essence is embedded in every stitch. Now that you know what to look out for when shopping for a Japanese bomber jacket, are you ready to own one? It makes a great conversation starter with someone else who has it on, too! Make a friend by buying a sukajan!