Harajuju’s Brad-t recently picked my brains about the best in men’s Japanese leather bags, and I must admit that at first I drew a bit of a blank.  The problem is that there is a wealth of choice when it comes to cheap, well-designed, bang on-trend bags, but very very few of those will do you the courtesy of making the bags out of leather.  Indeed going through the collections of the 109-2 favorites and other popular OIOI brands there were a handful of nice but boring bags, but anything stylish and domestic was made of synthetic materials.  I then went through my own collection and found that all of my bags were either from European designers, biker/silver brands or vintage Japanese pieces.

I should say at this point that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with synthetic leather bags, I mean, you quite literally get what you pay for.  If you spend 5000-10000 yen on a bag, you honestly can’t expect it to last forever.  In the past all of my synthetic bags have required repair (particularly to the handle) within a week or two and most have not remained in usable condition for more than two months.  So where does that leave the man on the hunt for a fashionable and durable bag?  Well option one would be to get a dull bag and jazz it up yourself, two – go with a foreign brand or three – find the handful of Japanese brands that do do quality bags.

Well here is what I have come up with:

From top left clockwise –

Trend focused Buffalo Bobs comes up with a real leather bag for its Takumi range.

Never subtle Juvenile Delinquent does wonders with pressed leather to give a shiny crocodile finish – many more colours are available.

Goth bag king Artherapie can always be relied on to come up with sharp and wearable designs.

Juvenile Delinquent again with a great leather second bag for the OraOra crowd.

My own personal favorite Balenciaga who can do no wrong with outstanding leather and designs that can only date well.

And finally the bag I wish I could afford – Chrome Hearts’ shoulder bag.  A real investment piece with stunning detail but a price tag in the millions of yen (second hand it is then!)

DISCLAIMER: With the exception of the last two foreign brands, ALL the Japanese brands mentioned above do not usually carry real leather brands as part of their core range, preferring to stick to synthetic most of the time.  So the examples above are exceptions and if you ever want help with your Japanese to confirm whether an item is real, then please do not hesitate to drop me a line, I am more than happy to help where I can.

So why synthetic? Needless to say it is very cheap and much easier to work with.  Some of the popular effects of this season like ruffles are very hard to achieve with real leather, so it is much less of a headache with man-made fabrics.  Also popular leathers like crocodile and snake can only be acquired ethically at considerable expense, so obviously that keeps the price at a sensible level.  Also I might like to add that for vegetarians or vegans, you are obviously going to see the positives of fake leather – although the environmental damage makes a clear conscience an ideal rather than a tangible reality!

So why real? It will look good and last.  End of.

So lets get this back on the topic of Japanese fashion – apologies for the delay.  Why does the Japanese fashion industry have so much difficulty in making on-trend items in leather?  Even the market leader Samantha Thavsa in her particularly dull Kingz label (sad times considering how great she used to be) acknowledges the lack of durability of synthetics by making the handles of the bags out of leather, but not the bag itself.  So I cannot help but think that this is all about money and when you are charging over 30000 yen for a bag, you cannot help but feel that in her case the need to skimp is somewhat unnecessary.

However for the vast majority of brands who do not take the proverbial with their pricing policies the use of synthetics does reduce the price to the buyer.  The idea being that he will then be able to update the bag as fashion dictates, leaving those of us looking for something more durable little options and very frustrated.  For me the best solution is to go to a biker shop and get something that may not be necessarily fashionable, but get something that is sturdy, maybe with a bit of silver or brass work, something eternally cool, better that than buying a bag that is basically a supermarket carrier bag.

As a fan of quality leather work I love the fact that the bag I am currently using was made in Japan, by hand, out of real snake leather over 30 years ago.  It still works, has a real patina and character to the leather and is not going to break anytime soon –  Surely that is a damn good reason to invest in the real thing, if you can find it that is.


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  1. brad-t says:

    Thanks a lot, I posted a link on Harajuju along with some commentary. Don’t know if you read my blog at all but I did manage to find a Japanese leather bag I liked from 5351. 🙂

    Post some pics of your bag collection, sounds incredible.

  2. tokyotelephone says:

    Well done on the bag from 5351, that is a really nice piece and I am sure it will only improve with age. That is one brand that I really should have had a look at on my hunt – well done you! The other brand that I would have loved to be able to mention was Bizarre. They used to do obscene leather bags with ostrich and some really interesting touches, however since their main designer left they too have turned to synthetics – gah!

    I do read your blog whenever I can, you talk a lot of sense and clearly have an eye for detail as well as a bargain!

    As for pictures of my bag collection, I might well have to do that…

  3. brad-t says:

    I really find ostrich leather gross, LOL

    It turns out there were only 2 of those 5351 bags in stock in all of Japan … well, 1 now 😀 I totally found the 5351 bag on a fluke, I’m very happy. I checked out that Juvenile Delinquent bag but the lack of a shoulder strap and zipper was a deal-breaker for me.

    Will check out Bizarre.

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