Classical Japanese imagery has always enjoyed a solid presence in Ame-Kaji (American Casual) style, and it seems to be entering back into more mainstream popularity in a somewhat ironic retro fashion. Whereas a year or two ago Sukajyan were full of dark illustrations of ghosts, flames and skeletons, this season a certain amount of humor and playfulness seems to be in vogue.
I just love this Tokugawa and early Meiji era of art (it is what I studied at University) that influences these kind of designs and tattooing, but as a foreigner I have always been slightly embaressed about wearing it. You just don’t want to stand out as some kind of Japan-Otaku, but on the other hand they are indubitably beautiful. I satisfy myself by keeping to items that aren’t necessarily Japanese, like my favorite skulls but also obscure subjects like fireworks, cats and even roosters! That way they aren’t obviously Japanese like Carp, Raijin and Fujin and dragons. Even so, I can always appreciate a bit of Japonica:
Getting the fit right on these clothes can be a bit tough as the jeans are all low and baggy (and not black – gah!) and the Sukajyan tend to be in very large sizes, I have to hunt high and low to find a size S in Ueno, and popular designers like Satori, who tend to sell out everywhere, sometimes don’t even make the small sizes.
The attraction of Japonica, aside from the imagery, comes from the artisan spirit that goes into the work. Designers will boast about using Japanese materials – namely cotton, but also old recipes for paints and dyes. The best work nearly always comes from the artisan quarters of Kyoto where there is a romanticised idea of old men slaving away by hand over each individual item – which is occasionally true. So a considerable amount of the detail is painted by hand onto the denim featured above and the best Sukajyan are embroidered direct into the silk.
Out of the picture above the ironic take on the Boshin War is particularly striking. The souvenir jackets came out of the US army’s movements in Asia, so a fake one produced for a war against foreigners in Japan in the 1800s has some seriousness woven in with it, along with being a bit funny. I should say as I always do with this subject, that these kinds of clothes do have a strong connection with the political right in Japan, so do read up before you buy!
I might also add that via Horiyoshi III’s clothing line that this kind of Japonica is starting to hit the West – albeit in a very expensive high-brand fashion form. Of the collection I really love the jewelery (which you can see in the ring below) and I will be sure to post a round-up of Horiyoshi III’s collection soon.