Inspiring Japan: The 2023 trip
Last week I was in Japan for 10 days, mainly in Tokyo but also travelling around to Kobe, Osaka and Wakayama prefecture. It was the fourth time I’d been to Japan, but only the third for PS, and one of those had been for only a few days around our Japanese Symposium.
So this was basically trip two. During the first one, back in 2018, I tried to cover as many tailors, trouser makers, shoemakers and related artisans as possible. There was a nice excursion to see crafts in Kyoto and an unforgettable knife maker in Sakai, but it was very sartorial - I’ve included links to all the specific articles at the bottom of this piece.
On this trip I still saw some of my favourite shoemakers, and had two fittings for a jacket, but the focus was a little more on casual clothing and on vintage.
We timed the trip to fit in with The Real McCoy’s, who had kindly offered to host us (myself and photographer Alex Natt) at their headquarters in Kobe. They also took us to see leather jacket production and loopwheel knitting - two categories I had never seen before.
I was keen to expand our Tokyo Shopping Guide, and in particular to flesh out the vintage section. Vintage clothing has exploded in popularity in the years since our last trip, and Japan has always been the best place to buy it.
On the previous visit we did go to several shops in Harajuku, in central Tokyo, but didn’t have time to go out to Koenji, where most vintage is. Last week that was corrected (indeed Alex went twice) and we also covered vintage in Osaka, which has some real gems, plus a few in Kobe.
As with all these areas, there will be upcoming articles on PS over the next few weeks, as well as ones on kimonos, bespoke pens and even some folk art.
Overall, Japan continues to be one of my favourite places in the world, and Tokyo feels like a melting pot of styles, crafts and trends. Everyone dresses more, dresses bigger - whether that’s head-to-toe Ivy, full-on biker leathers, or hiking-ready Gorpcore. It feels like you can get away with wearing anything - it’s almost expected.
The other way to see this is that people are following the same trends as everywhere else, simply more intensely. And you certainly feel that every trend is manifest, both on the streets and in the stores. Beams always feels like its branches and sub-brands cover every conceivable slice, while Safari in Koenji feels similar across its five shops.
There were also those we spoke to, that live and work in Japan, who say it’s not as exciting as it once was. That the world is too connected now and there’s less originality. The country has also seen many of its small manufacturers close during Covid, which was something less obvious, but no less powerful, that made Japan unique.
But whether it’s better or worse than it once was, it’s still amazing; we found a huge amount that was inspiring and that you don’t find anywhere else in the world.
There are the mystical brothers of Solakzade. The inspiring creative team at 45R. The ridiculous archives at McCoy’s. In the mountains we saw experimental mash-ups of loopwheel and Sinker knitting technology, while in the city there were the most beautiful shoes, great new tailoring and knives and brushes and jewellery. It was a feast.
Please hold any questions until the respective articles are out. I always like the way the questions add new dimensions to an article, expanding it in the directions the readers find most interesting and useful. No point wasting that now.
But I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone that hosted us, kindly made introductions, and translated. Ethan, Kent, Adrian, Christopher and Naka, Seiji and Yohei, it wouldn’t have been anything like as fruitful without you. We are in your debt.
I hope you enjoy the upcoming coverage. And in the meantime, the previous pieces were:
- Tailors: Anglofilo, Sartoria Domenica, Vick Tailor and Pecora Ginza
- Sartoria Ciccio
- Where Ring Jacket is made
- Shoemakers: Yohei Fukuda, Marquess, Yuki Shirahama
- Trouser makers: Osaku and Igarashi
- Japanese craft in Kyoto: Hosoo, Kaikado, Kohchosai Kosuga
- Sasuke: Master Japanese knife-maker
- Tatsuya Nakamura and Tomoyoshi Takada of Beams - Interview
- Japanese retail and the growth of bespoke
- Tokyo: A sartorial shopping guide
A generic q if I can.
Is the quality of vintage clothing in Japan due to ongoing fascination with 50s Americana or are there other factors?
It largely stems from a fascination with Americana that started in the late 60s and 70s. There was a phenomenal movement in volume of clothing at that point from the US to Japan – one of the largest in history – as Japanese travelled there and brought back clothing and much else.
Then it continued to happen for the next 30 years or so, as Americans and the west in general had far less interest in old clothing. In the past 20 years, the fact that the Japanese are often far ahead with trends means they’ve been ahead on seeking the highest-end vintage, as well as bringing in new categories, such as 90s American clothing. It is largely American, though there’s a fair bit of other things like British tailoring, French workwear, military from various countries as well.
I find Japan truly fascinating,especially the cross cultural pollination . My son has an expanding collection of Japanese baseball clothing, which is far, far cooler than MLB.
Go Ham Fighters!
Thanks Stephen, though I’ve already been!
Doooh, sorry misread. Be very interested in the Real McCoy’s archive. All the best.
No worries. Yeah that was pretty amazing
Are you going to do an article on King Charles and his dressing for Coronation?
I wasn’t planning to, no. To be honest I don’t find that kind of very formal wear that interesting, and I’m a little sick of everyone jumping on that bandwagon!
Maybe I’m just always a little too contrary
Slightly disappointing that you don’t find it interesting to engage with an icon, especially one who probably most personifies “Permanent Style”…
I’m very happy to engage with the subject G, and have always found him inspirational. It’s just the very formal side of the occasion dressing I don’t find as interesting, as it has no relevance to what I wear.
And as with when Charles became King, I’m not going to write a quick piece about his style just because everyone is.
Hi, I do get why (but don’t necessarily agree) you don’t want to do something at the moment. I do think the style King Charles III has exhibited throughout his adult life is pretty much the epitome of permanent style, which is of course my subjective opinion. Whereas the strange almost cult like and ill -informed, adulation Duke of Windsor in mainstream blogs is completely misplaced. The King has also long been an advocate of sustainability in all things long before it became fashionable and is not greenwashing. Perhaps you may reconsider at some point.
Absolutely, and I completely agree Stephen. I’m just less interested in the formalwear, and being a stubborn jackass, don’t want to cover him right now.
Either that, or I’ll offer a commemorative tea towel to every subscriber.
I do get your reluctance and restraint.
I don’t understand your reference to formal wear. Saville Row tailoring, old Barbour jackets, repairs, even a three parter on a morning suit, all pretty much a fair proportion of what you write about. I was thinking of the King more in the context of an example of many of the things you write about.
Yes, that’s all very much in the wheelhouse. I just meant not clothing around the coronation
On the subject of tea towels. I can put you in touch with a maker. Hand embroidered, cloth woven on restored vintage looms, all completed by specially trained artisans, cotton from certified organic sources, recycled thread, Retail circa £450!
Are they GOTS cerfified, sound like a bargain.
Just direct everyone to The Guardian coverage. (tongue in cheek!)
Oh really style is in the eye of the beholder.
Oh, please do stay contrary on this topic. I detect a strong sense of admirable restraint when you write “…I don’t find that kind of very formal wear that interesting”.
I can completely relate. What keeps Permanent Style relevant to me and such a great product is that – while you are not following short lived and exaggerated trends – it is not frozen in time. To provide an example: Years back you had a lot of contributions on suits, now you do not and with good reason I find. People by and large stopped wearing suits, while casual chic has become much more relevant.
“How great kings age”? It’d be your crowning achievement
Looking forward to seeing the coming articles!
If you don’t mind me asking, did you get to Hinoya in the end?
We didn’t unfortunately. So much to see!
Where are those incredible belts from?
Ludens – a Japanese craftsman that only works currently through Bryceland’s, but is setting up on his own. Beautiful stuff
Slightly off topic, so apologies, but the exploded herringbone sleeve we can see….just wondering if a jacket or a coat? I’m interested in a summer linen wool make up in similar pattern? Hoping stars have aligned…!
Look forward to the detail of the trip also.
Hey Steven – it’s this jacket, previously covered. Not an easy fabric to get hold of I’m afraid.
For something “nearly” as satisfying, Polo Ralph Lauren (Blue Label) did one in a very similar fabric….made in Italy. I have one sourced from eBay.
Yes Polo offer it regularly, and this was likely an old Ralph cloth. Their ready made jackets never fit me unfortunately, always way too short
thanks to both…the joy of researching and sourcing begins.
Last week I was home for just 7 days. How did you manage to squeeze 10 in?
Very funny JJ. Two weekends and a bit extra. It was certainly a week when I told my family how long I was going to be away for…
Im very interested to learn more about the loopwheel but im sure you are already preparing it. Id like to ask something about sweaters, i have a navy one from real mccoy and its a joy to wear so much that 1/4 of the winter i could be seen in it. I am looking for a navy rollneck and id love some suggestions. I am thinking to get a heimat one but are there any other good alternatives ? If a navy one was available from realmccoy id just get that one but cream and red are not so much my colors. Im looking primarily on something hard wearing so id stay with wool.
Have you tried the Bryceland’s ones? That’s a great fit. Also Rubato, though not in the current season
Hey Simon, can tell you’ve been like a kid in a candy shop during your visit to Japan. Can’t wait to consume all the features, post questions and eventually visit one day.
Simon, I can’t wait for the subsequent articles. I’ll be in Japan May through June flying over with a half empty suitcase. Although I have my favorite shops I’m always looking for new discoveries. Have you ever been to Komeyho in Shinjuku? That’s my go-to for NOS and gently used clothing in Tokyo.
No I haven’t Paul, thanks for the recommendation
Exciting Simon, lovely. I was attentively following your quest with Alex on Instagram, looked amazing.
Hoping to book a trip myself in the next year or two, God willing, and your guides/articles can act as a nice starting point for my planning, cheers for the reminder.
Will save any questions and further discussion/expansion for the related articles to come, can’t wait!
“If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake.” Joking aside, look forward to the articles which will hopefully give me some more places to visit in the Tokyo and Osaka/Kobe area. I know you have covered them before but I think a return visit to the denim manufacturers in the Okayama/Kurashiki area would have been interesting to see if the post-pandemic shift towards more casual clothing has had an effect on styles of jeans or weights of denim.
Perhaps next time?
Yes I’d definitely love to next time Dan. This time we covered leather jackets and loopwheel knits in that regard, but didn’t have time to get out to any denim production unfortunately
Thanks for this preview. I’m looking forward for the full report.
In the meantime, I would like to share with you and all PS readers a current trend in the menswear industry I’ve found scarry to say the least. I’ve no idea whether it would be anyhow relevant to our coming conversation about Japan.
A look at – among other oddities – what “chelsea boots” could also mean today:
Blimey, a mix of wellies and pink croc
I’ve just got back after spending a month in Japan (my first trip) – split between Tokyo and Kyoto. I tried to visit many of your recommendations in your sartorial guide. I was overwhelmed at Isetan Men plus a side trip to Dover St market with my wife. Did manage to time it right with a new drop at 45R in Kyoto and Full Count Tokyo (both gave great service esp 45R in both Kyoto and Tokyo).
I was keen to pick up some flannels (wrong season) and shoes – retailers generally dont stock size 10 / 10.5.
My children had a great time in the vintage stores – picking up some really good items.
I can wait to get back (after reading your updates) and I’ll be better prepared and more focused.
Thank you for your informative and engaging writing.
Hi Simon, did you stay at a traditional Ryokan, or experience a Kaiseki meal?
No Eric, this wasn’t really the kind of trip to do more cultural things like that. Next time the family want to come though, so definitely
Hi Simon, love those western belts. Just wondering if you could give us some info on them?
It’s mentioned in the comments above. Cheers
‘Last week I was in Japan for 10 days’. Wow, how long are the weeks there? Joking aside, good article Simon
Thanks, that joke has been made more than once! Eagle-eyed readers all of you
The sartorial shopping guide link doesn’t seem to be working. Thanks!
Thanks Joseh, yes that’s just because I’m updating it. It will be ready and then the link will work again in a week or so
Hi Simon, the link to the Tokyo Shopping Guide isn’t working.
Yes, that’s being updated and will be republished next week