TALE OF A STYLISH POST WAR – SOUVENIR FROM JAPAN SUKAJAN

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Once upon a time, in the Rising Sun’s post-war, at one point there were some jackets every GI  wanted. They’re the sukajans – the Japanese souvenir-jkts so popular today – but despite this fame neither the name nor the garment-evolution of the stylish sukajan seem to have 100% certain origins.

For sure it was born in Yokusuka, in the Kanagawa Prefecture, and if some say the definition is made of ‘suka’ (from Yokosuka) & ‘jan’ (Japanese word for jumper), some others tell it’s an adaptation of the Japanese ‘sky-dragon-jumper’ terms. Anyway, clearly the souvenir-jkt history dates back to the WWII, when the USA GIs based in the Pacific area started to have hand-stitch Japanese patches and embroideries onto their varsity-jkts made as cool souvenirs and/or memories of their military troops & actions to bring home after the war. The legend tells the first USA soldier who got his letterman-jkt hand-customised by a Yokosuka’s artisan went to Kosho & Co. and for sure many other GIs used to create their souvenir-jkt with their own hands – as well as with the help of others or local artisans and available materials. That’s why their very first and original sukajans often showed different Asian graphic elements mixed together for instance, or fabrics like silk and rayon (given the USA post-war restrictions regarding materials too)… Cultural and geographical ‘mash-ups’ apart, the sukajan history goes on as another story of a ‘textile-love’ between Japan & USA, with the post-war Japanese people selling souvenirs – (but also their stuff) and sukajans too – to GI etc both in the local USA bases and in the city streets’ markets. In the American PX stores we heard they even employed Japanese tailors to craft sukajans given the success they achieved in all the USA base stores. It goes without saying that soon after also some of the Rising Sun’s most smart labels started to create cool sukajans – a popular firm of back then is TOYO Enterprises, which still exists and pops out stuff nowadays. Moreover, they say Japanese vintage labels always crafted limited-editions of 200 pieces maximum of these reversible jkts – making ‘em a very rare piece for vintage-hunters. Speaking of which, a sought-after ‘spin-off’ of the sukajan is the ‘sutajan’ – or stadium jkt – whose essential features in turn come from the American varsity-jkts’, or the ‘vetojan’, the souvenir-jkt from Vietnam… Anyway, around the late ‘70s in Japan – with some people already fascinated by the USA preppy-ivy style – probably due to their bold graphics and hues sukajans became an easy way to spot the ‘bad guy’ – but more in the movies than in the streets (similarly to what originally happened with leather-jkts or jeans for the Hollywood movies’ ‘badass characters’).

In USA and Europe many tell that sukajans are the yakuza and gangs’ uniforms, actually that’s an American and European legend to be debunked; in Japan there’s no cursed story behind the souvenir-jkts’ one. Maybe just some decades ago to the greater society sukajans had a sort of ‘bad reputation’ (more for their origins than their alleged attitude in any case), perhaps just for old people it’s still like that, anyway a sort of ‘damned aura’ still seems to be linked to souvenir-jkts, in fact nowadays Japanese movies & comics’ evil people often wear crazy sukajans! Back in their early days they were an American must-have, even after the ‘60s, with the USA war in Vietnam and Korea, when their souvenir-jkts started to get darker and carry fierce lettering and graphic-embroideries; while Japanese people hardly did look at ‘em, not before the late ‘70s.

  If in the USA (or Japan-based American camps) sukajans went quite always big, in Japan it’s the youth generation of the ‘80s the one that started wearing sukajans as a ‘fashion statement’, and now, after one or two see-sawings moments of popularity (probably both in the USA and Japan), vintage or less sukajans now got their prominent role into the clothing industry and on the road, through versions by streetwear professionals like Supreme, Stüssy, BAPE and adidas Originals, by Japanese denim-workwear giants such as EVISU, The Real McCoy’s, Warehouse, Pherrow’s and Studio D’Artisan or high-end kings such as Louis Vuitton, maharishi and Hyein Seo, just to make a few names… So, finally, that’s how the story of the very first souvenir-jkts transformed into that of an out-of-the-time garment which lost its original warlike features to enjoy artisanal or vanguard textile tributes. It’s about the story of a USA souvenir from Japan which not only didn’t leave its own country entirely but also became one of America & Rising Sun’s clothing symbols, influencing both modern fashion and heritage labels. No surprise then if the sukajan is such a timeless, stylish souvenir. Simple and sophisticated all the while, just like the Rising Sun’s designs and embroideries.