Friday, 30 November 2012

Wabi Sabi

I recently spotted this beautiful item, which exemplifies the occasional but startling resonances between Japanese and American fabrics.

It's a Sakabukuro; a persimmon-dyed canvas Sake bag, or bucket, which I spotted on the (intriguing) stall of Yosuke Fukudome. He thinks it probably dates from the 1920s or 30s. We chatted for some time about Wabi Sabi. His stall has lots of it. It was fascinating to see so many vintage Japanese fabrics, especially the canvas and other basket weaves, which were reminiscent of vintage American items.

Apologies for the brief post, and the time that's elapsed since the last one. I've been busy on a couple of bigger denim-related pieces I'll tell you about fairly soon.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Tokyo Denim Tour part 2: Harajuku and Ueno

My post on the Naka Meguro area was pretty comprehensive, as many of the shops are comparatively new. In contrast, most of the Harajuku and Ueno stores are pretty well-known, so this is more of a quick and dirty update.


Harajuku is well-established as a centre for youth (ish) fashion; it has a decent sprinkling of vintage stores, none of them earth-shattering. For me, the key destination was Full Count. Full Count were, with Evis, as they then were, one of the key companies in what we now call the Osaka Five. Before the rise of Evis and Full Count, Japanese denim was pretty well-established via two companies, Edwin and Studio A'Artisan. Meanwhile, Hidehiko Yamane and Mikiharu Tsujita worked for Lapine, a small store in Osaka, which imported vintage denim - together, they both speculated about producing vintage-style denim in Japan.Yamane was the first to do so, with his company Evis, which started volume production in 1992 - Tsujia followed a few months afterwards, with Full Count.

Although they're long-established, Full Count still seem modest in size, if we go by their Tokyo showroom. It's just off Harajuku Street; follow the main market street, which you can see from Harajuju, pass the KDDI Design Studio, and their shops is on the left, at the next junction. I've added it to my Tokyo denim map.

I don't have too many photos, because I didn't do too much looking in this store. I was buying. In this case, a pair of Full Count 1108. I'll probably do an update on these later; along with the SDA 103XX, these represent the definitive, vintage style,  Japanese reinterpretation of 1947 Levi's. I love their subtlety, especially in terms of the pocket shape, and the stitching. The cut is great, too, again, very subtle. All their classic cuts are available in both raw and one wash - which is very handy for making sure your raw pair will shrink to the right size, of course. 

I saw these intriguing, 1920s-style prototypes in the shop, too. No idea if these are intended for volume production. I wasn't really supposed to photograph them, I was told afterwards - so I've left this tiny photo in to intrigue and frustrate you.

Full Count's washed items are terrific, too - they show, again, superb attention to detail. Full Count washed denim has the train tracks and crinkling at the seams  that are found on vintage Levi's but which remain very hard to mimic.

It's worth having a good, leisurely walk down Harajuku Street itself - a lot of interesting stores, although I got the feeling the halcyon days when it would take vintage buffs a day to peruse all the stores are long-gone. It looks as if OK & Emotional, which stocked a range of denim and was near the new Full Count location, is now closed.

Lee Concession, Laforet

This is tricky to find - unless you realise it's within the LaForet department store. A lovely little shop, with very helpful staff (who, like many others, ask you not to photograph but seem to wait until you've finished to do so). They feature the full range of Edwin-made repros, which at around 17,000 Yen are distinctly less expensive than many Japanese repros; you'll also find the Bluebell Wrangler repros, too.

What I especially liked was the selection of accessories, perfect for presents. I picked up a Hickory Stripe book cover, and a couple of aprons. The accessories are keenly-priced - unfortunately, they're made in China, which seems particularly ironic for items that are so distninctly branded with the "Union-Made" tag.

I was somewhat foxed in my attempts to find the Edwin showroom, just over the road. It's still there in Google Maps but in reality has disappeared. The Lee staff told me the shop has indeed closed, but that Edwin plan to open a new one.

Other nearby stores include Nudie (another concession within LaForet), Raw Drip (opposite side of the road from LaForet, with a decent selection of US brands including Rag & Bone, White's and LVC), and, a little further down, a large Levi's store, with a selection of LVC. (The main LVC location is at Aoyama, it's a beautiful store and is well-worth visiting).

In Shibuya proper, the 45RPM store is worth a look - there are several interesting shops in the same block. Sorry, the location for 45rpm on the map is a guess, as my iPhone battery died around this time.

Ueno Market

Ueno market needs little introduction - it's always been a key part of Tokyo culture. The two main stores, Hinoya and Americaya, are easy to find. The only trick is to look for the Shinobazu exit from the station (it's clearly marked). The stores are under the railroad tracks, at the end of that street to the right of Uniqlo. 


The first Hinoya stocks lots of Sugar Cane, Buzz Rickson (like the lovely shawl collar jacket, above), a good smattering of Mr Freedom (including older stock, but mostly washed), and of course their own brand, Burgus. Hinoya PlusOne is next door, and stocks Hawaiian shirts, Iron Hearts, some nice Heller's Cafe, including the H-094 early 1920s Repros, that took my eye...

Just a little further down are Hinoya PlusMart and Americaya.

Hinoya Plus sells some of the same items as its neighbour, plus more of the Burgus Plus Range. 

Immediately adjacent is Americaya. They have an excellent selection of Freewheelers/Union Special items including their lovely, albeit pricey, Wabash shirts. 

Note also these Toy's McCoys Lee Steve McQueen repros.

There are several others shops in this block selling interesting denim. The most notably one is probably Sun Dial - it's owned by the Hinoya people, I would guess, and features interesting items by Engineered Garment and Junya Watanabe, as well as more Burgus Plus Chinos. 

There are other great Tokyo stores I've left out. In time, I should be able to add these to the Google Map. Please feel free to email me with reminders, or locations. As mentioned before, I would have liked to visit the Kapital and Freewheelers stores. Maybe next time. 

Here's the map again - hopefully, you'll now find Full Count and others on there. 

View Naka Meguro, Daikanyama & Ebisu denim in a larger map

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Tokyo Denim Tour part 1: Nakameguro, Daikanyama and Ebisu

Shopping is by no means the main attraction of Tokyo - but, let's face it, it's a worthwhile pastime. The department stores - Isetan and, especially, Tokyu Hands, the magnificent multistorey hardware store - are some of the world's finest. But I especially liked the smaller, boutique stores, many of which are unique, with carefully-sourced product and often many proprietary lines you rarely see elsewhere.

The area around Naka Meguro is richest in these stores; again, like elsewhere, they're by no means the finest attraction of the area. We loved this compact location, made friends there, hung out by the canal, guzzled iced coffees from the streetside vending machines. But the shops were great, so here's my all-too-brief selection.

I'll append a map later, and update this post with other people's suggestions for shops. So please email me or leave a comment if you have any additions, corrections, or gratuitous insults.


If you're walking south, this is the first of a run of fabulous small shops. Brits will feel a patriotic surge at the display of Trickers'; there's a compact selection of vintage, many tasteful accessories and some original designs; chinos, tops etc.

Acts website

Army Gym

A block or two down from ACTS; Cabourn's label is, to my mind, one of the most exciting newer British label - in a Tokyo context it looks even more impressive.

Telepathy Route
In many ways, just a typical Tokyo vintage store, with a sprinkling of Levi's 507 and other items. But I liked the more down-market items best; simple deadstock French T-shirts for example. 

Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters
Mostly women's clothing. As one sees so often in Japan, the standard of execution for what I presume is a pretty small label, is simply staggering. Their website is well worth a look. 

By now, we've walked down near to Naka Meguro tube station. This area is full of intriguing stores, like Gaku Vintage Tools, on the other side of the canal from the clothing shops. It was, frustratingly, closed the day we noticed it. 

Up from RHRB, I believe turning up towards Daikanyama, was another intriguing little shop, Reflex, with an American Hunting and Fishing theme. Not my particular bag, but as usual the sourcing, and quality of items on display, was impressive. 


Follow the train line round from Naka Meguro and you soon reach Daikanyama, home to what is now one of Japan's most established denim brands, Evisu. The story of Evisu is fascinating; often credited as  the first Osaka 5 label, Evisu were of course at the forefront of the resurgence of selvage denim. They were also the main company described as purchasing redundant American looms; I'd personally written them off for such marketing porkies, and have grown depressed by the poor quality European Evisu items - and some of the business practices of Evisu Hong Kong. But a wander around the Daikanyama stores helped revive my decades-old enthusiasm for the label - especially the first floor, with its wealth of golfing items. 

There is a loom in the entrance to the downstairs showroom; the staff didn't know, but I suspect it's a Toyoda Type G, the pioneering loom shown in action here. 

I love the portrait of Evisu's founder, Hidehiko Yamane, which has the feeling of a religious icon in this setting. 

Barley Harvest Season
Barley Harvest Season are over the road from the Evisu showroom. I've heard great things of them, but sadly didn't have a chance to check out the store, which is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. 
My disappointment at missing BHS was eased by my visit to another of Tokyo's finest small stores...


UES is just north of the junction dominated by Evisu, set back from the street in a huddle of mostly lowrise apartment buildings and small shops - like Naka Meguro, this is a corner well worth spending time in. UES alone justifies the trip - for a small company, the execution of their denim is stunning. Sadly, I didn't have enough Japanese to find which mill they use, but the denim, and the standard of finishing on their pants is very impressive. 

Of course, Tokyo has plenty of choice in Levi's-inspired pants. But... no one else has kids' wear as impressive as this. 

The kids' jackets retail at around 15,000 Yen, available from Size 0 to Size 3. That's a fair amount of money, indeed, but fully justified by the workmanship. 

This is Tomohito Inomata at work in the store; like many Japanese denim outlet, there's a Union Special in the shop so customers can get a custom inseam with the obligatory chainstitch.

The UES blog is here. 

Just around the corner from UES, there's Hollywood Ranch Market. As the name suggests it was a little generic, at least on cursory examination, but it's worth a quick look.

Continue North up the main street, Komazawa Dori, toward Ebisu and there are plenty more nice stores. Wild Life Taylor boasts Alden, Mr Freedom, LVC, some choice RRL items, lovely canvas bags and another very tasteful interior.

Komazawa Dori also has this impressive shop selling vintage Harleys...

This street takes us up to two of Tokyo's most significant denim stores, Warehouse and Kapital. 

I didn't visit Kapital in this location (although it's marked on the map, below), as I planned to do so in another location in Kojima - where, unfortunately, I was told not to take photos and was getting very short of time. But I was very impressed by the full range.  Designer Kazuhiro Hirata draws on a huge range of denim mills, and there's some very impressive laundry work, all of which I believe is done at the Kapital factory in Kojima. 

I had a fixed plan of what denim I planned to buy in Tokyo; but it was very hard to resist temptation and buy a pair of 1001XX. Sadly, Warehouse don't seem to support the Duck Digger range any longer, but that's made up for by the superd Heller's CafĂ© range - all based on the collection of Larry MacKaughan, a denim collector and dealer who's also, I found when researching Denim, one of the most helpful people in the industry.

Downstairs has the standard Warehouse range. 

Upstairs we have the Warehouse Archive, with more of the one-off Heller Cafe items. I have far too many cinchback jeans... but am sorely tempted by these. 

This is very attractive denim, with an authentic vintage look, fine yarns and short stitch lengths rather than the exaggerated vintage style we see on many repros. The pants retail at Y24,000, good value for that attention to detail. I loved the One Pocket Pleated Jacket, too, at a slightly heftier Y33,000. 

I would have loved to have visited Toys McCoys and Freewheelers in Tokyo, two places I've heard a lto about, but sadly didn't make it this time. I will follow up with far briefer stories on Shinjuku and Harajuku, plus Ueno market. Watch this space...

And now, it's possible you might see a Google Map giving you direction to all these denim destinations. 

View Naka Meguro, Daikanyama & Ebisu denim in a larger map