Two Weeks in Japan: A Style Journal (Week Two)

Cruising in Shimokitazawa

This is part II of II of an informal style journal I kept during our trip to Japan last November (apologies for any formatting issues - Blogger is a P.O.S.). First week can be found here.

 Day 8 - Tokyo (Shinjuku): Isetan Overload

Isetan Men (photo from Match-jp.com)  
  • The Isetan Men's Store in Shinjuku houses the densest, most overwhelming collection of high end menswear I've ever experienced (check out the store brand list here to give you an idea). For some perspective, the mens store has it's own eight floor building apart from the main store. You could just strip yourself naked in there and let the sartorial waves crash over you. The only other thing that would make the moment more magical is if they had Willy Wonka skipping around the isles singing "Pure Imagination." Gene Wilder Wonka. Not Depp.
  • Golden Gai, a small area in Shinjuku filled with bars and small restaurants, is a really cool place to grab a bite and hang out, though most of the bars don't seem to open til later in the evening. A typical spot there has seating for maybe 8-10 people crammed around a small bar. Then you sit, drink, and smell each other. While we were checking out the area, there was a fashion shoot going on in one of the alleys. In the alley behind my Philly apartment, it's mostly a public bathroom/place one goes to throw up.
Students waiting outside a ramen shop in Golden Gai

Day 9 - Tokyo (Meiji Shrine, Shibuya, Harajuku): Secondhand heaven, Tokyo's Brooklyn, and Harajuku Meh

Wedding couple at Meiji Shrine
  • While walking to the Meiji shrine in the morning, an old lady we pass in the park is wearing an incredible patchwork/boro coat. Ask her where to kop.
  • There are weddings being shot at the shrine, and compared to the rental tuxes that still oppress the US, Japanese wedding attire is incredibly striking, beautiful, and stately. Not in a way that I think anyone in the US should try and emulate, but damn it drapes better than the purple shiny vest and matching pocket square combo that still permeates American culture.
A small portion of Bingo reuse shop
  • I break away for a little bit while my wife is exploring a Tokyu Hands store in Shibuya and head into a "Bingo" store (another secondhand shop around the corner) - it's definitely one of the best I've been to. They have enough inventory that they have sections of racks labeled "Nonnative," "Kapital," or "Needles," etc. At first I overlook a large section labeled "American casual," which I assumed meant Gap or BR. Wrong - it's filled with stuff like Buzz Ricksons and Sugar Cane (Japanese repro). There are a few actual American brands in there, but for the most part it's Japanese. I pick up a Buzz Ricksons herringbone twill shirt with tags still attached for $50. No RRL or anything in that rack, though, disappointingly. A minute later I find out that's because there's an RRL section. In one of the domestic sections, I also grab a Tomorrowland chunky cable knit belted wool shawl cardigan for ~$70 (for pics of my haul, check my prior post here). Realize at checkout that the whole store is 20% off at the moment. Too late, wife arrives and the party is over (Story of my life* - zing!). *JK, if you are reading this, honey, you know you my world.
Buzz Ricksons HBT shirt and Tomorrowland Belted Cardigan

  • We take the train out of Shibuya into Shimokitazawa, a younger, hipper area of Tokyo, kinda like we pretend Brooklyn to be, filled with boutiques and vintage shops. They have a ton of imported vintage Americana shops as well as one shop that sells Japanese denim everything, including a denim version of those white surgical masks everyone wears around in public here. The only thing I didn't see was denim panties, but in all honesty we were only in there for a moment. It's entirely conceivable they make them, so if that's what you're looking for I would ask.
  • I spot a rakish Japanese man on a bike sporting a moustache that could only be described as "saucy," carrying his dog in the front basket (pictured above). He also has drawn a matching moustache on the dog. How saucy!
  • On another note, Harajuku is not at all what I thought it was going to be. Yes, there are some young people dressed on the more avant-garde side of things, but I honestly expected it to be like Mugatu or Derelict-level high fashion, when it actually seemed pretty similar to the rest of urban Tokyo to me after visiting the area twice. Hell, Osaka was just as crazy.
  • While walking around in Harajuku, though, we come across a flagship RRL store with multiple floors and a massive selection of grail-level items that look like they had been worn by a Civil War general who was also into selvedge denim and railroad engineering. I don't know what it is about Japanese guys, either, but they make everything seem cool.


Day 11 - Nagano (Jigokudani Monkey Park)


This fit is not fire
  • At our ryokan (a tradional-style Japanese hotel), they give us yukatas (a casual kimono) to wear around the grounds. Standing around in my yukata and slippers, I have never in my life felt so white. And I'm not even white.
  • We take a hike up to Monkey Park through the forest road, and I try to get the wife to take a pic of me on the trail. "What's the difference? You're always wearing the same Barbour jacket and those boots." She neglects to notice I am wearing a mid-layer cardigan today that totally changes the drape of the jacket to the discerning eye smh.
  • On an unrelated note, everyone in Japan is exceedingly polite, and that includes the monkeys. As a monkey tries to get by my wife, he taps her politely on the shoulder and waits for his turn to squeeze by. A few years ago in Bali, I watched a few monkeys attack a toddler. She lived, I think.
  • My Redwing Beckmans are holding up well to the occasional weather and daily ~6-10 miles of walking we're doing. The forest trail is a squishy mud sprinkled with monkey droppings at the end. Snow monkey patina achieved. 10/10 would step in again.


Day 12 - Tokyo - Grail childrens' backpack, and K-Town is the worst

Randoseru 
  • I've noticed a lot of elementary school-aged kids seem to be also wearing identical backpacks. It actually seems rather nice and tasteful - simple leather paneling and some rivets. Ask where to kop. I spend some time in the evening googling "Japanese child backpack." It's called "randoseru" FYI, and laugh now but check this outWho's laughing now?
  • Start to realize that luggage is definitely going to be a problem with weight and carrying capacity. Consider leaving behind dirty underwear or wearing like 3 sweaters on the plane ride home. Layering, bro.
  • I sit in a cosmetics store in Tokyo's K-town for what seems like all the best years of my life trying to save up some brownie points to use on another secondhand store before we fly out in a few days. If I can wear 3 sweaters and a jacket on the plane, who's to say I can't wear 7?
  • No one.

     Day 13 - Tokyo - Blue Blue Japan the long way

    Okura Store (Photo from Taleslikethese.com)

    • After visiting Shibuya again, I convince my wife to take a walk to check out Tokyo's Blue Blue Japan/Okura store, which looks to be a little south of the main drag. Turns out it's not a short walk at all (maybe 20-25 minutes), and cuts through a lot of pitch black winding backstreets in Tokyo to get to. In the end, the store is really cool but nothing I have to own (that patchwork coat - you probably know the one - is really cool, though) or think I could pull off in everyday life. Wife shames me into buying a couple pairs of socks for making us walk all the way there when we could have probably gone to a Journal Standard in Shibuya and bought something from the Nigel Cabourn x Journal Standard capsule. We're coming up on the end of our trip, though, with no other chances to hit those stores again probably. When I'm 90 years old on my death bed and that one guy asks "is there anything you would have done differently in your life?" now I know what I'm going to say.
    • Two days later, at the Tokyo airport there's a Blue Blue Japan store with all the same stuff. 

       Day 14 - Tokyo (Taito) - Indigo dyeing, Japanese tie dye, and peer pressure

      Wanariya Indigo Workshop
      • While visiting Japan, something I really wanted to do was traditional aizome/indigo dyeing. The guys over at Styleforum trekked out of Tokyo on their trip to visit a more rural shop, but I managed to find one called "Wanariya" right in Taito (Tokyo). Incredible experience, even for someone who couldn't give two turds about indigo (such as my wife, who loved it). The guy working there shows us how to do traditional shibori (like a Japanese tie dye), stencil pattern resist dyeing, and freestyle wax resist dyeing, and you can grab a plain tee shirt, scarf, etc. that they have in stock or bring your own item to dye yourself in their natural indigo fermenting vats. Honestly, I really want to just make a plain indigo shirt and scarf (does that make me boring?) but get peer pressured by my wife and shop worker into making a shibori scarf and some wax drops on a tee. The dyeing process is a blast (10/10 would dye again) but lesson learned - follow your heart and you trust your own eye. I never wanted to wear tie dye before and today isn't any different, honestly. For around $40-50 per shirt/scarf, though, including the time and instruction, definitely would recommend to anyone even remotely interested in seeing the process of indigo dyeing with a few hours to spare. You can check out my full post on that experience here.
      Natural Indigo Vats

      That concludes my short journal on Japan - one of my favorite destinations, hands down, especially from a style and mens fashion perspective. If you're headed to Japan and planning on going to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagano, or Nara, shoot me an email if you need some recommendations - especially regarding secondhand shopping. Otherwise, I'm still planning a Japan-centric post or two in the future, so keep an eye out for those.

      A few (unrelated) parting shots snapped on the trip:

      In a quiet corner of Fushimi Inari-Taisha (Kyoto)

      A bride and her mother (Tokyo)

      Girl group performs at Shinsaibashi/WTF (Osaka)

      Getting too old for this (Tokyo fish market)

      Robot Restaurant (Tokyo)


      A beggar outside Kyumizu Dera (Kyoto)

       Two maiko outside the temple (Kyoto)

      Comments

      1. Thanks again so much for taking the time to document your experiences in Japan. Really enjoyed reading this, as always.

        In this post you've linked to some more proxy services that will ship from Japan; have you taken the plunge and tried any yet? At first glance, some of the Japanese menswear we pay so much for in the West is available much more economically there, but sizing is an issue, not to mention returns...

        ReplyDelete
        Replies
        1. Hey Matt - Thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed it!

          As luck would have it, I do have something right now in a proxy buy that I purchased off JP Yahoo auction waiting to get shipped to me (probably later this week or early next week). I'll def post more about it after it gets here.

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      2. Love the blog and your sly sense of humor. Pictures you took are also great. Would you ever do a post on how you packed for such a trip? Cheers!

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        Replies
        1. Hey, thanks Mike! Yeah, I had something similar in mind revolving around mostly the outerwear I chose, but that sounds like a great idea. Thanks for the suggestions and glad you enjoy the blog. Means a lot, really.

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      3. You cover exactly what I've done and want to do, including that BBJ jacket! Very nice write up!
        Gerry

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        Replies
        1. Thanks, Gerry! I'm happy to have found some like minds. In all honesty, I can't wait to go back in a few years, if possible. Those vintage and re-use shops are on my mind all the time.

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