Streetwear has been dominating the fashion scene lately and shows no signs of slowing down. It has reached the likes of luxury fashion and it is amazing to see how it has evolved.
Japanese streetwear is where it all began – from the hype to the silhouettes. Japan is the home of many influential street brands we know and love today. Many of these brands have done big collaborations with Western brands.
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What is Japanese Streetwear?
You cannot put a fixed description of what Japanese streetwear is. The styles are so vast and diverse, that it is difficult to encapsulate different aesthetics into just one word. But if required to do so, the theme of Japanese streetwear is misfits.
A misfit mentality of living and dressing differently. Whether it be the feminine and kawaii Lolita style or the heavily gothic punk style, there is a desire to not dress the norm and be out of the ordinary. More than just a fashion statement, Japanese streetwear is a lifestyle choice.
It is about being part of a community, adhering to certain beliefs with a style, and just choosing to be a certain way. Japanese streetwear originally drew inspiration from the Western world in the 70s and 80s, with the emergence of Western music and hip-hop culture.
A lot of Japanese streetwear today has a Western feel with high-quality Japanese craftsmanship and a unique Japanese twist. Hundreds of Japanese streetwear brands today can be found all over Japan’s prime spots. You can even be lucky to thrift one!
Why is Japan Known for Their Streetwear?
Japan is known for its streetwear for several reasons. The biggest reason is because of their artisan craftsmanship. Japan, as a culture, has a mentality of striving to be better in all ways. They commit to perfecting their craft, whatever field it may be, including in the world of fashion.
Hearing something is made in Japan already guarantees a well-made and excellent product. Aside from this, Japan has a rich culture and heritage that they like to apply, even discretely, in their works. It’s not something that can easily be replicated.
Japanese streetwear has also made countless collaborations with each other, creating visual masterpieces that have reached international runways. With the rising fame, collaborations in America and Europe had also developed. This allowed the world to discover Japanese streetwear and gain an appreciation for it.
What Locations in Japan are the Most Popular with Streetwear?
The most popular streetwear and fashion in general, place in Japan are Harajuku. This is a fashion hub and is the center of youth culture and fashion. Harajuku is said to be the birthplace of streetwear.
Back in the 90s, Urahara was inhabited by plenty of the younger crowd. This neighborhood is located between the Harajuku and Shibuya districts in Tokyo.
Urahara is also short for ura-Harajuku, or “the hidden Harajuku.” It was a fresh start for people to dissect themselves out of traditional values, experiment with newer things, and explore creativity.
Many small stores opened, which took influence from the West and gave a new perspective of what fashion can be. It was soon after that many people wanted to see how Harajuku works. Until today, several streetwear stores are situated in this prime area.
10 Japanese Streetwear Brands to Know
Neighborhood is one of the OGs in the Japanese streetwear scene. It was established in 1994 by Shinsuke Takizawa, also known as Shin. The brand was inspired by American motorcycle culture, as well as punk and rock ‘n’ roll influences. Leathers, flannels, and headwears are some of the brand’s key elements.
Recently, the brand has also expanded to military and industrial wear designs. The brand is still known for its selvage denim and play with indigo washes. It was under the radar outside Japan for a while but has now become a streetwear staple with big collaborations with Western brands like Vans and Adidas.
WTAPS was established in 1996 by Tetsu Nishiyama. Before WTAPS, he was a creative director for Shin’s label NEIGHBORHOOD. He had already learned plenty of things in the Harajuku streetwear scene and WTAPS is living proof that he is doing everything correctly for a successful Japanese streetwear label.
Pronounced as double taps, WTAPS is a reference to the military term of hitting two shots in succession. This military-inspired label provided functional and high-quality clothing that was as sought-after and sold as quickly as Supreme in Japan, an impressive feat indeed.
A Bathing Ape, or BAPE for short, is a world-famous Japanese streetwear brand and one of the original pioneers of streetwear. This brand caters to men, women, and children – as well as expanding as a lifestyle brand as well.
It was founded by Tomoaki Nagao, better known as Nigo, in 1993. The brand was inspired by the 1968 movie: “Planet of the Apes.” It also relates to a Japanese proverb, “A bathing monkey in lukewarm water”. It shows the hyper-consumerist and lavish attitudes of today’s youth.
This brand revolutionized Japanese streetwear with the likes of Pharell Williams and The Notorious B.I.G. wearing their products. BAPE is famous for its iconic camouflage print and shark mouth design.
This brand was the “it” streetwear in the early 2000s and still has a booming presence today. It was bought by the Hong Kong fashion conglomerate I.T. in 2011, whereas Nigo pursued his next label – Human Made.
Human Made is another brand established by Nigo, with the help of Sk8thing – who has also helped him with BAPE. It was established in 2011 and has quickly made a name for itself. This brand plays with more fun and quirky designs with motifs like hearts and ducks.
The playful aesthetic is different from Nigo’s works in BAPE, showing his diversity and impressive creativity in the streetwear scene. It draws inspiration from the past and how the future can be found in the past. The brand’s collaboration with Adidas has made it popular worldwide.
Jun Takahashi was no stranger to fashion and streetwear. Alongside his friend Nigo, he ran a Japanese fashion boutique called Nowhere. The brand was established in 1990, while Takahashi was still in Bunka Fashion College. The brand explores traditional clothing with avant-garde elements, with references to punk and grunge culture.
With the support of Rei Kawakubo, creator of COMME des GARÇONS, as his mentor – his future in fashion was bright. Undercover’s motto – “We Make Noise Not Clothes”, show that the brand is experimental and rebellious. They have highly coveted pieces that are big among streetwear enthusiasts.
Uniqlo is probably everywhere. It is a well-known Japanese fast fashion store that sells casual clothing. What started in Japan, is now a giant global label that has spread to many American and European cities.
It was initially established in 1984 as a “Unique Clothing Warehouse”. The name Uniqlo came from a misread error from “c” to “q”. Though Uniqlo does not have the over-the-top designs and eye-catching decorations that you usually see in Japanese streetwear, it offers the perfect balance of basics and classics, matched with superb quality at a more affordable price.
The brand also experiments with different technologies for the making of their products like the HEATTECH.
Yohji Yamamoto (Y-3)
Everyone knows who Yohji Yamamoto is, one of the most famous Japanese designers in the world. His aesthetics are one-of-a-kind and greatly adhere to what we know of in Japanese streetwear. His love for the color black has been a constant throughout his designs.
This is a statement of “I don’t bother you – don’t bother me.” From extended silhouettes to intricate asymmetrical designs, it is no shocker that it is the perfect fit for the market.
Yamamoto’s Y-3 line with Adidas has become one of the most popular collaborations to date. The success is no shocker as the designer has mastered the art of streetwear and craftsmanship.
Takahiro Miyashita had never really intended to be in the fashion industry, but we are thankful that he is. Miyashita was kicked out of high school and worked as a designer.
This led him to the industry where he established Number (N)ine in 1997. The label, like much Japanese streetwear, is inspired by Western music, specifically American and British rock.
Miyashita eventually left the band due to management issues but went off to open a new label – TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist.
Wacko Maria is an interesting brand, not only delving into fashion but also hosting events and collaborating with different artists. It was founded by two J-league professional footballers Nobuhiro Mori and Keiji Ishizuka in 2005.
It is heavily influenced by art like music, film, and photography, with Latin American style. The brand is known for being bold with its color choices and showing off traditional artwork and Japanese patterns.
Elaborate embroidery is heavy details that make this brand stand out from the rest. It is fun and playful, yet elegantly modern and classic.
COMME des GARÇONS
The list is never complete without mentioning the contribution of COMME de GARÇONS to the Japanese fashion and streetwear scene. It was founded in 1969 by one of the most successful fashion designers in the world – Rei Kawakubo.
This brand is a legend, to say the least. With multiple high-end and diffusion lines, there is no end to its success. The brand has always been avant-garde, a true sign of rebellion against the norms.
The heart with eyes logo is something that everybody knows, and this marks how successful the brand has been in staying true to itself and creating an identity that is truly theirs. The Play line is the most intact to the streetwear aesthetics, with graphic tees and accessories.
Kathleen, more commonly called Kaye, is a fashion designer and creative. She graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Clothing Technology from the University of the Philippines. Kaye is a fashion enthusiast interested in styling, content writing, and illustration. She has worked with several local and international brands and is currently in the pursuit of beginning her Master’s Degree in Fashion Merchandising in New York.