The History of the Coolest Japanese Souvenir Jackets

Japanese Souvenir Jackets or more famously known as the "Sukajan" (Skajang/Skajan) trace their roots during the World War II when the American troops stationed in the Pacific have wanted to have some "memories" or souvenirs of their foreign assignments to bring back home to mainland. It has sort of become a solidarity uniform or remembrance of their posts and service in the war and their comrades with whom they have spent some of the bravest time of their lives. It is said to have originated from Yokusuka in Kanagawa Prefecture where its name is thought to have come from - "Suka" from Yokosuka and "Jan" from the Japanese term Jumper or ジャンパー or jacket in layman's term. The famous maker of them during that time is the staunch brand, TOYO Enterprises, which still exists until today.

Artwork by Little Miss Paintbrush

Nowadays, Sukajans have again invaded the wardrobe and closets of famous pop-artists ranging from Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Pharell Williams, Harry Styles and the like - enjoying a massive cult-following among these personalities' fans. Although this iconic fashion street wear, have been experiencing a more-or-less 5-to-7-year cycle of hyping up and down annals of Street Fashion, for sure, it is here to stay and remain a staunch form and expression of one's strong inclination and personal statement towards fashion.

In short, for the avid fan and collector of fashion iconic pieces, more specifically, Japan-orginated ones, having 1 or 2 of these sukajan will definitely pay in the long run as they have become treated like vintage and antique collectibles that is bound for many generations to enjoy. The main reason for this is that, for each lot and design, even until now, makers usually do not make more than 200 pieces of each design including all sizes which explains the rarity and value among them.

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Japanese Sukajan Jackets from Japan Lover Me Store

Secondly, more than just a piece of fashion, they reflect the mood of the time they are made and released. Sukajan these days have design themes DNAs inspired by Edo Period Japonisme Arts and cultural elements like Ukiyoe, Shunga, Maiko/Oiran/Geisha and the modern interpretation of the oriental zodiac signs and similar motifs as well.

Originally, the designs during the 1940-60s were basically a combination of the evening tiger, koi fish, sakuras, Japan map, Maiko/Geisha, Dragon and other "Oriental or Eastern" motifs which generally what the Americans thought of the East during that time. It is observed and can be said that, the perception of the West with regards to the East during that time was blurred and that Japanese and the Chinese were interchangeably used and referred to one another. There was actually a fine line drawn in between the Chinese and Japanese cultures with regards to the designs incorporated in the sukajan for at one angle to the novice appreciator of the original vintage sukajan in the post-war period, one can write them off as actually to resemble the Chinese traditional dress because it had large Dragons and had shiny rayon and silk as materials as well. The appeal of this particular jacket is not only because of the memories it serves for those GIs who used to be sentimental about them but also because they are mostly reversible and have different designs in and out to the surprise of the many.

Modern sukajan are more expressive and extensive in terms of the design thanks to the changing technology that even complicated designs and patterns can now be easily produced and made compared to the methods used when the original series were done and made before. The frontliners in modern sukajan production are undeniably these two makers - Efu Shokai and Switch Planning - which are active these days in reviving the spirits of the sukajan with modern elements of the Biker, Punk, Tattoo and Rock Cultures and releases limitedly-produced designs yearly. Toyo Enterprise still stands strong and remains grounded in their humble retro and simplistic designs in maintaining the originality and feel of those good 'ol times. Today, we can also see another offshoot of the sukajan culture and influence in the appearance of the popular "Sutajan" or Stadium Jackets whose basic form and design has its roots coming from the American university varsity jackets which are more thicker and heavier than the silk/rayon-made Sukajans.

Within Japan, the image of the sukajan remains close to the noisy club of yankis, gangstas, yakuza flicks and sort-ofs. Meanwhile, outside Japan, the sukajan form has been slowly absorbed and instituted by many high-fashion designs and labels, stomping the catwalks of Milan, Paris and New York. To name a few - Valentino, Chloe, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Kate Moss, YSL are just some of those entities taking a cue from this mix of American and Japanese subculture. Lately, modern anime and online gaming phenomena like Sazae-chan, Hello Kitty, One Piece, Evangelion, Monster Hunter could be found producing novelty and limited edition sukajan jackets as well.

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Not to be left behind, super idol group, AKB48 also released their collaboration with Okuma Shokai with that infamous picture of the duck-faced Tomomi Itano donning one. Japan's very own Paris Hilton, Erika Sawajiri, known for her role in the movie in Helter Skelter is also famous for her snapped photo in the sukajan's full glory during her controversial episodes in the local showbiz scene.

japan lover me store sukajan kawaii

Popular brands or labels that carry the spirits of these delicious-looking Sukajans are mainly these listed below:

Efu Shokai (Mother Company):

  • Bakuretsu Ranma
  • Tedman
  • Peak'd Yellow
  • Anti
  • Blood Message
  • Suikyo

Switch Planning (Mother Company):

  • Satori
  • Hyakka Ryoran
  • Hanatabi Gakudan
  • Japanesque
  • Ryu-Oh
  • Tenstrike
  • Backstreet Crawler
  • Junky's Paradise
  • Rasen
  • JP2nd

Wagara Independent Labels which have produced sukajans in the past as well:

  • Tailor TOYO
  • JUNKSTAR
  • PEARL DIVER
  • CBGB
  • Script
  • Chikiriya
  • Onigashima
  • Dorobo Nikki
  • Taylor Oriental
  • clover leaf
  • Satori
  • Bicchu Kurashiki Kobo Kura Eternal
  • Ku USA
  • Gerard
  • Pherrows
  • Dry Bones
  • Cropped Heads
  • Houston
  • Warehouse
  • The Flat Head
  • Denime
  • Okuma Shokai
  • Hoshihime
  • Chikamasa
  • Prince Shokai
  • First Shokai
  • IOLANI
  • Reminiscence
  • Mukashi Mukashi
  • Blue back
  • Backbone
  • Rotor
  • Bootleggers Reunion
  • Ebisu
  • Ozone Rocks
  • Cream soda
  • Ed Hardy
  • Full count
  • The Real McCoy
  • Rude gallery
  • Hysteric Glamour
  • Studio D'Artisan
  • GASBAG
  • Namitatsu
  • Naminori Tatsujin
  • BACK STREET CRAWLER
  • Switch
  • Cab Clothing
  • Lucky13
  • KAMINARI
  • ANOKHA
  • CHIGIRI
  • ZEN
  • Infinity
  • Pinball
  • Kacho Fugetsu
  • Karakuri Tamashi
  • Hollywood Lunch market
  • A Un
  • Juvenile Delinquent

Sukajan Girls and Boys

Lo and behold as we build this first and only online Sukajan gallery and archives to share to everyone for common appreciation and express our love and lust for this sick piece of jacket...

JLM sukajan archives banner

www.japanlover.me/sukajan

sukajan dragon little miss paintbrush

www.fb.com/japanloverme.store


Words by Eric Ocampo

Illustrations by ChiChi Romero

Photography by Kaila Ocampo & Justin De Jesus

3 thoughts on “The History of the Coolest Japanese Souvenir Jackets

  1. Wow this post has changed my opinion about the Sukajans! I’ve always thought of them as just expensive jackets and never knew their historical story before reading this post! And it’s true, they always gave me the impression that they’re for tomboys, yakuza, and bike-riders! haha xD Never thought it could be worn by girls to add a bit of a beauty touch!
    The ones you have in your shop are pretty cool! I especially liked the minnie one! :D I hope I can find a job soon to save up for one<3 :'(

    ReplyReply
  2. Hi there

    Where can I buy reference books on Sukajan Designs. I see you have an image of open pages above I would like to buy that book. What is the title & the ISBN #

    Thank you

    ReplyReply

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