Thank Osaka, not Okayama

by | March 12, 2020 | Opinions

It seems to me that, more often than not, when most people make the pilgrimage to Japan for denim, they always hit up the same two spots. They either go to Tokyo (because that’s the only city they know of) or they go to Okayama, the newly crowned “Denim Mecca” famed for its legendary jean street and home to all the fan boy brands.

Having lived in Japan and gone back almost every other year with my wife, and now kids, for the last 10 years, I’ve learned that Osaka also has and amazing denim landscape. On could argue that Osaka is the true birthplace of vintage style Japanese denim. 

So, how is it that Japan and Osaka became such a powerhouse of denim. Well… that is complicated. 

To say that Japan and the United states have had a strange and complicated relationship might be a bit of an understatement. The two countries have gone from enemies to being completely and utterly infatuated with each other’s culture. Now, America’s obsession with all things sushi, Anime, Manga and Hypebeast are all rather new in comparison to Japan’s post war love of all things Americana. It’s proof that culture can also be traded commodity.

During the post war years, the youth of Japan became infatuated with the American lifestyle and the American way. In part, this was the direct result of the US occupation of Japan. It makes a certain kind of sense; with the presence of the American troops came film, music (Rock ‘n Roll baby), and of course, LEVI’s. 

In the 70’s and 80’s, there was nothing more rebellious then owning an American muscle car and broken pair of vintage Levi’s. For the hard working, tight collared Japanese man, this was a great escape from the grind. Unfortunately, like all things that become popular, eventually denim hit its apex in Japan. It suddenly became mass produced and the quality dropped and as such, so did its popularity. But, unlike the United States, who embraced rolling forward with a future of cheap denim (see LEVI’s closes all manufacturing sites in the US and moves it to Mexico), there were a few in Japan that longed to roll back that clock and go back to making denim the way it once was. They are known as the OSAKA 5.

Thank Osaka, not Okayama 1

Starting in 1979, you saw the birth of Studio D’artisan founded by Shigeharu Tagaki. Tagaki was using a very time consuming 27 inch shuttle loom and hand-dyeing their fibers to make their first Jeans. They continued on with this process until 1995, when Tagaki left the company.  I think it’s safe to say that Tagaki really laid the ground work for those to come. 

Let’s move a bit faster through the time line shall we:

1988: Yoshiyuki Hayashi founds Denime, making the best of the LEVI’s re-creations.

1991: Evisu was formed by Mikiharu Tsujita and Hidehiko Yamane. Making one of the most adventurous denim brands around.

The rest of the 1990s saw the birth of:

Fullcount; the first brand to use Zimbabwe Cotton with a focus on making jeans for the everyday.

Warehouse; Founded by the Shiotani Brothers, injecting their own take on vintage exclusively using iron buttons, copper rivets, and the ever so popular deerskin patch.

These brands, in the 1990s, single handedly brought life back into the struggling textile industry of Okayama; thus, paving the way for all future brands on which to build upon. These new brands would soon find a foot hold in the Japanese denim industry by experimenting with different dyeing techniques, texture and slub.  

It’s safe to say that Pure Blue Japan, Momotaro, and Iron Heart wouldn’t be around today if it weren’t for the groundwork that the OSAKA 5 created.

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About the Author

Tristan Chamberlin

Tristan Chamberlin

My name is Tristan, Senior Author and Resident Expert at The arcuate. I'm a walking wiki of worthless knowledge and father of two who watches trash Anime, drinks bourbon, and has opinions about life the universe and who best Waifu’s are. Oh and I like denim...