When I was 5 years old I had two great loves in life, Transformers and Godzilla. I am absolutely convinced that this formative connection is where my infatuation with the land of the rising sun and the Yamato tribe began. I am aware that there is tendency in the west to prescribe some kind of “other worldly” quality to Japan and the Japanese, we make assumptions that their ways are so steeped in tradition and different from ours that we must behave with deference and restraint normally reserved for meeting the parents of a prospective future partner, we cast out clichés like rain drops in respect of the politeness of the Japanese and that their society is based on honour. Is there truth to all this? Well… yes, but Japan and its people are not so different as we might think, and what we often miss in personifying them with an almost Vulcan coldness is the incredible warmth of character, strength of resolve and creative spirit which more typifies the achievements of modern Japan.
Having grown up on a steady diet of giant reptiles, transforming robots, Monkey Magic and Ninja movies it should be no surprise that Tokyo always featured high on the list of places I simply HAD to visit when my means allowed, before making my first trip I consulted a particular travel journal which described the city as “like an amalgam of New York and the Moon”. This is actually fairly accurate as there is definite dual feeling for most westerners of the familiar and the alien when experiencing their first Tokyo night out or finding themselves lost in one of the city’s cavernous train stations (Shinjuku!?!?) or Ginza department stores, from the hilarious no smoking signs to prawn stuffed “Ebi Fillet” burger in McDonalds, you are definitely not in Kansas any more. Having said all this it should be recognised that Tokyo is not an intimidating city in the least, for the casual visitor it is relaxed, interesting, safe, convenient and above all it is fun.
For the denim tourist Tokyo is a Mecca, and rightly so with so many brands having either their head quarters, flagship stores or certainly retailers in and around the city, of course with this being Japan finding them is quite a challenge and also part of the fun, nothing great is found easily. The main area to head to for procuring some fine denim is Ueno with its selection of retailers from Hinoya to Amerikura and various independents selling a selection to appease most wants and drain every wallet. For the more budget conscious it is always worth checking out the vast array of reseller shops found in various nooks around the Omote Sando and Takeshita Dori areas of Harajuku, and in the backstreets to the West of Shibuya station.
My personal experience of brand stores rather than retailers is limited only to the Trophy Clothing store in Daitabashi and the Jelado store in Ebisu, I missed out on visiting the Pure Blue Japan flagship store and I have yet to make the pilgrimage to Iron Hearts fabled “The Works” headquarters in Hachioji, which is about an hour outside of Tokyo on the train, although it is certainly on my list for next year. Tokyo is a place of denim wonders, it was even exciting to me to sit on a bench next to a young man wearing a beat up pair of Sugar Cane’s and carrying a Samurai tote bag last year, where I come from you simply do not see this stuff out in the world so to speak.
It’s tough to explain the appeal of Tokyo, it is not really a pretty city like Paris or even Kyoto, it doesn’t have a long list of must see sights like New York or London and it doesn’t really have the break neck thrills of a Las Vegas or a night out in Barcelona, but it remains unique and untouchable as a spectacle of conflicting styles and an indicator of consumer habits. What people wear in Tokyo today will be worn in London and New York soon enough, once the great imitator, Japan has found a new place in the world as imitation becomes innovation and for the style of tomorrow we take inspiration in reaching back through time and shifting continents, moving forwards by going backwards and there is no country on earth more comfortable with doing this than Japan.