Japan’s sukajan, the embroidered satin college or letterman jacket you’ve no doubt seen a million times in Japan, has really come a long way: from being nothing but a wearable souvenir to covering Kanye West’s shoulders. And we’re pretty sure Kim Kardashian has touched it too. But while to many this gaudy at a glance jacket may seem like nothing but a kitsch sold at souvenir stores, it carries a long history with deep American and Japanese cultural roots. These satin jackets are also known as “souvenir jackets,” “Yokosuka jackets,” or sometimes even as “rebel jackets,” although this term seems to have fallen out of use in recent years.
© Photo by Mikasa
Simple sukajan and limited edition brand styles are available in most clothing stores in Tokyo, but if you are looking for the original, heavily embroidered type, you’ll have to head out of the city to Yokosuka — where the sukajan originated.
From a souvenir to a wearable statement
Yokosuka, Kanagawa became renowned for sukajan all thanks to its long military history. This area was the home of Japan’s first naval bases, naval arsenal, and, after the Second World War, home to United States Seventh Fleet and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.
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Sukajan are based on letterman or college jackets from the US, which were first popularized during the 1930s. These styles found their way to Japan during the post-war period, when departing American soldiers sought out souvenirs and ways of commemorating their time in Japan. As not many had the means or space to carry a lot of items back home with them, many turned to their clothing for inspiration. The original sukajan were often bomber jackets, simple coats, or even jackets fashioned from old parachute material, with embroidered patches featuring Japanese animals, patterns, or writing. Each jacket was typically hand-stitched — which meant that no two jackets were alike.
The original sukajan were often bomber jackets, simple coats, or even jackets […] with embroidered patches featuring Japanese animals, patterns, or writing.
In the 1950s-70s, and with the sweeping popularity of letterman jackets overseas and among the younger generations, more elaborate and colorful sukajan were produced in greater numbers. These satin jackets were not only popular with soldiers, but became an item for the working class, and a sign for young rebels as well, much like the leather biker