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Sukajan souvenir jackets from Japan: history and features of the stylish bomber

The Sukajan bomber jacket is not only a very stylish fashion piece but also a great souvenir from Japan.

In brief, the Sukajan bomber jacket originated in post-war Japan as a souvenir for American soldiers who wanted to take something back as memorial pieces after their military service. 

Later in the 1960s the Sukajan Jacket became a popular fashion trend among Japanese youth, with its recognizable bright embroidery on the back becoming associated with hooligans and yakuza. 

Today, Sukajan souvenir jackets have remained popular as vintage streetwear fashion and stylish souvenirs from Japan. In this article, we will discuss the origin of Sukajan souvenir jackets and the features of these iconic pieces, as well as how and where to shop for a fashionable bomber jacket from Japan.

 

 

What are Sukajan souvenir jackets?

The Sukajan Jacket is a brightly colored bomber jacket with traditional Japanese embroidery on the back. The embroidery can be very varied and the most popular patterns are:

  • Mt. Fuji
  • floral patterns
  • tigers and dragons
  • Japanese koi carp
  • cherry blossom trees
  • traditional Japanese art, like Hokusai's ukiyo-e prints
  • And even anime characters and more!

Sukajan (スカジャン) souvenir jackets originated in the city of Yokosuka, hence their name Sukajan - the Japanese word Suka combined the last 4 letters of the city name with the word jumper (ジャンパー, janpaa). Sukajan therefore means "jackets from Yokosuka", and they are also called sukajan, but the word is more correctly pronounced as "skajian" in Japanese. 

 

How Sukajan souvenir jackets started

The first Sukajan jacket appeared in the Japanese port city of Yokosuka after World War II. It was a former Japanese naval base, which was occupied by the Americans after Japan's surrender. For many of the American sailors who served there, the trip was an unforgettable experience. They wanted to bring home a souvenir that would remind them of Japan and its unique culture.

The Americans liked traditional Japanese embroidery, so at first they ordered small patches from local craftsmen for their uniforms. Then they began to add embroidery directly on their military jackets, which created the first Sukajan bomber with embroidery. The U.S. military themselves called the Sukajan a souvenir jacket.

One of the first places that started producing these jackets was Dobuita Street in Yokosuka. In the 1950s, Japanese craftsmen began not only embroidering military jackets but also producing their own designs. To this day, this place is considered the birthplace of Sukajan souvenir jackets. The first Sukajans were American-style synthetic jackets, often made from affordable materials such as leftover parachute fabric from the U.S. military. 

Embroidery is the main element of the Sukajan souvenir jacket - the material did not matter. Shiny ornaments embossed deliberately on inexpensive synthetic material or cheap silk were the main features of the first Sukajans

They became so popular that more and more Japanese ateliers started making these new fashionable bomber jackets. For this purpose, craftsmen from Japan began to use the traditional yokofuri technique (横振り刺繍, yokofuri shishuu), the same technique used for embroidering kimonos and obi belts.

Yokofuri was used to embroider the back of the bomber jackets with incredibly detailed and beautiful Japanese-style designs. Designs not only included Japanese-inspired patterns, but some American customers would also order the designs of their country’s national flag or the symbolic white-headed eagle. 

The embroidery was done with a sewing machine, creating unique three-dimensional designs. American military personnel brought these jackets home as souvenirs to remind them of Japanese culture and their time in this wonderful country.

 

How the Sukajan Bomber Jacket Conquered Japan

In the 1960s, American fashion became incredibly popular in Japan, and American-style clothing even got its trend term, ametora (short for American traditional). The Japanese were wearing popular American clothing trends, and also listening to Western music. Young people were increasingly into rebellious and military themes. And so the Sukajan bomber worn by the American military also became increasingly popular. In Yokosuka, there were even gangs in Yokosuka whose members dressed in the style of the American military.

In 1961, the trend for Sukajan jackets spread throughout Japan after the release of the movie “Pigs and Armadillos” (豚と軍艦, Buta to gunkan) from Japanese director Imamura Shohei. Its main character is a yakuza who wears a sukajan. This trend became so popular that later it developed from just a fashion trend to becoming a sub-culture - and Japanese youth began to wear Sukajan bomber jackets. Gradually, the jacket lost its original connection to the military and turned into a stylish and iconic fashion item for young rebels, gangsters, and even rock musicians started wearing Sukajans too.

The Sukajan bomber jacket gained so much popularity that in the 80s it was also produced in the USA and Europe. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, its popularity waned - when Sukajan became mostly associated with the image of yakuza in Japan.

 

Sukajian today

The Sukajan bomber jacket gained a new wave of popularity in 2011 - and again thanks to movies from the West. The fashion trend for the bomber jacket returned after director Nicolas Winding Refn dressed the main character of his movie "Drive", played by Ryan Gosling, in Sukajan. 

This iconic white sukajan with a golden scorpion embroidery on the back became so popular around the world that the bomber jackets began to sell out like hotcakes. Also during 2010s, Western audiences became particularly interested in Japanese culture and anime, and the Sukajan bomber jacket was not only a perfect souvenir from Japan but also an iconic and rare fashion item.

In 2017, Menswear Style magazine called the Sukajan a "fashion-defining piece" and it has been seen worn by Western stars like Drake, Mick Jagger, Harry Styles, and Kanye West at various times. And many world-famous brands like Nike, Adidas, Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci have even released their own designs of the bomber jacket. The Sukajan souvenir jacket from Japanese brand Neighborhood, which used slightly sloppy hand stitching instead of machine embroidery, has also risen in popularity. The design was not only stylish but also quite in line with the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi - where beautiful things are not perfect.

 

What Sukajan souvenir jackets are available

Sukajan souvenir jackets come in several designs:

1. New Ready-made Designs

You can buy such jackets in most Japanese online stores by choosing the color options you like. This style is best for beginners.

 

2. New Customized Designs

Sukajian is customizable with your own design. The price will be higher and you will have to wait longer for the atelier to make them.

 

3. Vintage Designs

This refers to Sukajan bomber jacket with embroidery on the outside only. This is the most common and affordable option with many versatile designs.

 

4. Unilateral Designs

Sukajan bomber jacket with embroidery on the outside only. This is the most common and cheapest option with many different designs, so it's worth considering first.

 

5. Bilateral Designs

Bilateral Designs are where the jackets can be worn inside out, and both sides have different embroidery designs. With double-sided sukajans, the alternate side usually has a more subdued color tone, such as black and red, and also a separate design pattern. This option is more expensive, but you get two jackets in one!

 

How much do souvenir Sukajan jackets cost

The price of a souvenir Sukajan jacket depends on the number of embroidered sides, the complexity of the embroidery, and the material. While vintage Sukajan were made mainly of cheap synthetics, today you can find them made of more expensive materials, such as silk, satin, and viscose

On average, the price of a Japanese sukajan bomber jacket varies from 10 thousand yen to 100 thousand yen. However, rare designs or styles from famous brands can cost even more.

In general, one embroidery on a jacket consists of 500,000 stitches. A sewing machine makes about 800 stitches per minute, and one embroidery on the whole back takes up to 12 hours of skilled craft. Therefore, if you decide to buy a customized sukajan design, prepare for it to be expensive, and the production can take a month or more - sometimes even longer if the store has a lot of orders in queue. The more stitches on the embroidery, the more detailed the pattern, at the same time the bomber jacket will cost more. On the contrary, jackets with fewer stitches and simpler embroideries will be cheaper. Note that the more embroidered Sukajan bomber jacket is, the heavier the weight - double-sided jackets are the heaviest.

 

Japanese brands

Stylish Japanese bombers can be bought from a variety of brands. Here are some interesting brands for every budget:

 

Hanatabi Gakudan (花旅楽団)

Hanatabi Gakudan is a Japanese brand of Sukajan souvenir jackets, which produces bomber jackets of the highest quality. They pay special attention to Japanese patterns and ornaments, and the number of styles at Hanatabi Gakudan exceeds 150. The average price ranges from 40 to 60 thousand yen.

Buy Hanatabi Gakudan jackets on Amazon

 

Satori (さとり)

Another quality sukajan brand from Japan that combines Japanese and Western styles in their designs. Satori tries to express the brand values with their unique embroidery designs, which are made with the help of different techniques. The brand is especially good at souvenir jackets with animal images in traditional Japanese style. The average price ranges from 50 to 70 thousand yen.

Buy Sukajan bomber jacket from Satori

 

Japanesque (ジャパネスク)

If you want a sukajan whose style will remind you of the original vintage American military jackets from the 50s, then Japanesque is the brand for you. The embroideries on their jackets contain the popular symbols of Japan for foreigners - for example, a map of Japanese landmarks with English captions. Japanesque's designs combine a sense of nostalgia with new trends in fashion, and embossed printing is used to apply three-dimensional patterns in addition to embroidery. The average price is 27 thousand yen.

Select sukajian from Japanesque

 

Oboro (朧)

Want to buy a Sukajan bomber jacket but can't afford to spend much? Then check out the Oboro brand - they offer designs at more economical prices. And they also have children's Sukajan styles - if you want to gift your kid. The average price is around 10 thousand yen.

Buy affordable Oboro souvenir jackets

 

Konjaku (今昔)

The Konjaku brand offers not only quality bombers with various traditional Japanese patterns but also other fashion items in similar embroidery designs: jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and masks. The average price of jackets is 30 thousand yen, while other items range from 10 to 20 thousand yen.

Buy Sukajan by Konjaku on Amazon

 

Karakuri Tamashii (絡繰魂)

If you love anime and want an anime-themed sukajan, then Karakuri Tamashii is a must-buy. They have both traditional designs and souvenir jackets with famous anime characters embroidered on the back, such as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, One Piece, and Naruto characters. How's this for an eye-catching sukajan with an image of Giorno from JoJo? The average price is 39 thousand yen.

Choose Sukajan jackets from Karakuri Tamashii now

 

You can find all the above brands and even more on Japanese online store BSC Gallery Kyoto with the help of ZenMarket. How to shop?  Read our article here.

Read also: How to buy Sukajan jackets from BSC Gallery Kyoto using ZenMarket

 

Tips on choosing Sukajan Jackets

If you decide to buy a Sukajan bomber jacket, keep in mind some important tips:

  • Choose your jacket size carefully.
    To be sure, you can measure the length of your regular jacket and use the measurements as a reference when choosing a size. It is best to avoid small sizes, as Japanese M, L, and XL sizes are usually smaller than European sizes - it is better to go by centimeters if they are indicated. Or select a size larger than your usual size.
  • Before you buy a stylish Japanese bomber, remember that this jacket will not protect you from harsh weather conditions. Therefore, if you want to wear sukajan in cold weather over warm clothes, it is better to buy a size larger - so that they fit freely under it.
  • Sukajan requires special handling care. To avoid damaging the embroidery, hand washing is recommended. If you need to machine wash, choose the most gentle settings: low water temperature and low spin.
  • If you don't want to stand out too much, you can still find the right Sukajan. The Sukajan bomber jacket can fulfill both flashy fashion desires and subtle design tastes. You can choose the embroidery design: styles with fully embroidered backs or with only one embroidered pattern. Sukajan comes in different colors - from bright pink, gold, and purple to black and white. A brightly embroidered Sukajan bomber jacket will definitely be considered an eye-catching fashion piece, while more subtle styles are easier to mix and match.

 

How to mix and match Sukajian

The Sukajan bomber jacket should fit a little tighter than other jacket styles. When choosing a size, expect the cuffs to cover at wrist level and the hem to be at waist level.

The embroidery on the back should be the centerpiece of your look when you wear the sukajan. So don't distract attention from it by pairing it with other flashy items. For men, a simple T-shirt, pair of jeans, and sneakers are best, while for women, matching with a plain sweater and bottoms are recommended.

You can match your outfit’s color tone to the colors of the bomber jacket or the embroidery design, or wear something with a matching print. You can even buy a matching set of clothes in the style of the same patterns as on your jacket!

Interesting fact! One of the heroines in the popular mobile anime game Blue Archive, Neru Mikamo, wears a sukajan over her maid costume as the main element of her image. So don't be afraid to experiment - you can come up with your own cool combinations. And if you like Neru, you can buy the exact same bomber jacket as her with ZenMarket!

 

Why you should buy Sukajan souvenir jackets

  • Sukajan is a unique piece that will make you stand out from others and become a collectible fashion item in your closet
  • is a special gift from Japan, which can surprise your friends and relatives
  • is a great souvenir that will remind you of Japanese culture
  • these jackets are exclusive collectibles, no matter new or vintage

Sukajan jacket is a really cool fashion piece that will appeal to both fans of Japanese culture and connoisseurs of fashionable clothes. Choose a stylish Japanese bomber jacket with ZenMarket!

 

 

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Article| 25/05/2024 | FashionJapanese Culture

 

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