Sukajan: The Souvenir Jacket of Japan


December 8, 2015

by Gracia Ventus

New update: Due to the demands I've received, you can now shop for embroidered Japanese sukajans, which I have personally selected and inspected, in my store. New items arrive weekly so don't forget to sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page.

Issey Miyake sukajan

If you are social media followers of Comme des Garçons and Undercover (or fans of various celebrities), you might have seen their recent releases of embroidered varsity jackets pictured on instagram. While they look like the orientalised version of a classic garment, there's a specific name and story behind them.

Undercover sukajanCdG Sukajan
Left - Undercover; Right - Comme des Garçons

While it is sometimes called a souvenir jacket, Sukajan is the name that's been given to these pimped up jackets. Its origin most likely stems from Post-WWII Japan. Some sources have claimed that the word Sukajan is an amalgamation of Sky Dragon Jumper, but the accepted history took place in Yokosuka where the US military was based in during its occupation. Combine the word Yokosuka and Jumper and you get Sukajan.

During the Post War Occupation, American soldiers wanted to commemorate their time spent in Japan, so they decided to stitch on vaguely Japanese designs onto their varsity jackets. I say vaguely because to these soldiers, the Orient was just a mixture of culture that was interchangeable for them, which is why Sukajan designs often sport traditional Chinese designs that reminds one of Chinese silk pillows.

Original sukajan embroideries were linear and simple as they had to be handstitched. Anyone who has ever tried hand embroidery would know how time-consuming and laborious the process is. With today's advanced machinery, embroidery no longer has to be done by hand, which allows for more complex designs and colour combinations.

Vintage Sukajan

Vintage Sukajan. Picture via

Modern Sukajan

Modern Sukajan

Sukajans evoke a rebellious juvenile delinquent-like vibe due to its gaudy design, but no self-respecting gang member would be seen in one. Instead it is relegated to another form of street wear that has taken off in and outside of Japan. Stella Mccartney did a few subtle ones for Resort 2016, while Louis Vuitton has recently released a slew of them for the Men's SS2016 show. Zara and Supreme, and perhaps other high street stores, have produced their own versions as well.

Cara Delevigne Stella Mccartney Resort 2016Louis Vuitton Mens SS2016

margiela-slp-sukajan
Margiela did a reinterpretation of the jacket for its Artisanal collection. And yes, even SLP did it too

Japan street style sukajan

Street style sukajan
I do believe the first two are from Zara, and the third one is from Isabel Marant. Not sure about the fourth.


My first encounter with Sukajans took place as I was strolling along Ameyoko Market, a touristy part of Tokyo that sells Japanese tea, snacks and various other food items, both fresh and dried. In the midst of all those local delicacies, I was attracted to a stall selling shiny varsity jackets with the most lurid designs I have ever seen. While I do fancy a good dollop of vibrant colours, it was the quality of embroidery that snagged me. There are variations in depths and layers of stitching creating three dimensional textured surface. They certainly do not skimp on the numbers of shades to depict subtle colour gradations. Some designs are so intricate that those particular jackets were heavier than others due to the thread density. What with my affinity for carps and goldfish in Japanese traditional art, I caved and bought myself one. It's served well as a lightweight travel jacket and cool summer outerwear since.

Issey Miyake Sukajan

Issey Miyake SukajanIssey Miyake Sukajan
Wearing: Sukajan; Issey Miyake dress; Margiela techno tabi boots


Should you find yourself wanting a piece of the action, there are plenty to be found on ebay, from tigers to dragons, demons to gods, Oiran to skeletons. I would, however, like to highlight some of the weirder, not-so-authentic ones I have encountered which I suppose one might wear ironically.

sukajan

From left to right, top to bottom:
Alaska; Darth Vader by Beams; Alabuta the Pig; Evil Demon; Jesus Christ Lord Almighty Shepherd of the Lambs Wait WTF is he hugging down there; Some overpriced gorilla design by Evisu


(8 comments)






8 thoughts on “Sukajan: The Souvenir Jacket of Japan

  • Nathalie

    by Nathalie on December 10, 2015 at 5:04 am

    Interesting read. Didn’t know about the history of these jackets.

    Reply
  • Me Smith

    by Me Smith on December 10, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Let’s not forget the OG sukajan: Drive’s Scorpion Jacket

    Reply
  • Andrea

    by Andrea on December 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    These were also popular in the 70s, when it first became cool to shop vintage. They could easily be found for not much $ at the Rose Bowl flea market in California. (Shows you how old I am). Now that big name designers are doing versions of them, those days are gone. Your jacket is beautiful! Very understated.

    Reply
  • Elizabeth

    by Elizabeth on January 25, 2016 at 2:29 am

    How much did you get yours for? It’s beautiful!

    Reply
  • Lucetta

    by Lucetta on February 16, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Great info! Thanks! Just discovered your blog and am in the process of working through your archives.

    I’ve always been interested in Sukajan jackets but didn’t even know what they were called. Great explanation and much appreciated!

    A few years ago JPG did a few Sukijan and I managed to find one of the last in Nice. It is so exuberant and makes me smile every time I wear it.

    Love your blog, so informative. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Gracia Ventus

    by Gracia Ventus on April 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I’d love to see this JPG sukajan you speak of!

    Reply
  • Ben

    by Ben on April 28, 2016 at 3:27 am

    Hi Gracia, can you please tell me where you got your own sukajan?

    Reply
    • Gracia Ventus

      by Gracia Ventus on May 24, 2016 at 6:34 am

      Tokyo. I am now selling a few in my store. New stocks are replenished every week so sign up for the newsletter if you’d like to be notified.

      Reply

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