Now Reading
Sukajan: The Souvenir Jacket of Japan

Sukajan: The Souvenir Jacket of Japan

Issey Miyake Sukajan
Issey Miyake sukajan

If you are 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.

While it is sometimes called a souvenir jacket, Sukajan is the name that was given to these ornate jackets. Some sources have claimed that the word Sukajan is an amalgamation of Sky Dragon Jumper, but the accepted history of the garment began in Yokosuka where the US military has been based since the end of World War II.

CdG Sukajan
Comme des Garçons
Undercover sukajan

During the Post-War period, American soldiers wanted to commemorate their time spent in Japan, so they embroidered Japanese and American motifs onto varsity-style jackets made of leftover parachute materials. Though early results resembled gaudy Chinese sateen throw pillows, they have now evolved into a unique Japanese souvenir garment that is as recognisable as the sakura-flavoured Kit Kat.

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. Sukajans can range in price; the cheaper ones are made of lighter and stiffer fabrics with little embroidery while the expensive, high quality ones are reversible, made of heavyweight soft satin with intricate and hefty embroideries. They are mainly designed by one company: 花旅楽団

Vintage Sukajan
Modern Sukajan

Having been depicted as the garment of choice by members of the underclass in the Japanese movie Pigs and Battleships, Sukajans began to evoke a rebellious delinquent vibe, though it has now abated to a more vanilla-flavoured contrarian attitude. Tangentially, it is now relegated to another form of street wear that has taken off outside of Japan. One might remember Gosling’s character wearing a quilted embroidered jacket in Drive. 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 2016
Louis Vuitton Mens SS2016

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. I had no idea what they were called then, nor of its historical connotations. While I do love a good burst of vibrant colours, it was the quality of embroidery that snagged my attention. There are variations in depths and layers of stitching creating three dimensional textured surface. They certainly did not skimp on the numbers of shades to depict subtle colour gradations. Some designs were 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 has served me well as a lightweight travel jacket and cool summer outerwear since.

Issey Miyake Sukajan
Wearing: Sukajan; Issey Miyake dress; Margiela techno Tabi boots
Issey Miyake Sukajan
View Comments (8)
  • 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.

  • 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!

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top