If you’re interested in men’s elegance, you probably know that Japanese gentlemen are among the most educated and dapper men in the world. With a booming bespoke footwear industry, gifted shoemakers, many bespoke tailors opening ateliers, quality menswear brands and shops and excellent magazines specializing in classical menswear, Japan is one of the driving forces behind the current sartorial renaissance.
But why ? How can we explain the prominent role Japan is playing in the global sartorial movement ?
Just over a year ago, we received a book by mail from the press bureau of the American publisher Basic Books (who published G. Bruce Boyer’s “Real Style”) entitled AMETORA : How Japan Saved American Style, by author W. David Mark. Yet, it was only until last week that we took the time to absorb the book’s contents.
This extremely interesting and well documented book answers precisely the question concerning the current role of Japan in the classical men’s style phenomenon.
Today, we are publishing a portion of the book’s introduction as a sneak peek of its content, and hopefully as an incentive to order and read this excellent contribution to the sartorial debate.
How Japan Saved the American Style
by W. David Mark
In the Summer of 1964, Tokyo prepared to host thousands of foreign guests for the Olympic Games. Planners hoped to reveal a futuristic city reborn from the ashes of World War II, complete with sprawling highways, modernist stadium complexes, and elegant Western restaurants. As old-fashioned trolley cars disappeared from the streets, a sleek monorail debuted to whisk tourists into the city from Haneda Airport.
The Tokyo government paid special attention to Ginza, the crown jewel of the city, knowing that tourists would gravitate towards its luxury department stores and posh cafés. Ginza’s community leaders eliminated any possible suggestion of postwar poverty, even replacing wooden garbage cans with modern plastic ones.
These cleanup efforts proceeded steadily until August, when the switchboards at Tsukiji Police Station began lighting up with frantic phone calls. Ginza shop owners reported an infestation on the main promenade, Miyuki-dori, requiring immediate assistance from law enforcement: There were hundreds of Japanese teenagers hanging around in strange clothing !
Police sent reconnaissance teams to the scene, where they discovered young men wearing shirts made from thick wrinkled cloth with unusual buttons holding down the collar, suit jackets with a superfluous third button high up on the chest, loud madras and tartan plaids, shrunken chino pants or shorts with strong straps on the back, long black knee-high socks, and leather shoes with intricate broguing. The teens parted their hair in a precise seven-to-three ratio — a look requiring the use of electric hair dryers. Police soon learned that this style was called aibii, from the English word “Ivy”.
Throughout the summer, tabloid magazines editorialized against these wayward teens in Ginza, dubbing them the Miyuki Tribe (miyuki-zoku). Instead of dutifully studying at home, they loitered all day in front of shops, chatted up members of the opposite sex, and squandered their fathers’ hard-earned money at Ginza’s menswear shops. Their pitiful parents likely had no idea about their tribal identities: the teens would sneak out of their houses dressed in proper school uniforms and then slip inside café bathrooms to change into the forbidden ensembles. The press began to call Mi-yuki-dori, a street name that honored the Emperor’s departure from his palace, Oyafuko-dori—“street of unfilial children.”
The media condemned the Miuki Tribe not just for their apparent juvenile delinquency, but for sticking a dagger right into the heart of the national Olympic project. The 1964 Summer Games would be Japan’s first moment in the global spotlight since their defeat in World War II, and would symbolize the country’s full return to the international community. Japan wanted foreign visitors to get firsthand views of the country’s miraculous progress in reconstruction—not disobedient teens clogging up the streets. Japanese authorities feared that American businessmen and European diplomats sauntering over to tea at the Imperial Hotel would run into an ugly spectacle of wicked teenagers in frivolous shirts with button-down collars.
Local shop owners, on the other hand, had a more direct complaint: each weekend, two thousand teens obscured window displays and gummed up the gears of commerce. During the authoritarian days of prewar Japan, the police could have simply arrested the derelict teenagers in Ginza for the most trivial of reasons. But in the new democratic Japan, the police’s hands were tied. There was no legal justifications to round up Miyuki Tribe members. They were just standing around and talking. However, the police, like the shopkeepers, feared that, without intervention Ginza would soon degenerate into a “hotbed of evil”.
So, on the night of Saturday, September 12, 1964, with the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony less than a month away, ten plain-clothes detectives ran a coordinated sweep of the Ginza streets. They stopped anyone in a button-down shirt and John F. Kennedy haircut. Two hundred teens were apprehended with eighty-five raced back to Tsukiji jail in buses to endure a night of processing, lectures, and a visit from the distraught parents.
The next day, detective revealed to the newspapers the Miyuki Tribe’s many nefarious tricks, such as hiding cigarettes inside the pages of thick English books. Not all tribe members were wrong-doers, they admitted, but the police felt the raids were necessary to “protect these youth from becoming delinquents”. The arrests also confirmed a worry among police that the teens’ unusual interest in fashion correlated with a crisis in masculinity. Detectives recoiled at the Miyuki Tribe boys speaking in “feminine” language.
Determined to stamp out these subversive youth, the police swarmed Ginza again the next Saturday night to pick up any stragglers. Their hard-line tactics succeeded: the Miyuki Tribe disappeared from Ginza for the rest of the year, and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics went off without a hitch. Not a single foreigner returned home with lurid tales of misbehaving Japanese teenagers in shrunken cotton trousers.
Adults may have defeated the Miyuki Tribe, but Japanese youth would triumph in the greater war. Around the globe, from the 1960s onward, rebellious teenagers spurned parents and authorities and forged their own unique cultures, breaking free from their narrow identities as students. In Japan, the first and most important step was to replace the standard-issue school uniform with their own choice of stylish clothing. This interest in fashion started among youth from elite families, but spread to the masses in tandem with the country’s miraculous economic growth and explosion of mass media. Since the Ivy takeover of Ginza, Japan has been on a fifty-year trajectory towards its current status as the world most style-obsessed nation.
Copyright © 2015 by W. David Marx
Published by Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group
All rights reserved
— — —
To order the book, see Basic Books online bookstore HERE