Cheat Sheet: 10 Japanese Brands You Can Actually Wear

Like video games, high-speed railways, and even potato chips, Japan’s menswear has a reputation for being nightmarishly advanced. But don’t be intimidated by the Clothes of the Rising Sun, son! Japan only wants to help your wardrobe! And so do we, which is why we’re introducing you to 10 of Japan's most-wearable “beginner” brands. Each boasts the rigorous quality & foreign cache you want, without the alien aesthetics & precious exclusivity that’ll derail your look.

Editor's note: All of these brands are excellent, but because Japan’s got roughly 7 bajillion top-shelf brands, this isn’t another “best of” list. Think of it as encouragement to get started… a nudge down a rabbit hole, if you will. A Japanese rabbit hole. Full of clothes. This is weird.

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FLICKR/FURIOUSITY
Uniqlo
  • The lowdown: Mega-conglomerate department store that’s taking over the world with smart, precise clothing at ridiculously low prices.
  • The house specialty: Given the slew of washes & fits, and the sub-$50 USD price tag, the selvedge denim is where it’s at.
  • Bonus: Nigo — A Bathing Ape’s founder & longtime designer — is the new creative director for UT, Uniqlo’s vintage/pop tee collection.
e-mook magazine
A Bathing Ape (a.k.a. BAPE)
  • The lowdown: A founding member of streetwear’s global elite that makes way more than those toothy-grin full-zip hoodies hip-hop heads love.
  • The house specialty: Suits, sneakers, clothing hangers… BAPE makes it all. But it all starts with the gold… er, camo standard: a half-zip shark hoodie ($370 USD).
  • Bonus: Oh, you wanted a varsity jacket emblazoned with the Simpsons? The Ape giveth, kids.
HYPEBEAST
Porter (a.k.a. Yoshida & Co. Ltd)
  • The lowdown: A post-World War II bag company with a penchant for monochrome and a label as recognizable as Nike’s swoosh, in certain circles.
  • The house specialty: Of all the backpacks, wallets, duffels, and lord knows what else that carry the brand’s famous rectangular patch, this shiny nylon messenger ($240) will carry the banner proudly. Also, your stuff — it’ll carry that, too.
  • Bonus: Collaborations with Pointer, Saturdays Surf NYC, Levi’s & BAPE keep this quiet brand in high demand.

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VISVIM
visvim
  • The lowdown: An eclectic marriage of folksy American vibes & traditional Japanese craftsmanship. From boots to tees, everything’s super-premium — including the prices.
  • The house specialty: Recognizable by their contrast-cup heels, boots like the Virgil-FOLK ($880 USD) are hand-sewn & leather-welted, and’ll last long enough to almost justify the investment. Almost.
  • Bonus: Music heavies like John Mayer, Kanye West, and A$AP Rocky revere brand leader Hiroki Nakamura to the point that “visvim” gets shouted out in lyrics and on album covers.
FEATURE SNEAKER BOUTIQUE
COMME des GARÇONS
  • The lowdown: A hyper-successful luxury corporation that’s stayed top-of-class for over 40 years thanks to Imaginarium sensibilities, Tokyo-Paris roots, and support from celebrities looking to step out.
  • The house specialty: The family of brands has too many sub-sects to count, so just kick up your feet in a pair of CDG Play x Converse Chuck Taylors ($110 USD).
  • Bonus: The name is French for “like boys”, and it’s pronounced like this.
FACEBOOK/KAMAKURA
Kamakura
  • The lowdown: Impeccably fit, lovingly traditional shirting frozen in the Ivy League ‘60s. (Same goes for the damned reasonable prices).
  • The house specialty: For under $80 USD, this shell-buttoned cotton shirt is a silly-cheap way to rock the “liberty bell” — the curvy oversized collar that Brooks Brothers pioneered, only to be usurped by Japanese labels like Kamakura.
  • Bonus: The brand’s broad boardroom neckties will temper the professorial vibe of its button-ups.
NEIGHBORHOOD
Neighborhood (a.k.a. NBHD)
  • The lowdown: A post-streetwear label with a knack for knitwear grew up, then bought a motorcycle.
  • The house specialty: Steve McQueen himself might’ve rocked this pocketed shirt-jacket ($382 USD), had the ‘hood been around back then.
  • Bonus: Brick-a-brack has never been cooler than NBHD’s skull-’n-bones incense dispensers.
SIR & MADAME
Anonymous Ism
  • The lowdown: Pattern-happy sock-masters with an obsessive eye for Nordic motifs.
  • The house specialty: Socks are every man’s blank canvas, so do you. But you won’t regret adding these Fair Isle foot-sheaths ($20 USD) to your palette.
  • Bonus: Your feet won’t be swaddled in the same Happy Socks that every other dude in your office owns.
HYPEBEAST
Onitsuka Tiger
  • The lowdown: Asics’ big brother brand, with a cult following in the sneaker game (especially internationally).
  • The house specialty: Stay away from the brand’s cheesier “fashion” trainers, and pick up this cushy suede Burgundy Shaw Runner (~$130 USD)
  • Bonus: Tiger’s collaborations are a thing of beauty. Ghostly, Japanese camo beauty.
FACEBOOK/EDWIN EUROPE
Edwin
  • The lowdown: Denim heads may scoff at this “mainstream” offering, but they shouldn’t — without Edwin’s pioneering success in the late ‘40s, the fetishized demand for Japanese jeans may never have existed.
  • The house specialty: The selvedge is on-point, but this unwashed raw indigo pair ($148.15 USD) will wear in the same way for less money. Watch out though — the dyes will bleed if you get ‘em wet.
  • Bonus: In addition to making rough-’n-ready denim, the brand also makes totally rad motorcycle videos.
Additional reading: fragment design, Uniform Experiment, Kenzo, Junya Watanabe, SOPHNET., Samurai Jeans, WTAPS...

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