A Japanese Origin for the Aloha Shirt?

japanese-aloha-shirt

Japanese/Hawaiian fusion is a hit in Japan, having led to the success of restaurants that serve burgers with a tropical feel and pancake restaurants where guests spend more time queueing than they do eating.

Now, it seems that even one of the most iconic items of Hawaii, the aloha shirt, actually has Japanese roots. These days, these colorful Hawaiian shirts are worn by businessmen even on formal occasions in Hawaii (and Okinawa), and are worn as a funky fashion piece worldwide.

Originally, Japanese immigrants who headed to Hawaii at the very end of the Edo period (1603–1867) were said to have made silk shirts that featured Mount Fuji, goldfish, and characters from Japanese folklore. It is also said that these shirts were first developed to reduce waste, by customizing and re-using parts of old kimonos. These shirts’ resemblance to traditional kimono designs was closer then: they later began to feature the patterns that we associate with typical Hawaiian designs after becoming popular with the locals, who then made their own versions.

We can thank American tourists from generations past for their popularity, as they brought the shirts back to the mainland as souvenirs, claiming them as typically Hawaiian items. But now, riding this wave of the shirts’ popularity in Japan, the Kyoto-based Kamedatomi company has shifted away from traditional yuzen dyeing and into “old school” aloha shirts more than 10 years ago.

–Mona Neuhauss

Main Image: Magical World/Flickr

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