With bold colors, glossy material and a massive yet detailed image of a Japanese deity or mythical figure on the back, sukajan jackets are favored by those who want to make a statement, from Justin Bieber to Miss Grand Thailand Engfa Warha. Sukajan is a combination of the two words: “suka,” from Yokosuka, the city in which the jacket is believed to have originated, and “jan” from the Japanese word for jumper. In English, they’re sometimes referred to as “souvenir jackets.”

A sukajan is typically made out of silky material, similar to that of a bomber jacket, with colorful, fine and detailed embroidery on the back. The embroidery features motifs of traditional and lucky symbols in Japanese culture, including dragons, tigers, phoenixes and carp, alongside the the words “Japan” or “Yokosuka.” Sukajan jackets are worn by adults and children alike; children’s sukajan often utilize cute, pastel base colors and images of popular characters, like Hello Kitty and friends.

Sukajan Jackets

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Starting from Yokosuka

According to Daisuke Yamagami, owner and Japanese embroidery artisan of Dobuita Koba Studio, the exact origins of sukajan are unclear. The jackets were first produced after World War II, when U.S. soldiers stationed at the military base in Yokosuka would get their off-duty jackets customized as a souvenir, often requesting a mixture of Japanese and American motifs — a jacket from 1949, for instance, shows American flag-patterned bald eagles flying over Mount Fuji. The actual construction of the sukajan jacket itself is quite American-feeling, recalling a varsity jacket or baseball jacket; decorated with distinctively Japanese embroidery, it serves as a striking amalgamation of the two cultures.

Starting in the 1950s, the jackets started to gain popularity among Japanese youth, particularly those who wanted to present a rebellious image. As time passed, though, the garments lost their sharp edge and are now worn by people from all walks of life.

Symbolism Behind the Embroidery

The images often used in sukajan tend to be good luck charms, and often have double meanings based on how they sound. For instance, the word for carp in Japanese is “koi,” which is a homonym with the word for love, also pronounced “koi.”

A high-quality sukajan jacket is different from every other jacket in existence, as each piece is customized to the customer’s liking and preference. The jackets requested by U.S. soldiers sometimes featured iconic American pop culture figures like Mickey Mouse or Marilyn Monroe; today, on the trendy Japanese online shopping website Zozotown, you can find a plethora of sukajan featuring popular characters like those from Sanrio, Urusei Yatsura, Betty Boop and more. The jackets have made their way into high fashion and fast fashion alike — major Japanese brands like Beams and Jouetie make their own sukajan jackets with chic and modern symbols embroidered on.

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Top 3 Places to Get Your Own Sukajan Jacket

If you want to get a sukajan of your very own, here are three recommendations for locations where you can purchase a bold statement piece for yourself.

1. Dobuita Koba Studio

What is truly special about Dobuita Koba Studio is that the artisans create order-made jackets from scratch, starting with a consultation session with the customer. Dobuita Koba Studio prides itself in trying different new things, so bring a photo of your pet, favorite motif or a hand-drawn symbol, and the artisans will surely create it for you.

2. Harajuku Jacks

Located in a small alleyway near Takeshita Street, Harajuku Jacks is where the rock ‘n’ rollers and ’50s-loving rockabillies get their fits. Not only do they have vintage clothes, but they also carry sukajan jackets, sukajan sweaters and much more. Harajuku Jacks is a treasure trove for those who seek it.

3. Harajuku Sukajyan Dept.

Another Harajuku location, particularly popular amongst celebrities and artists, Harajuku Sukajan Dept. is a store that sells solely sukajan jackets. Their most popular item is the sukajan jacket with tiger embroidery, which is their original design. Harajuku Sukajan Dept. also sells suka-shirts and t-shirts with cool Japanese embroidery for those who want to check out other items.

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