I love Japan for many reasons, but as a visual person, I love how beautiful it is. The sleepy streets of Kyoto; the calmness of watching koi swim in a pond at a temple; neon lights when it’s raining in Tokyo at night, and sakura flowers blossoming in the autumn… Couple this with my quirky dress sense and it’s no surprise that I’ve fallen in love with the sukajan (souvenir jacket).
You’ve likely seen these jackets around. They’re known by a few different names, but are most commonly referred to as Japanese souvenir jackets, Japanese bomber backets, or sukajan. They’ve been worn by a few celebrities and have trended across mainstream fashion in the past 2 years, but they are far more interesting than your average jacket hanging in Zara and their story deserves to be told.
Their history traces back to the end of World War II, when many American solders were stationed in Japan. When the time came for the soldiers to return home, they wanted souvenirs and keepsakes to remember their time with their brothers in arms, so they asked local embroiderers to stitch intricate designs into their flight jackets. These designs were obviously very influenced by Japan and ranged from dragons, to sakura blossoms, geishas, tigers and koi. These soldiers were stationed in Yokosuka, and this is apparently where the jacket gets it’s name. “Suka” from Yokosuka and “Jan”, which means jacket or jumper.
Skip to the 60’s and Japan was engulfed in Ametora, the love of all things American. There was however a large subculture of young, working class people that rebelled against the the American influences and they adopted the sukajan as their standard. Because of these rebellious ties, you’ll find the sukajan in many yakuza movies. Fast forward to the present day and you’ll find everyone from high fashion houses to major clothing makers like Zara drawing on inspiration from the mighty Sukajan.
This rebellious subculture nature of the jacket surely led to where I first encountered a sukajan, in the masterpiece that is Drive. I loved the movie and the jacket so much that I bought a replica of the jacket that Ryan Gosling wears in the movie, but that’s a different review entirely!
After getting my Drive jacket, I fell in love with these iconic cultural and stylish gems and had to go out and get some. I’m going to take you through my experience, so that you know exactly where to buy your own sukajan online and how to make your decision.
Here’s where to hunt for ideas for your perfect sukajan.
A great place to get started. Most of the images will however lead you back to one of the sources I’ve shared.
Good for seeing how people wear them and what they look like on regular people.. but people abuse the hashtag, so there is some noise.
Pinterest automates things by doing the hard work of finding cool designs and linking you back to where you can buy them.
Japan Lover Me
The place to buy a sukajan. You may as well just skip everything else and go straight here and proceed to fall in love, then buy everything.
Now that you’ve got your feet wet, here’s where to buy a sukajan online:
Japan Lover Me ($$$)
This is where I bought my sukajan and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They do both new and vintage/rare sukajan, and you’re going to want to buy everything. Prepare your wallet!
Etsy is a marketplace for vintage, or hand made goods, so here you’ll find a great selection of pre-loved sukajan. You’ll find many of Japan Lover Me’s jackets on here too.
Here you’ll find a good selection of cheaper new sukajan. While I trust a store like JapanLoverme, definitely use a bit more caution here.
Here you’ll find new collection of new sukajan from the local embroiderers in Japan, like Toyo and Satori.
Much like Sukajack, here you’ll find new collection of shiny new sukajan from the local embroiderers in Japan.
Last but not least, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Japan, go hunting for them in person. JapanLoverMe do a great warehouse tour.
How to choose your sukajan
A lot of this comes down to personal preference, but I think there are a few key things to think about when deciding on which sukajan you choose. Firstly, you should decide whether you like lots of embroidery or a cleaner look. A cleaner look is easier to pair with lots of different clothing and the more embroidery you have, the heavier the jacket will be. This is especially true for jacket with embroidery on both sides. On the flip side, the embroidery is what gives these jackets character, so you’ll want to meet somewhere in the middle.
Next up is deciding whether you like bright colours or muted tones. The former will be more striking, but will be harder to pair with other clothes, and vice versa. The best middle ground would be a jacket that has one side with a bright colour and the other with a more muted colour.
You’ll also need to decide on whether you want a new, or vintage sukajan. You’ll likely get more milage out of a new one, but to me, much of the allure of getting a sukajan is the uniqueness and the vintage jackets have much more of that, but are also generally more expensive.
Last but not least, you’ll need to think about how much you want to spend. To me there are 3 major price brackets. $200 or less, $400 or less and over $400. For under $200, Ebay is probably your best bet and you’ll be limited to simpler more touristy designs. Between $200 and $400, things get a little more fun and you can pick up great designs in a new jacket from any of the places I listed. You’ll also be able to start looking at the vintage jackets and if you’re lucky, could get your hands on a rare, awesome design.
Over $400 and things get really fun. If you can afford it, you’ll be able to pick up some of the most eye catching and culturally rich pieces of clothing I’ve come across. You can also be fairly sure that you won’t see anyone else wearing the same jacket and if you do, you’ll probably strike up a great conversation 🙂
Sizing & Fit
Getting a jacket that fits properly can be a challenge when buying a sukajan. This is especially true if you’re a westerner, buying a vintage jacket, online… Fortunately most jackets come with measurements, so you can measure one of your own jackets and compare that to the sukajan of your dreams. You can use any existing jacket or hoody that you have and I’ve outlined the steps below.
I’d generally err on the side of caution and get a jacket that’s 2-3cm bigger than the jacket/hoody you’re measuring. These jackets don’t look bad when they’re a tiny bit too big, but they don’t look great when they’re too small. In addition to this, if you have a lot of embroidery, it makes them less stretchy, so they fit a lot like a leather jacket. Speaking of embroidery, if you have lots of it, it makes the jacket more heavy and makes it warmer, so bare this in mind!
One important thing to keep in mind is that for many sukajan, especially the vintage ones, they’re made for Asian body types. This means that you should abandon sizes like medium or large and work only on measurements. Measure your favourite jacket and use that to judge against your future sukajan and you’ll be fine. For reference, I’m 6’4 and weigh around 100kg. The jacket here is an XL size jacket of a similar style.
Step 1: To get the length, measure from the top of the shoulder to the bottom of the jacket. This example is 67cm long.
Step 2: To get the width, measure across the stomach. In this case, the jacket is 55cm wide.
Step 3: To get the arm length, fold the arm across and measure from the shoulder to the end of the sleeve. This example is 70cm long.
Step 4: It wont always be necessary, but to get the bottom length, measure from the armpit to the sleeve. This example is 55cm long.
My sukajan, Where I bought them and why:
When I first became interested in getting a sukajan, I fell down the rabbit hole that is Google and went through most of the sites I listed earlier in this guide. Regardless of where I browsed though, I always ended up in the same place… Japan Lover Me. Their jackets had the best designs and seemed more unique, mostly because many of the jackets I was looking at were vintage.
Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of seeing tons of posts on Pinterest and Google about an awesome jacket, and there’s only one of those jackets on sale because it’s vintage and rare. It’s no surprise then, that I ended up buying my jackets from JLM. Generally I just picked out designs that I liked, but once I started narrowing them down, which was incredibly difficult, I ended up trying to get a good spectrum of colours in my collection. I did manage to get blues and reds, but also ended up with a heap of black and gold…
What a closet gangster I am… In any case, here’s my bounty:
A review of my experience buying from Japan Lover Me:
I was a little nervous before I bought these jackets. I was buying vintage jackets, online, from the other side of the world. If the sizing was wrong, I’d be in a tough spot. I also wasn’t sure whether the pictures would be accurate or not. High risk, high reward. Fortunately, it paid off!
It turns out that the experience of buying through JLM was fantastic. I was so impressed, that I asked them about the story behind their shop and they had this to say: “We are working towards to curating all the possible souvenir jackets in the history in the whole world by starting this shop of selling them, so we are in theory, putting everything back to re-purchase and purchase them back from local partner shops and collectors so that we can digitally curate and take photos of them and leave the footprints all over the internet in pinterest, IG, FB and our website for future generations to look back and be inspired of from the various designs that existed ever since it all started.”
JLM’s site is very Japanese, complete with cute and quirky cartoon graphics. JLM celebrates all things Japanese, so you’ll find a wide range of Japanese treasures, but the sukajan definitely steal the show.
JLM do a great job with presentation. They give you the precise measurements, but more importantly, they give you loads of pictures. There are a whopping 57 different pictures of this jacket. Epic.
JLM were really communicative and supportive before and after I bought my jackets. The email below is a great example as I had questions about sizing and they took a few pictures of specifically for me. Based on the service, I’ll definitely buy from JLM again.
Before my jackets were shipped, I got a Dropbox link, complete with pictures of all my jackets, the packing process and the box, with the shipping information. This really impressed me and needless to say, I was very excited. Shipping took about a week from Japan to Australia.
This was simultaneously the most excited and nervous I’ve been about receiving a package, in a long time. I rushed down to my mail room, got the box and eagerly skipped upstairs. The first thing I noticed was how well this was packaged. The box was covered in bubble wrap and strapped closed. Beneath the bubble wrap, the box was completely sealed with tape. I was very impressed with both the effort and the attention to detail, and how awesome is the box. So much so, that been drafted into service as my camera stand when I take video in my flat.
Once I eagerly pried open the boxes, I found my beloved jackets, covered by another layer of bubble wrap. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that JLM wrapped the shit out of these jackets. 5 Star treatment here compared to how you get your clothes from an online retailer like ASOS. In addition to the jackets, there were some leaflets about sukajan and JLM, as well as a few gifts, as I’d double paid on postage and opted for a surprise rather than a refund.
And now, the great reveal! The sukajan in all their glory. I had high hopes, but JLM surpassed them! Very impressed. The jackets look just like they did in the pictures and I was surprised by just how good their condition was, as these are essentially second hand.
As you can see, the sukajan are pretty striking, so you’ll definitely want to pair these jackets with pretty minimally styled clothing. You can’t go wrong with monochromatic clothing like plain black/white t-shirts and plain black jeans, coupled with some fresh white sneakers. Anything more and it could clash, leaving you looking like a court jester! Last but definitely not least, I’m really happy with the fit. I trusted JLM’s size guide and measurements, and you can see the results for yourself!
I am really happy with my sukajan and my experience shopping with JLM. This is despite the fact that it’s summer in Australia right now and way too hot to actually wear these amazing jackets. Fortunately, winter is coming… 🙂
To me, these jackets are wearable art and are both eye catching and rich in history, so they make for a fantastic conversation starter. If you get into vintage sukajan, each jacket is fairly unique and this makes collecting them very appealing. I think that bug has bitten me and I’ll almost certainly be adding more to my collection… so be careful about buying that first sukajan, it’s a slippery slope 😉
Whether you love Japan or you simply want to look really, really ridiculously good, a sukajan should definitely be a part of your wardrobe.