Follow our Contirubting Fashion Director on his journey through Japan.
Follow our Contirubting Fashion Director on his journey through Japan.
Text: Gro Curtis
After spending over a month attending fashion shows in New York and Europe, my goal for the end of October was to go on vacation. However, when you work long enough in this industry, you realize that any type of long term planning is useless. I believe I was in L.A. looking at my calendar and praying for days off when I got invited by Onitsuka Tiger to attend their grand 70th-anniversary show in Tokyo. Honestly, my first reaction was, “I can’t go on the road again”, but then I received advance scheduling and did some research on Onitsuka’s history. This adventure was planned in detail with the ultimate goal of experiencing Japanese culture and tradition to its fullest extent. The heritage-inspired brand led by European creative director, Andrea Pompilio wanted to show us another side of Japan and not just glitzy Tokyo. Did they manage? They sure did… I’ve learned about sea urchins, soba noddles, radium hot springs and all the tricks needed to handcraft sneakers stitch by stitch. And on top of that, I did a lot of shopping.
Give me deep blue roses and anything in a black box and I will be ecstatic. That’s how easy I am. I’m sure the PR team is now laughing because that’s actually far from the truth, but we can keep that a secret?
Onitsuka Tiger’s Nippon Made series is strictly and exclusively produced in Japan with a lot of hard work done by hand. No wonder this shop is such a hit amongst loud tourists. The best part of Nippon Made is its versatility that gives you free reign to design your own sneakers at the store. I’m sure I drove my advisor crazy, but I can’t wait to see the final product, which should be arriving in 4-5 weeks.
Best Soba Noodles in Tokyo
Japan is all about amazing food. Having Tokyo Insider on our team helped immensely in making this experience come true. Basically, soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat, a type of thin noodle that is made from buckwheat flour and either served chilled with dipping sauce or in hot broth as a soup. Because I’m already in holiday spirit, let me tell you a secret: the best ones are in Aoyama Kawakami-An.
Seated at the Fashion Show
It took me some time and three PR references to understand that this was not a black teddy bear, but a black tiger. Anyway, it was a sweet touch before the start of the 70th anniversary show.
70th Anniversary Show
Models stormed the runway dressed impeccably and holding bunches of bags. No wonder Andrea Pompilio decided to focus on bags with a vintage touch. Next year, Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics and honestly, the historical connection between Onitsuka Tiger and the Olympics deserves its own feature movie. Decades of esteemed medal owners crossed the finish line and set records wearing Onitsuka sneakers.
The day after the show, Andrea told me that many of the logos presented in the SS20 show were actually from the original archive. It’s that same iconic archive that inspires creative Pompilio to mix the old with the new in each new collection. The label’s vintage Tokyo logo pays homage to Onitsuka’s roots and highlights the brand’s special connection with the Olympics.
Before our flight to the Tottori prefecture in Japan, we had one more celebratory lunch to attend. On the menu? Let’s see… Marinated chrysanthemum with field caviar, cheese pickled in sweet miso, deep fried scallop and my favorite: grilled greenland halibut with sweet miso paste. Each dish was pure food porn for our Instagram feeds.
Miasa Radon Mascot
Mascots are huge in Japan! Your-chara is the native umbrella term for their expansive catalog of mascot characters. They are usually created to promote a certain region, place or even business and organization. Mascots are always “cute” according to kawaii philosophy. And of course; they are always happy to see you, just like this Miasa Radon mascot cheerfully saying, “hi!” when we arrived to our hotel.
A Traditional Dinner
Upon our arrival to Miasa, we were greeted with the Kagami-biraki ceremony as were seated for dinner. This specific Japanese ceremony is performed at celebratory events in which the lid of the sake barrel is broken open by a wooden mallet and the sake is served to the guests. Our host also made sure we all wore proper attire for the ceremony; in this specific case, custom-made yukata kimonos.
In the Presence of Three Maikos
In traditional spirit of Northwestern Japan, we were honored by the presence of three maikos. Maiko is an apprentice geisha and they’re usually 15 to 20 years of age. They perform various songs and dances and others play ancient Japanese instruments. Above all that, maikos are extremely gracious and dignify hosts.
Ryokan: Japanese Hot Springs
Izanro Iwasaki is one of Japan’s most famous ryokan, a hot spring where you can relax and literally soak away your care. Regular guests include members of the royal family as well famous poets and artists. Basically, in a matter of just three days, you will feel brand new because tiny amounts of radon (weak radioactive substance produced by the decay of radium) stimulate and increase the activity of body’s cells, resulting in the activation of metabolism. But be aware that if you have any type of prominent tattoo, you are not allowed to use the public hot springs in Japan.
A Hearty Breakfast
Forget about your eggs Benedict because breakfast in Japan bares only a slight difference in comparison to lunch or dinner. It’s seafood time all day long. The only Western element during our stay in the Tottori prefecture was a glass of orange juice.
With magical lakes, flowers, trees and ponds spreading over 40,000 square meters, Yuushien Garden is one of the most legendary Japanese garden. It’s extremely popular in the spring time due to the incredible blooming of over two million peonies. We didn’t have time to wait for sunrise, but apparently the garden is spectacular in autumn with deep red and yellow colors lit up by carefully positioned lights.
It’s fascinating how even the most expensive sake you can get in New York can’t be comparable with indescribable flavors of local sake in any Japanese province that will cost you barely 18 dollars per bottle.
The Seafood Doesn’t Stop
When you think you’ve already tried every single sea creature known to man, your Japanese hosts will surprise you with something new. Creativity of Japanese cuisine is never ending. You can’t even imagine how many ways one can prepare sea urchin. I can cause I tried almost all of them. By the way, did you know some of the red sea urchins that live in shallow coastal waters can live to be 100 years old, and some may reach 200 years? Sadly, that might not be the case in Japan.
It’s always fun to witness hundreds of fashion shows during fashion month season, but what I find more interesting is visiting actual factories where things are being made. We had the rare opportunity to visit Onitsuka’s factory in Sakaiminato where the Nippon Made collection comes to life. And when I say they literally glue every single sneaker by hand, I really mean it.
One problem with Japan (and especially Tokyo) is shopping. There are so many things to buy and so little luggage. My carry-on was packed with every shape and flavor of Kit Kat you can imagine. I would say that my absolute favorite is white peach Kit Kat wrapped in white chocolate. But then again, you can’t leave Japan without some local sake and whiskey. On top of that, I had souvenirs for family and my obsession for anything Comme des Garcons and all of a sudden, I have an epic problem. More like a 200 pounds luggage problem.
You cannot leave the airport without two boxes of Tokyo banana cake, a Japanese dana sapped sponge cake with demonically good cream filling. The trick is that they steam the sponge cake after baking. Highly addictive. Actually so addictive that somewhere over Novosibirsk it was already gone.