The History of Japanese Streetwear - PART I

Harajuku's kids with Japanese streetwear style

The rise of Japanese street culture.

During the 1990s we saw an emergence of streetwear in different cities of the world. At that time, it was a regional phenomenon; a label was able to reach success only if it spread among a local scene. Brands of the time found an audience through adjacent subcultures like skateboarding, BMX, punk and hip-hop to push their products. Acting as the epicenter of street culture, New York’s downtown scene saw the emergence of Stussy as a mainstream brand and Supreme as a force. As American streetwear brands were building major names, so did a young generation of streetwear designers from Japan.

It all started in Tokyo, more precisely in a particular area holding a strong influence: Urahara.

 Harajuku Tokyo Streetwear Style

The rise

Urahara, short for ura-Harajuku, literally means “the hidden Harajuku” — an area of approximately four square blocks between the districts of Harajuku and Aoyama which housed the true beginnings of modern day Japanese streetwear. In the mid-’90s the streets were lined with unknown and often unnamed boutiques all with a distinct flavor. Some shops took inspiration from the West, pulling their newfound interest from America or the UK and importing the sportswear they found from subcultures of hip-hop and punk. This ultimately brought an influx of new ideas and creativity that Japan had never yet seen but were frankly itching for.

Nowhere first store in Harajuku's Tokyo neighborhood in the 1990s

Nowhere first store in Harajuku's Tokyo neighborhood in the 1990s

Besides very first stores A Store Robot and Vintage King, two unknowns -at the time- named Jun “Jonio” Takahashi, and Tomoaki Nagao, known then and still to this day as NIGO, opened their shop called NOWHERE. It was just that, a store that was to be so vaguely named and positioned in a way most would walk right passed it. At the time, shortly before internet, shopping was working essentially by word of mouth and recommendation. The shop space was split in two, and NIGO’s half was dedicated primarily to the production of graphic T-shirts – this was the very beginning of A Bathing Ape, whom many argue is the birth of Urahara.

 

Harajuku quickly witnessed the coming of new very creative streetwear brands such as NEIGHBORHOOD, created by Shinsuke due to his passion for a rebel-like mindset, and named after his affiliation and respect towards the physical “neighborhood” of Urahara. Shinsuke’s designs were at the time very radical, bringing a new subculture referencing motorcycle and heavy metal Americana. Creative designer SK8THING was mixed into the scene as well, providing mind-blowing graphic designs for A Bathing Ape, punk/toy brand BOUNTY HUNTER and many more. The creativity simply could not be stopped, with brands like WTAPS, visvim also popping up. An everlasting swarm of styles and statements all with their own unique flavor and message began to spread onto the streets, and the kids loved it.

 Bape store in Paris