The “Sukajan” jacket was born as a souvenir for American soldiers to bring home after their stay in Japan in the post-war period. The jacket decorated with elegant embroidery of eagles, tigers, dragons, etc., originating in Japanese culture and traditional clothing, eventually became a symbol of Japanese admiration for American culture. As American casual wear and the vintage boom spread, “sukajan” (a combination of Yokosuka’s “suka” and “jan” from janpaa, a Japanese word for jacket) became a popular item among Japanese fashion lovers.
The “Pride of Yokosuka: Exhibition of Souvenir Jacket Sukajan” at the Yokosuka Museum of Art introduces the history and the culture of Dobuita Street, an area in Yokosuka with rows of souvenir shops for military members, and aspects of the “base culture” that developed around the U.S. military bases throughout Japan. The exhibition is open from November 19 to December 25, 2022.
The exhibition features approximately 140 pieces of valuable vintage sukajan jackets from the TAILOR TOYO (TOYO ENTERPRISE CO., LTD.) collection, which has been making souvenir jackets for over half a century. The lineup includes the “YOKOSUKA Dragon” (manufactured in 1946), the only one of its kind to be found, which depicts a “dragon ascending to the sky.”
The distinctive feature of the vintage sukajan jackets produced from the late 1940s to the 1960s is a unique Japanese embroidery technique achieved by using a special sewing machine. The exhibition also features works by contemporary artists such as Kiyomi Osawa, Chiharu Tanuma, NUICO, and Ozaki Fumina, who employed sukajan craftsmen’s techniques.
The exhibition also features a section introducing the “base culture” that developed around U.S. military bases throughout Japan in the postwar period through photographs, archival materials, and products sold to U.S. soldiers. The exhibition sheds light on American culture, which remains a strong influence up to the present day, and on the relationship between Japan and the U.S. through the unique culture of the souvenir sukajan jackets.