Like everything in pop culture, fashion has a unique look and distinctive story. What started out as counterculture has evolved into the mainstream. Souvenir jackets have followed a similar pattern, transforming from controversial fashion statements to cult classics. Originating in Japan, sukajan jackets have an interesting history. There has been debate over the origin of the name, with some claiming it to be a mix of ‘Sky Dragon Jumper’ in Japanese. Others believe the name to have come from Yokosuka, an area where American soldiers were stationed. Either way, the story of the sukajan needs to be told.
A souvenir of war
Sukajan jackets got their start in post-WW2 Japan, with American soldiers wanting items to commemorate their time overseas. The troops stationed in Japan had traditional Japanese designs stitched into their jackets. Popular images included cherry blossoms, dragons, tigers and geisha. The stitching was combined with classic American iconography, such as eagles and medals. Usually, the jackets were crafted from leftover parachute silk and rayon. They were brought back to the US as literal souvenirs, a symbol of American and Japanese culture.
During the 1960s, sukajan developed a bad reputation through the emerging youth culture in Japan. A younger generation adopted American fashion, which became known as Ametora. The people who didn’t want to embrace the style chose to wear sukajan in defiance. Working class youth wore the jackets and the fashion became associated with gangs. This caused a lasting impression, with sukajan being depicted in Yakuza films as one of the preferred styles.
The souvenir jacket moved beyond Japan during the Vietnam War and became a popular style for American troops all over the world. Due to the carnage of the war, the jackets of the era sported darker colours and anti-war sentiments.
Rise in popularity
As sukajan became widespread, they were sought after by celebrities. The jacket represented counterculture and people like Mick Jagger decided to wear them on tour. The contemporary jackets were made with a quilt style, referencing the parachute origins. Sukajan evolved into a mainstream fashion trend. The mixture of embroidery and colours made them stand out. I love the uniqueness of them, as each jacket has an individual spirit. The soldiers who had them made were showing their individualism, which I think is important when choosing a jacket.
Today, many retailers sell sukajan. A shop I’d recommend is Koisea, as they stock a variety of Japanese style clothes. I bought the phoenix jacket, which features a beautiful golden bird on the back. The phoenix is a representation of rebirth, a mentality I connect with on a personal level. The contrast of white, black and gold is amazing, so it’s definitely one of my favourite jackets.
Souvenir jackets have become an integral part of pop culture fashion. They’ll continue to be reimagined by brands, but the spirit of their conception will never fade.