Sakuraco Box Review: One Family’s Thoughts

As someone who lived in Japan for several years, and has yet to find a permutation of sugar that I do not love, I miss the extraordinary array of sweets that were available over there that aren’t available outside the country.

Sakuraco Japanese Snack Box Unboxing Video

My wife and I started by doing a little unboxing video of the Sakuraco Box.

Sakuraco Unboxing Video

Sakuraco Box Taste Test

Why Would You Want A Japanese Treats Subscription Box?

When I’m back in Japan I make sure I find an excuse to venture down into one of the labyrinthine food emporiums you find hiding, as if to emphasize their dragon’s-hoard-of-gold style secret nature, in the basements of many Japanese department stores. I like to drift through the aisles of open-plan shop fronts like a bee through a field of sunflowers. The seemingly endless, and ever expanding, range of wagashi Japanese sweets you find in these places is enough to make you wonder if there shouldn’t be a hobby in Japan that is similar to bird watching, or trainspotting, for the rapturous observance of these Japanese delicacies.

Ok, I admit it, I’m less a sweet watcher than a sweet gobbler. Or at least a sample gobbler, a shameless freeloading glutton for the free taste testers naively offered up by the shopkeepers that man the display cases within these cakey utopias.

Luckily, the fashion for subscription boxes of all kinds, from gin to gym, has provided several options for keeping you acquainted with the magnificent world of Japanese sweets from afar.

The people over at Sakuraco, one of the recent entries into the market, were kind enough to send me out one of their boxes. Or to my household for us to try. My Japanese wife, and my insatiable children, helped me in assessing the contents.

It’s a tough job, eating soft sweeties, but someone’s got to do it.

I’ll go into the details of our, erm, rigorous, scientific testing below. But first, let me go ahead and give you the verdict.

Is the Sakuraco box any good?

Sakuraco box

Yes, our whole family liked the sakuraco sweets box. The sweets were all of a high quality, nicely presented and tasty.

I guess the fear with these sorts of boxes is that you fork and spoon out a bunch of money and get a box filled with items that someone had hastily stacked into a plastic shopping basket at the 100 yen shop. Not so this box. These Japanese snacks had a little more class and decorum, thank you very much.

Things we liked about the Sakuraco box

But enough of the flowery prose. Let’s talk nuts and bolts:

  • Our box had a beautiful presentation with a luxurious feel to it. You really get the sense that you are receiving a special present in the mail.
  • There was a good range of sweeter things, salty snacks, different textures and tastes. The inclusion of a cute little Mt. Fuji bowl was a fun addition too.
  • Many of the items included two portions, meaning that you don’t have to play a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets the next treat.
  • It’s cool that the box includes a glossy brochure giving you a little background on each of the sweets, a little info about some of the makers, and some more generic cultural information. The brochure tells you a list of possible allergens – written in English. For some people this is probably more than a “nice inclusion”, possibly even life saving.
  • Each item also said whether it was Vegetarian or not. Of these, probably around 70% were listed as being vegetarian. It is hard to know exactly the term “vegetarian” was being defined. None of the items actually had any meat in them, so I assume that other items such as eggs and dairy products were not being counted as vegetarian friendly. It would be clearer for everyone if they divided things into “vegetarian” and “vegan”. Or had a column saying “vegetarian/vegan” that listed possible items of concern, such as eggs, milk, stock, so people can make up their own minds…but now we’re probably getting into the category of things we didn’t like so much about the Sakuraco box…

Things we didn’t like so much about the box

In the corporate parlance, here is the “developmental feedback”:

  • There wasn’t a lot of tea in the box. Two tea bags to be precise. That’s not a lot of the green stuff to last a month, or to go with 20 different sweets for that matter. You’re going to be in trouble if you’ve got more than one friend to invite to the tea ceremony.
  • That being said, tea, Japanese and otherwise, isn’t really that hard to come by in most places these days so it’s not a huge issue. Still, if you’re going to sell a luxurious box, why not a pack of 10-20 or a parcel of loose leaf.
  • The extra, non-food item in our box was cute and fun, but did feel a little “plasticy” or “cheap”. Once again, not a huge issue.
  • Even though you get two portions of many of the sweets, it’s not great for families. Would be good to see a “family sized” box option.
Teatime with some sakurco snacks
Teatime with some sakurco snacks

So is the Sakuraco box worth it?

To me, I think the sakuraco box is pretty reasonably priced. I asked my Japanese wife whether she thought the price was what she would expect to pay, and she seemed to feel it was.

A tick of approval from a sweet-eating native is a good sign.

As to whether you could buy all the items in Japan for a cheaper price, well probably. But that is the nature of the business. You’re paying a mark up for the convenience of someone selecting and giving you access to items you wouldn’t have otherwise. You’ve also got to factor in the fact that you get a nice glossy brochure with all the details of the snacks, and trendy little postcard from the snack-curator (which, incidentally, has to be probably the greatest job around). And you’re saving time right?

Our Sakuraco Box contents laid out on our kitchen table
Our Sakuraco Box contents laid out on our kitchen table

How much does the Sakuraco box cost?

There are a few options for purchasing a one off or subscription to a Sakuraco box, depending on how long you are willing to sign up for. As you would expect, the longer you commit to, the more you will save.

As of the time of writing, the prices (excluding shipping) are:

1 month – USD 37.50 / month (charged every month)

3 months – USD 35.50 / month (charged every 3 months)

6 months – USD 33.50 / month (charged every 6 months)

12 months – USD 32.50 / month (charged every 12 months)

What about Shipping?

Shipping costs are not included in the subscription charges listed above, and vary from place to place. Generally, you can expect to pay another $10-$13 on top of what you have paid for the actual box.

I’m in Australia, and my box only took a few days to arrive via DHL Express. You can track the box on it’s way to you.

My box was well wrapped in bubble wrap and a sturdy box, meaning everything inside was in pristine condition.

Who would enjoy a Sakuraco Box?

Overall, the items in the box seemed much more orientated to “adult” tastes than younger ones. In my family, the kids still enjoyed ripping open the packets and tucking into the contents. But many of the flavors are quite “subtle”, contain some element of bitterness, sometimes “fishy” flavors.

This isn’t in any way a criticism. In many ways, these are all hallmarks of the flavor associated with Japanese food in general, and Japanese sweets in particular. They’re the reason you are looking into getting a Japanese Snack Box in the first place aren’t they?

If you are looking for a box that gives you, say, the Pocky and chocolate kinako mushrooms style of sweeter, child-orientated dessert snack box, this isn’t it. You’d be better off going with something like Sakuraco’s sister box, the Tokyo Treat Box, which has all the sweet sweet stuff.

How does the Sakuraco Japanese sweet box subscription work?

The Sakuraco Japanese sweet box subscription is a monthly subscription that delivers high-quality, authentic Japanese snacks to your doorstep. It’s curated by experts in order to include the classics as well as some new flavors you’ve never tried before.

the sakuraco box on the bench
the sakuraco box on the bench

What’s inside a Sakuraco Japanese sweets subscription box?

The Sakuraco box comes with 20 snacks inside, and another “special extra” item. The

Japanese Tea

  • Matcha, Hojicha & Seasonal.

Japanese Cakes

  • From Castella to Taiyaki.

Mochi, Manju & Yokan

  • Traditional Japanese Sweets

Seasonal Japanese Treats

  • Sakura, Momiji etc.

Sakuraco Exclusives

  • Senbei and Konpeito by Local Makers

Japanese Home Goods

  • Ceramics, Chopsticks & Furoshikis.

A look at each of the items included in our sample box:

Mt. Fuji Owan Bowl

By Tanaka Hashiten (Fukui)

“This owan bowl was designed in honor of the sacred Japanese mountain. Use it for snacks and sweets, or flip it upside down as décor.”

This one bowl was kind of fun. It was a bit plasticy feeling, so I question how likely you would be to use it as “decor”. I felt like it would have been better as something for the kids. In fact, my kids did come up with what I feel is the best use case scenario we have come up with so far – a kakigori, sweet shaved ice bowl.

Sencha With Matcha Tea x 2

By Brooks (Kanagawa)

“Enjoy the sweetness of matcha powder mixed with the umami power of sencha roasted tea for a truly unique tea drinking experience. “

I liked this tea. It was quite a subtle flavor, not at all bitter or overpowering, but with a satisfying after note. It was a shame there were only the two tea bags though…

Red Fuji Cookies x 2

By Matsuzawa (Nagano)

“Delicate chocolate almond sugar cookies in the shape of the iconic mountain. The light pink icing is flavored with sweet strawberry.”

The flavor of this one stumped my wife and I. It’s only after you look at the blurb that tells you what is in it that you go, “yes, that’s it I tasted that and that and that, I think, yes, I’m sure that must be right”. It was a complex malaise of flavors that my mouth is still confused about a week later. I think I might need to eat another ten of these to find some culinary closure.

Kyoho Grape Chocolate Crunch x 2

By Izumi Bussan (Ishikawa)

“Kyoho grapes from Yamanashi are highly prized for their rich flavor. This crunchy sweet is made with smooth white chocolate infused with fragrant grapes and coated around toasted corn flakes.”

Kyoho Sweets

I’ve been to Yamanashi about five times, but for some reason the “highly prized” Kyoho grape has managed to elude me. So I can’t attest as to whether this tasty little morsel pays appropriate homage to the original fruit. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that my reference for this intriguing textural mix of crispy, chocolaty, fruity elements is, well, cereal. It was like I was enjoying breakfast all over again, but condensed down to the size of, say, a tiny bird’s egg, or an extra large blueberry. Or perhaps a particularly big Kyoho grape, however big they are.

White Peach Milk Manju

By Matsuzawa (Nagano)

“This steamed milk manju is filled with a sweet white peach, a specialty from Yamanashi Prefecture, the highest producer of the fruit in Japan.”

This one has so many different variations of “soft” about it. It’s the culinary equivalent of sleeping on a queen size bed three mattresses high, fine sheets and a duvet.

Uji Matcha Tiramisu Baumkuchen

By Kashihara (Tokyo)

Tiramisu Baumkuchen

“This baumkuchen, which is made by slowly adding layer after layer of batter on a rotating spit, is a beautiful Japanese twist on tiramisu flavor: fresh cream flavor but with matcha instead of coffee. Uji matcha is considered the highest quality of green tea and is grown in mountains outside of Kyoto.”

Ok, I admit I have no idea what a baumkuchen is. If someone had asked me, I would have guessed it was a German car.

Tiramisu is in my wheelhouse though. And I’m all for switching up the coffee flavor with matcha, as hard to beat as the choc-coffee combo is. I feel this was a successful experiment, but would probably benefit from being eaten fresh, rather than shipped half away around the world in an airlocked plastic bag…

Kabocha Pudding Bread

By Tokyo Bread (Fuji)

“Kabocha is Japanese pumpkin, which has a milder and sweeter flavor than its North American cousin. This bread is made with brown rice yeast and has rich pumpkin puree and pudding folded into the dough for a moist and rich fall treat.”

Pumpkin Bread

I would like to faithfully report back on this one, given as this was perhaps the sweet I was most looking forward to in the box, with its fluffy, spongy, bready looking exterior. But, alas, my kids got to it before me. Which is strange, because they don’t even like pumpkin…

Green Tea Leaf Cookies

By Takayanagi (Shizuoka)

“These beautiful butter cookies are made with whole tea leaves sourced from Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture. Their crisp texture is perfect for an afternoon tea break.”

These crumbly-in-a-good-way cookies had a flavor so subtle that I must admit I barely detected it. My wife reassured me by saying that I was a culinary heathen and that these little green tea tasting morsels were bite-sized pearls before swine. That didn’t make them taste any better to me, or improve my self-esteem, but after eating three of them I felt like I had accumulated enough flavor to assemble an adequate, cumulative assault on my taste buds.

Green Tea Dacquoise

By Takayanagi (Shizuoka)

“Indulge in sweet matcha cream sandwiched between two green tea infused meringues. This elegant dessert is made with rice flour and green tea from Makinohara in Shizuoka.”

Green Tea Dacquoise

I know about as much about a meringue as I know how to spell it. But biting into this one gives you a deeply satisfying combination of crisp and snappy, with soft and creamy. What’s not to love about the sandwich format – sweet or savoury?

Castella Roll Cake

By Sanseisha (Osaka)

“Castella cake was originally brought to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century and soon became a beloved dessert. This sweet roll cake version is filled with a rich buttercream; perfect for an afternoon treat.”

To me, the Castella is one of those classic “big in Japan” things. But a Portuguese person may beg to differ, especially if they had been transported from the 16th century. Where I come from, we call a sponge a sponge. But I have to admit that the castella does have a level of firmness about it that sets it apart and makes it a more fulfilling, satiating experience than it’s springy spongy cousin.

Awase Fruits Jelly

By Morihaku (Gifu)

“Made with the regional specialty of sweet Yamanashi cherries, along with refreshing mikan orange and apple, this jelly is bursting with fresh fruit flavor.”

This little jelly treat screams summer. Or spring. Or something sunny and tangy and citrusy at any rate.

I shlurped this one down in the time it takes most people to sneeze.

My only bone to pick (metaphorically), was that “awase” means “combination” and in my books, two fruits do not a combination make. Ok, if they had tried to squeeze any more fruit in the little packet, the whole fruit to jelly ratio would have been all out of kilter. Which reminds me, I actually did have another bone to pick. The package. It looked like airline food, and gave me horrible memories of opening hard-to-peel lids from plastic containers at altitudes several thousands of feet in the air and several 10s of feet from the place where your change of clothing is stowed (for when you inevitably spill the contents of your container onto your trousers when attempting to prise the lid in your cruelly apportioned economy seating).

Kinako Mochi

By Aokikou (Nara)

“Made from glutinous rice flour, this kinako mochi is dusted by skilled craftspeople with roasted soybean flour mixed with sugar. This gives the mochi a subtle nutty flavor that pairs well with tea.”

Kinako is a mystery to me. When I first tried it in Japan as a teenager, I felt like a Spanish conquistador who had crossed the oceans and discovered the magic spice that the old world sages had been speculating about for centuries.

It also intrigues me because it reminds me so much of cinnamon, and we don’t seem to have an equivalent in the west.

Anyway, suffice it to say, if it involves Kinako I’m there. Dust it onto a soft-as-mochi-hada-skin mochi ball and I’m just going to lose my anko.

Kokeshi Doll Senbei x 2

By Morihaku (Gifu)

“Kokeshi dolls are a traditional Japanese folkcraft that started as toys for children. These rice snacks mimic the shape of the dolls with cute and decorative packaging. The head is a roasted peanut, while the body is soy sauce flavored.”

Kokeshi Doll Senbei

This one was the prettiest and most interesting looking of the bunch for me, with two little snacks standing to attention in their packs as cute-as-a-button kokeshi dolls. I must admit that I was a little disappointed that when I opened the pack, I found that the effect had been achieved by combining a standard senbei style rice cracker with one of those coated roasted peanuts you get in Japan. I like both of those things, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I guess I felt like I had turned up to a date with someone I had met over the internet that presented as being 15 years older than the profile picture they had posted on their online profile. The illusion was fun while it lasted though…

Ajishirabe Senbei x 2

By Masakiya Confectionary (Niigata)

Ajishirabe Senbei

“Made with Niigata rice, the prefecture that wins the best rice awards year after year, this classic rice cracker is lightly toasted and salted. The perfect savory snack to pair with a roasted green tea.”

Aji means flavor and shirabe means investigation, so I quickly dubbed these crackers “flavor investigations” and got right down to investigating them myself. Actually, these struck me as being pretty standard senbei style snacks, standard enough that I’m not sure the particularly warranted the investigation.

Edamame Senbei x 2

By Morihaku (Gifu)

“This rice cracker’s green color is from ground edamame beans. Onceall edamame and eggs are fully incorporated into the dough, it is pressed and then lightly toasted to perfection.”

Edamame Senbei

Is there nothing an edamame can’t do? How did any bean come to be so damn tasty? This my friends is a mystery that cannot be solved. You’ve got to go with it. Don’t question, or overthink it.

Edamame, we love your work.

Almond Mochi Four Seasons Senbei x 2

By Morihaku (Gifu)

“This fragrant rice cracker is made by kneading almonds into the dough made with glutinous rice flour. Once incorporated, it is baked to a rich, golden brown.”

I love senbei with nuts in them. It’s the soft-crunch, hard-cruch combo that does it. This particular cracker of a little senbei did it quite well indeed.

Ototo Soy Sauce Chips

By Mizutani Shoten (Shizuoka)

“These chips are made with okara, a soybean pulp that is a bi-product of the tofu-making process and are flavored with iwashi sardine shavings, local to Shizuoka.”

Look, I’m just going to say it. This recent trend to make chips out of anything but a potato, such as kale, or sweet potato (painfully, teasingly close) or carrots, is not one that makes me feel love. So I’m torn here, as these chips are actually quite tasty, but I feel bound to condemn them out of principle. Or at least I will once I’ve finished the pack.

Miso Arare

By Kikuichi (Aichi)

“These crispy rice snacks are made with ingredients from Aichi Prefecture, from the rice to the tamari soybean sauce and red miso seasoning. Baked to a rich golden color, they are the perfect blend of sweet & savory.”

Miso is at one with the miraculous paste of hummus in being an mushy substance that invincibly goes with any food stuff known to man. These arare simply prove the point. And you sure aren’t going to find hummus arare in a hurry, so you better take your kicks where you can.

Who is Sakuraco?

Sakuraco is part of a suite of brands selling a range of Japanese subscription boxes and other products. Their Tokyo Treat box has Japanese style sweets that are closer to western confectionery, while the Sakuraco brand focuses on more subtle and refined flavors.

Other brands include the Yume Twins box, which gives a box of kawaii-cute stuff from Japan every month. There is Japan Haul, which sells a range of Japanese food, drink and snacks individually.

The suite of brands even features Tokyo Catch, an intriguing mobile casual-gaming app where you can win real-world prizes.

Final Thoughts on the Sakuraco box

Overall, my blended Japanese family and I were impressed with the Sakuraco box. Whether or not it is worth the price tag once postage is factored in will be a personal decision. The snacks are authentic, traditional items aimed at an adult pallet. So it really depends on how dedicated you are to the refined art of afternoon tea, Japanese style.

I am a fan of the Twin Peaks TV show, which features the detective character “Coop” who says in one of the episodes “You’ve gotta give yourself a little gift every day”. Having a box of little treats at your fingertips is a good way to do that. The portions are small and are not nearly as sugary as a big ol’ pack of candy either. So it’s probably a healthier option than snacking on junk on a daily basis. 

I also think these boxes, with their beautiful presentation and luxurious feel, make great Japanese gifts – either as a one-off box on a special occasion or as a series of boxes delivered to your loved one over several months. 

My advice is to start with a single box, see how you like it. You’ll also get a sense of how having the box fits in with your daily routine. Do you chew through the whole box in a few days or does it last you through the month? Do you find yourself liking every item or only every third item? Does it fit your tea/coffee-taking routines and rituals? That might take a cup of tea or three for you to ponder over…

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1). I’ve written songs in Japanese and have released several albums through Tokyo label Majikick Records. You can hear my music at my bandcamp page:

ピータージョセフヘッドです。4年間京都市立芸大の大学院として日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

僕の音楽はBandcampで聞けます。

Our Fav Japanese Star Wars Posters [2021]

Japan has a long history of creating and adapting Star Wars posters for its domestic market. Notably, artist Noriyoshi Ohrai designed one of the most iconic images for the 1982 dubbed Star Wars release in Japan. The striking image features the millennium falcon, it all its space-junkesque glory, taking up the lion’s share of the poster on the diagonal. The artwork is a masterpiece of composition, giving you the simultaneous sense of weightlessness & gravity, speed & adventure. 

Ohrai went on to make artwork for each of the three original Star Wars Trilogy films. His artwork for the movies was often used as giveaway items at the opening of the films. We’ve also written about Noriyoshi’s popular Metal Gear artwork.

Noriyoshi’s Star Wars pieces are very sort after items now, and are hard to find.

Etsy has a Noriyoshi Ohrai page that you can find some of his works for sale.

Japanese artist Noriyoshi Ohrai's 1982 film poster for the original Star Wars film

Ohrai went on to produce several other iconic Star Wars artwork pieces such as this Empire Strikes Back poster that manages to capture all of the adventure, love, fear and struggle themes from the film in one striking image.

Noriyoshi Ohrai's Japanese Stars Wars poster for The Empire Strikes Back

The Noriyoshi Japanese Star Wars Empire Strikes Back poster can be hard to find. Here is a mounted one on Amazon, but withouth the Japanese text.

Ohrai’s work for Return of The Jedi was simpler, focusing on just a couple of characters. It also emphasized the spaciness of the universe, in the literal and figurative sense. It also featured an ingenius reference to the neon-like light quality of the film’s iconic sabers. 

The Ohrai poster image for Return of the Jedi

A gallery of other Japanese Star Wars Posters

Most people that are looking for Japanese Star Wars posters are probably most interested in posters that most prominently feature Japanese text in the design. There are no shortage of those, especially in the older posters. The newer posters, tracking the trend in Japanese society more generally, are more likely to feature main “Star Wars” text in alphabet.

Japanese Star Wars Empire Strikes Back Poster

Japanese text reads: “Star Wars Series 2!” – “Star Wars, The Empire’s Counter Attack”

  • Large katakana text – instantly recogisable as being a Japanese Star Wars poster.
  • Classi Retro design
  • Has almost all the classic characters in one poster

Japanese Star Wars Return Of The Jedi Back Poster

Japanese text reads: “Star Wars Series 3, complete version” – “Star Wars, The Jedi comes back”

  • Large katakana text – instantly recogisable as being a Japanese Star Wars poster.
  • Striking, symetrical light saber design
  • Classi Retro design
  • Dark & spacey

Star Wars Village as a Ukiyoe Woodblock Print

This maybe taking the “Japanese” Star Wars angle too far, but there is something fun about seeing the Star Wars universe rendered as a traditional Japanese woodblock print…

Japanese Star Wars Return Of The Jedi Back Poster

Japanese text reads: “Star Wars Series 3, complete version” – “Star Wars, The Jedi comes back”

  • Large katakana text – instantly recogisable as being a Japanese Star Wars poster.
  • Wood mounted!
  • Retro design is fairly rough, almost hand made
  • Landscape ratio

Japanese Star Wars Rogue One Poster

Japanese text reads: “Rogue One, Star Wars Story” – “Hope, never dies” – “Another Star Wars”

  • Distinctive Slim Line katakana text – instantly recogisable as being a Japanese Star Wars poster.
  • Includes tagline in Japanese
  • Movie release date and credits on bottom of poster
  • More modern Star Wars Japanese poster

Japanese Star Wars Last Jedi Poster

Japanese text reads: “Star Wars, The Last Jedi” – “Light, or Darkness” 

  • Includes “Light or darkness” tagline in Japanese
  • More modern Star Wars Japanese poster

Japanese Star Wars The Return Of The Empire Poster

Japanese text reads: “Star Wars, Series 2” – “40th Anniversary” – “The Empire’s Counter Attack”

  • Almost all Japanese text
  • Distinctive quasi-art-deco design
  • Classic Darth

Japanese Star Wars The Return Of The Empire Poster

Japanese text reads: “Star Wars” – “Receiver of awards in 7 categories of the 50th Academy awards”

  • Super retro design

May the force be with you in your quest for the ultimate Japanese Star Wars poster!

We also have pages about Japanese Wall Art and Studio Ghibli posters

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

ピータージョセフヘッドです。4年間京都市立芸大の大学院として日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

8 Japanese Minimalist Fashion Brands 2021

I love Japanese the Japanese minimalism generally. So it is no surprise that I’ve always been drawn to Japanese minimalist fashion too.

Though Japanese trends have veered far and wide, from bright colours and wild designs exhibiting all the influences of popular trends from Western Cultures, there has been a persistent strand of minimalist design. Influenced by the long history of Zen philosophy, the Japanese minimalist wardrobe continues to return to the world of neutral tones, simple silhouettes focusing on essential quality.

Here I present some of my absolute favourite examples of Japanese minimalist clothing.

1. COMME DES GARÇONS

Comme des Garçons is one of the biggest, and longest lasting, names in Japanese high end fashion. Helmed by venerable Junya Watanabe, the fashion powerhouse started by Rei Kawakubo in 1969. Known for being able to bring unexpected twists to everyday design, the brand makes everything from workwear that looks like fashion, to wardrobe feature items that you could still wear to the supermarket. 

Their fashion is diverse and spans everything from high fashion, to street designs famously worn by the likes of Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Kanye even gave a shout out to Junya Watanabe on his wrist on his Donda album.

Men

Women

2. Needles

Needles is long-time industry leader Keizo Shimizu’s signature label. Creating pieces that vary from stripped down and minimal, all the way to statement pattern items, this is one Japanese band that isn’t afraid to try different things. Whatever Shimizu turns his hand to, the clothing manages to retain a sense of refinement and sophistication.

Men

3. Undercover

Undercover, by Jun Takahashi manages to combine the aesthetic language of the street with the style of the fashion house. It manages to meld seemingly contradictory elements into strange constructions of harmony. Undercover holds the seed of Takahashi’s punk-attitude that his designs started out with back when he founded the label in 1993. This is clothing for rebels who have grown up.

Men

Women

4. Visvim

Visvim manages to combine Americana and Yamato-damashii to create clothing that is at once exotic and familiar. Hiroki Nakamura chose the name for his brand by combining latin words for strength and speed. Like the name, the apparel in Visvim ranges has a sense of dynamism, as well as a robustness. Quality is the brand’s very mantra, as evidenced by their crafting of fine cordovan and denim that is hard to find anywhere else.

Men

5. Yohji Yamamoto

If there is one name that sums up Japanese Minimalist fashion, it would have to be Yohji Yamamoto. Yamamoto even prefers the unadorned title of “dressmaker” over more graniouse terms such as “fashion designer” or “auteur”. The original idea for his brand came in 1976 when he started crafting “men’s” coats that could be worn by a “woman”. You can still see some strands of this androgenous aesthetic in the clothing to this day. Another constant is the dedication to the use of long, flowing fabrics that suggest luxury and ease.

Men

Women

6. Wacko Maria

Generally speaking, Wacko Maria is probably about as far away from what you might consider “minimal” as you could get. Words like “playful”, irreverent and “pop culture” would be more commonly associated with the brand. That said, within Atsuhiko Mori’s designs are some bold planes of color that could be considered a kind of “vibrant minimalism”. So we include it here.

Men

7. Neighborhood

Neighborhood’s aesthetic springs out of founder Shinsuke Takizawa’s love of biker, street and road culture. As with many Japanese brands, it mixes a love of Americana with a uniquely Japanese feel. You can expect to find denim, army prints, outdoor wear. But there is also an understated side to the brand that makes it a good candidate for inclusion here.

Men

8. Mastermind

After working with the minimalist fashion master Yohji Yamamoto, Masaaki Homma struck out on his own to form Mastermind in 1997, making it actually one of the Japanese fashion labels on the list. Homma takes a much more punk infused take on Yamamoto’s free flowing clothes, and brings it closer to the street. The brand is recognized most distinctively by it’s skull and crossbones motif that seems so bad-boy cliched it comes full circle to be good again. Masaaki never really veered completely away from his roots working for minimalist maestro though as evidenced by the pieces below.

Men

If you are looking for some more traditional, and less minimal, Japanese wear, we have pages on male kimono, chanchanko hanten jackets, kimono fabric, and kimono shirts

Japanoscope uses affiliate links. Which means we may receive commisions when you click on some product links. We only link to products we believe in, use ourselves or think are genuinely good. This helps us keep all of the content on the site free of charge. As Monty Python once said, “We’re selling records in the foyer. Some of us have gotta eat too you know”.

Interested in Japan right now? Japanese social media translated:

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1). I’ve written songs in Japanese and have released several albums through Tokyo label Majikick Records. You can hear my music at my bandcamp page:

ピータージョセフヘッドです。4年間京都市立芸大の大学院として日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

僕の音楽はBandcampで聞けます。

Artificial Japanese Maple Tree Guide

If you’re like me, and you’ve spent many years wandering around the Japanese countryside and through its gardens, you’ll know how beautiful a Japanese Maple Tree is. They have the ability to add vibrant splashes of color into a more or less uniform palette of green. 

In Japan, this contrast of colors is enjoyed both on the large and the small scale. Often, Japanese garden design, and Japanese Home Decor, are actively trying to mimic, or recreate, or pay homage to the way nature itself presents itself. So may see a whole mountainside that presents a patchwork of autumnal hues mixed with evergreens. The people that live in the surrounding areas may try to achieve an effect in their own gardens that reference this. They may do this by having smaller versions of these trees in the form of Bonsai, or incorporate Japanese Maple Trees in their own gardens.

Of course, as always, the greatest effect is going to be achieved by going through the effort of sourcing, looking after, and shaping a real tree in a real garden, or within the home. But, for many, this just isn’t feasible amidst the business of a modern day lifestyle. The answer for many is using a combination of real and faux plants to create an effect that is striking, but not so hard to maintain. An artificial Japanese Maple Tree is a case in point, and has the added advantage of allowing you to “maintain” your tree at the perfect point in its aesthetic life cycle the whole year round.

With that in mind, here are some of our favourite artificial maple trees on the market.

Japanoscope uses affiliate links. Which means we may receive commisions when you click on some product links. We only link to products we believe in, use ourselves or think are genuinely good. This helps us keep all of the content on the site free of charge. As Monty Python once said, “We’re selling records in the foyer. Some of us have gotta eat too you know”.

Who is behind this site?

I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts doing a Masters Degree, have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).

ピータージョセフヘッドです。4年間京都市立芸大の大学院として日本に住み、6回日本で音楽ツアーをし、日本語能力試験で1級を取得しました。要するに日本好きです。

Happi Coats Guide 2021

Happi Coat

法被

In my years spent living and travelling through Japan, I’ve been able to see, purchase and try wearing many different types of more or less traditional Japanese clothing.
One item that often draws people’s eye is the Japanese Happi Coat (sometimes written as Happy Coat – because the word happi is so close in pronunciation to the English word “Happy”). The happi coats tends to be noticed by those travelling to Japan because they are often worn as brightly colored festival jackets at matsuri events throughout the country. The Happi jacket with Japanese writing are also commonly worn by people spruiking different sales campaigns at the front of retailers. The jackets are generally customised to have the name of the particular company or retailer they are advertising on them.

 I’ve also written articles on the closely related Japanese clothing types including jimbei, hanten jackets, samuekimono for men and kimono fabric, so it might be worth checking those out as well.

Best Traditional Festival Happi Set (Unisex)

A classic happi set with happi coat, obi and tenugui cloth to roll into a headband. This is one of the most popular style of happi you will commonly see around at festivals.

Pros

  • 3 – in 1 set
  • Quality workmanship
  • Classic Festival style
  • Character on the back says “Matsuri” – festival

Cons

  • Very traditional – not for those look for something unusual.

Best high-end fashion style Happi

Visvim Indigo Denim Happi style kimono top

Half-sleeve garment-dyed non-stretch denim kimono-style shirt in indigo. Shawl collar. Open front. Welt pockets at waist. Partial cotton twill lining. Contrast stitching in white.

Pros

  • High end fashion piece
  • Classic Denim
  • Can be worn in range of contexts.
  • 100% cotton.
  • Made in Japan

Cons

  • Fashion item – with fashion price tag

Best Casual Wear Happi Coat (Unisex)

Casual, yet stylish, long happi coat.

Pros

  • Classic “Seigaha” pattern.
  • Long cut.
  • Understated with no lettering
  • Free flowing kimono style

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with belt

So What is a Japanese Happi Coat?

Where Does The Word “Happi” come from

The Happi traditional Japanese coat belongs to the larger category of “Haori” 羽織. The verb  haoru 羽織る literally means to “put on over the top”. So the word Haori is pretty close to the English word “coat”.

The “Happi” itself has its roots in the coats that featured family crests dyed into them indicating different samurai affiliations. They later came to be worn by people considered to be of lower rank including craft & tradespeople. They also have a strong association with firefighters. It was until the end of the show period (1926 – 1989) that the happi began to be commonly worn as festival attire. In fact, the rise of the festival happi can be traced back to the Osaka Expo in 1970, where the wearing of this kind of traditional Japanese clothing was popularised in the “event” context.

From this background, you can see that the happi is associated with a person performing some kind of service. The happi can be thought of as a kind of uniform. In the samurai context, the garment would often have the name of the person and their house affiliation written on the hem.

Children at festival in happi outfits

The origin of the word “Happi” itself is thought to trace back to sleeveless garment that was worn aristocratic people in ancient times that was called a “Banpi” (which we could also romanize, for fun, as a “Bumpy”). 

To risk stating the obvious, the word “happi” has no relation to the word “happy”, whether written with an “i” or a “y”.

Early Happi wearers. Img: Vintage Japan-esque https://www.flickr.com/photos/vintage-japan/15987109276

What is The Difference Between a Happi and a Hanten?

If you are interested in Japanese clothing, you may have come across garments referred to as “hanten”. 

Confusingly, the words happi and hanten are often used interchangeably. For most intents and purposes there is no hard and fast delineation between the two styles of kimono followed by people universally, inside or outside Japan.

That being said, there are traits that are considered more characteristic of a happi or a hanten overall.

Generally, garments that a categorized as a happi will: 

  • Be at least be as long or longer than a person’s bottom.
  • Have large open sleeves
  • Have no tie-string at the front (and are thus generally worn with an Obi belt)

Conversely, hanten 

  • Are generally not lower than a person’s bottom
  • Will have smaller and tighter sleeveless
  • Have a tie string at the front (and are thus generally worn without and obi belt)

 

Hanten are also more strongly associated with winter coats with thicker materials, sometimes filled with cotton batting.

What Types of Happi Jacket are there?

Happi coats come in a range of lengths.

Some variations on the standard happi coat are sleeveless happi that are commonly worn by festival drummers to leave their hands free to move.

There are also long flowing happi that stretch down below the knee. These are closer to a Yukata design, but are often worn unbelted and free flowing.

Recommended Happi Coats

Vintage & 2nd hand Happi Coat options are available on Etsy

Reading The Tag

The tag above reads:

表地 Front Material 綿 Cotton 100%

裏地 Rear material 綿 Cotton 100%

中わた Inner Padding 綿 Cotton 70%

ポリエステル Polyester 30%

If you’re looking for something to wear in the summer months, check out our guide to Jinbei here.

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Contributor

Hi, I’m Peter.  I lived in Japan for four years as a University student completing a Masters Degree in Musicology.  I have succesfully completed the  highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1).  have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.

Samue Buying Guide 2021

samue

作務衣

Samue Buying Guide

In 30 years of living and travelling two and from japan, I’ve owned a lot of clothes. Samue and Jinbei have come to be two of my favorite Japanese garments. Most of the information on this page is a combination of information I’ve found on Japanese language sites. It comes from the actual makers that are producing high quality Samue in Japan.

I’ve also written articles on the closely samue related summer jimbei, samue, hanten jackets, kimono for men, kimono shirts and kimono fabric.

Hopefully this information is of use to you!

Are You A Samue Person?

The first thing to be aware of is that Samue are strongly associated with buddhist monks, as being the clothing that they would wear when doing work related tasks such as cleaning up, or, say, raking the stone garden. In this way they have become to be considered “work wear” more generally. 

It’s funny how these sorts of clothes, such as the now ubiquitous jeans, take on air of “salt of the earth working person”. There’s something about clothes that are associated with work that appeal to our sense of “authenticity” and thus become “stylish” over time. 

Whether or not you think you are a “samue” person or not is for you to decide. But it’s good to know what you are, quite literally getting yourself into.

I’ll go more into the details about best way to choose a Samue below, but here are a few of my favorites:

#1 Men's Samue for Style

Hand Woven Cotton Samue With Contrasting Top and Bottom

Striking, stylish & unusual Samue with contrasting top and bottom

Pros

  • Samue Jacket : Hand Woven Cotton 100%

  • Pants : ChomThong Hand Woven Cotton 100%

  • Garments made with thread-dyed fabric.

Cons

  • Sleeve shape and price tag may not make item appropriate for work uses.

#1 women's samue for style

Hand Woven Cotton Samue With Contrasting Top and Bottom 

Pros

  • Super Stylish Ash Pearl color

  • 100% Belgian Linen

  • Made in Japan / wafu japan

  • Roll up sleeves

Cons

  • Some people may not like the look of the elastic sleeve cuffs.

How to Choose a Samue

Here are the top points to consider when looking for your samue.

  1. Decide What Season You Want To Wear Your Samue In – And The Best Material
  2. Decide What Situations You Will Be Wearing Your Samue In
    1. Everyday Use
    2. For doing physical tasks
    3. Sleepwear
  3. Figure Out What Size You Need
  4. What Style Do You Want
  5. What Quality & Price Are You After?
  6. Think About What You Are Going To Wear or Coordinate Your Samue With

To break these down one by one

  1. Decide What Season You Want To Wear Your Samue In – And The Best Material

In Japan, people generally wear different Samue for different seasons. Generally speaking, it looks like this:

Summer – Linen

Spring & Autumn – Cotton

Winter – Thick cotton or “Sashiko”, wool or quilt material. There also lined samue, sometimes stuffed with cotton or wool. You can also wear your samue with a thick winter hanten.

If you are looking for the most “versatile” Samue, go for a 100% thin cotton garment, and you should be able to get by with wearing it through most of the year, if you are willing to put some kind of thick underwear or sweater underneath the Samue. Cotton doesn’t do as well in summer though. If you live in a hot climate, you’ll really want to invest in a hemp garment. 

Should I get natural or synthetic fibre samue?

There are also Samue made of synthetic materials such as polyester. These won’t give you the same comfort level on the skin, but they will be both easier to clean, and easier to dry out. So if you’re looking for more of a “work” orientated samue, say for painting or doing arts and crafts in, that you may want to wash and wear again easily, then polyester is a good choice.

For most other purposes, a natural fibre is the best way to go.

#1 Men's/Women's Top Samue For Winter

Wasuian Men’s  Quilt-Work Winter Samue

An ultra warm Samue for the colder months. It includes lining filled with Teijin Warmal materials. Teijin warmal is a high tech heat-retaining batting material in which “zirconium silicate ceramic” is kneaded into the outer layer of the fiber. It “quickly absorbs and re-emits infrared rays emitted from your body” to keep you warmer longer. 

Pros

  • Unique blend of traditional and high tech materials
  • 100% cotton outer material
  • Waseian is the in-house brand for  maker Idaseni, with their own workshops in Japan

Cons

  • Some people may not like the look of the elastic sleeve cuffs.

An outstanding modern take on a kimono top

Visvim Indigo Denim Happi style kimono top

Half-sleeve garment-dyed non-stretch denim kimono-style shirt in indigo. Shawl collar. Open front. Welt pockets at waist. Partial cotton twill lining. Contrast stitching in white.

Pros

  • High end fashion piece
  • Classic Denim
  • 100% cotton.
  • Made in Japan

Cons

  • Fashion item – with fashion price tag

2. Decide What Situations You Will Be Wearing Your Samue In

    1. Everyday Use

Samue have become more common as everyday wear as fashion items in their own right. In this case, there’s not too much you need to worry about from a design perspective other than the points like coordination, climate that are outlined on this page.

3. For doing physical tasks

In Japan, samue are considered work wear for doing tasks associated with the everyday traditional life. They might slip them on for doing ceramics, arts & craft, cooking, doing physical work such as giving a massage. You will often see people in traditionals and Ryokan wearing them for doing their household chores.

If you want to wear your samue for these kinds of purposes, you may want to look for one that uses elastic in the sleeves, and/or is designed that you can roll up the sleeves when necessary.

Another great material option for work wear appropriate samue is Denim. Denim fades over time, which means your samue gets more character the more you use it. It’s like your favorite pair of jeans all over your body!

#1 Men's Top Samue For Working On Tasks

Surugajino Samueya Men’s Samue Bio Wash Denim 141-9903

There’s just something about denim. It’s associated with labor, and the authenticity of work. It fades over time and get character. It feels tough and secure.

Pros

  • Tough denim construciton
  • Tapered elastic sleeves leaves hands unobstructed for working on tasks

 

Cons

  • Elastic on cuffs are difficult roll up.

#1 Women's Top Samue For Working On Tasks

A work-orientated samue for women that doesn’t compromise on style. 

Pros

  • Elastic cuffs leave hands free to work on tasks.
  • 100% cotton

Cons

  • Patterning may not be best for potentially dirty tasks

Samue as Sleepwear

Samue are sometimes used as “Sleepwear” in Japan, and they are fairly close to the design found in a lot of western pajamas. Samue’s sibling, the short sleeve and legged jimbei, tends to be even more popular for wearing to bed, as they leave your limbs more free to move around.

If you’re looking at samue as sleepwear, then cotton is a good way to go because it feels good and “breathes”.

Best samue that can be worn day or night as pajamas

Men’s Tsumugi Samue 100% Cotton

Tsumugi materials are associated with an extremely smooth to the touch feel. These samue are 100% cotton and so are made from a breathable fabric that is ideal for using either as daily wear in mid-to warm temperatures, or as sleepwear.

Pros

  • Smooth feel fabric
  • 100% cotton
  • Open sleeve design

Cons

  • Open sleeves not well suited to doing involved tasks with the hands

3. Figure Out What Size You Need

Making sure you have a garment is the right size is the most obvious thing to consider when making a purchase. Samue are generally worn fairly loose, and they are easy to adjust using the draw strings that they have on them. So it’s generally best to er on the large side when buying a samue.

4. What Style & Design Do You Want

Traditionally, Samue are considered very “functional” items and have come in a fairly limited number of muted colors. With their rise as more of a fashion item, you can see brighter designs, and more striking patterns coming into play. This is mostly going to matter of personal aesthetic choice in relation to the purpose you are buying the garment for. It’s also going to depend on what you are going to wear with it.

About samue sleeve cuffs

There are samue with sleeves that come right down to the wrist and others that end higher up to leave the friends free to work on tasks. Other more work-orientated samue have elastic cuffs so that the taper in around the wrist.

Elastic wrists for work tasks
Open sleeved samue

5. What Quality & Price Are You After?

There are a wide range of qualities and prices in the world of samue. Because the Japanese see their own traditional clothing as something of a matter of pride, they generally look down on anything that is made outside of Japan, such as the garments that are made in China. That being said, you can often find garments made outside Japan that are of an acceptable quality at a largely reduced price. 

6. Think About What You Are Going To Wear or Coordinate Your Samue With

Recently, there has been a rise in the amount of people coordinating traditional Japanese clothing with Western style garments. One option is to try slipping a western garment underneath. I have a Japanoscope gallery of Western/Japanese Clothing ideas below. 

If you want to go the tried and tested route, you would be looking at wearing the samue with sandals or setta on your feet, a Japanese style haori on top, and with Japanese style accessories such as this…

Underwear for Samue
The general consensus is that you should find undergarments that match the color of your samue and don’t stand out too much. There is traditional Japanese style underwear that are considered standard for samue, but you can get by without them. Having a range of warmer or cooler underwear means that you can wear your samue through more seasons!

A gallery of my favorite samue!

Here’s a mix of the better quality samue you will find out there, including some slightly unusual, more colorful, denim and patchwork samue!

Caring For Your Samue

A good Samue can last for a long time if you look after it. This is especially so if you go for a Samue that uses a natural material like cotton or linen. 

 

Can you machine Wash a Samue?

The short answer is, yes, you can wash your samue in the washing machine. But you’ll get a longer life out of it if you do a hand wash. 

The exception to the rule is with some of the more boutique indigo-dyed or pure silk samue that may require special care. As always check the label! Even if the label is in Japanese, you can often at least find a picture of a washing machine with a cross through it!

 

Whatever the samue, if you do put it in the washing machine, it is best to fold it and put it in a net. One of the good things about Samue is that they dry quickly. It is a good idea to smooth out some of the wrinkles, as much as possible, while it is drying so that you can cut down on ironing time later.

Reading The Tag

The tag above reads:

表地 Front Material 綿 Cotton 100%

裏地 Rear material 綿 Cotton 100%

中わた Inner Padding 綿 Cotton 70%

ポリエステル Polyester 30%

What is the difference between Samue and Jinbei?

Samue are long arm and leg garments and Jinbei are short. Jinbeir are usually worn in summer and hot weather, while there are different samue for each of the seasons. Samue are more associated with work related to tasks, while Jinbei are often associated weather, such as visiting hot spring baths.

If you’re looking for something to wear in the summer months, check out our guide to Jinbei here.

Japanoscope is a registered affiliate with several online shops and may receive a commission when you click on some of the links within content.

Contributor

Hi, I’m Peter.  I lived in Japan for four years as a University student completing a Masters Degree in Musicology.  I have succesfully completed the  highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1).  have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.

Kimono Shirt Guide 2021

So you want something a bit Kimono, but not too Kimono? You want the vibe but, don’t want to commit to the full six feet of flowing robe? Well, join the club!

I’ve been experimenting with wearing different Japanese clothes for over 25 years, both living in Japan and outside Japan. In putting this post together I’ve consulted mostly with Japanese language sites, translated and synthesized a lot of the information here. I’ve also written articles on the closely related Japanese clothing types including jimbei, hanten jackets, kimono for menJapanese minimalist fashion and kimono fabric, so it might be worth checking those out as well.

What is a kimono shirt anyway?

You’ll find that quite a few different garments get lumped under the term “Kimono shirt” (Kimono literally just means “clothing” in Japanese, not a particular type of clothing). There are free flowing, split at the front, cardigan shaped garments that would more commonly be called a Happi or a Hanten in Japan. These variously get called a kimono wrap shirt, cardigan or jacket across different places across the internet. Some places will use the Japanese names for them. 

Wearing a Kimono shirt as a wrap around

These types of Kimono shirt are commonly worn over the top of other items of clothing, most commonly a simple white t-shirt, singlet or tank top. They can also be worn over something more skimpy, such as a swimsuit or underwear, a la something like this:

Kimono Theme Shirt

There are also more Western-shaped shirts that are made from materials or patterns that are often associated with Japanese kimono such as this:

Other options to a Kimono Shirt

If you are looking for a light Japanese style wrap-around, it may be worth considering getting a Jinbei, which is a wrap-around top and bottom combination. The design of these garments are essentially unisex, but are often given more masculine of feminine patterns and colors.

Hanten Wrap Around for Winter

There are also warmer versions of Japanese wrap-around, such as the cotton filled Hanten jacket.

How much does a Kimono Shirt cost?

There is a really wide range of price points for kimono shirts and kimono wrap arounds. There are some great high-brand items from the likes of 3.1 Phillip Lim, Ambush, Visvim, Haider Ackermann that will easily set you back more than $1000. 

High End Kimono Shirts

Visvim Indigo Denim Happi style kimono top

Half-sleeve garment-dyed non-stretch denim kimono-style shirt in indigo. Shawl collar. Open front. Welt pockets at waist. Partial cotton twill lining. Contrast stitching in white.

  • High end fashion piece
  • Classic Denim
  • 100% cotton.
  • Made in Japan

NAKED & FAMOUS DENIM SSENSE Exclusive Khaki Rinsed Oxford Kimono Shirt

Long sleeve cotton twill shirt in khaki. Shawl collar. Integrated self-tie fastening at waist.

  • High end fashion piece
  • 100% cotton.
  • Made in Canada

There are highly original, sometimes hand made, items on Etsy from the 1-300 range, such as this:

If you are after a bargain, you can find some great stuff at low prices at Newchic.

If you want some super bargains, and are willing to wait a little longer for postage, you can find some outrageously inexpensive items at Aliexpress:

Kimono Shirts We Like

Women's Kimono Shirt