Tokyo 1964: the high-speed shinkansen zooms by the Nishigeki Theater near Ginza.

Ametora Footnotes: Chapter Three

Aoyama (p. 49): Aoyama today is one of Tokyo’s most high-end fashion districts, but at the time, the area was an unusual location for VAN to base an apparel company. Friends warned Ishizu that the restaurants and stores all closed early, meaning his workers would have to travel far at night for food, drink, and camaraderie. Ishizu, in his infinite disrespect for conventional wisdom, paid these voices no heed. Aoyama was his kind of town — full of athletic facilities, parks, and a host of new stylish restaurants targeting foreign visitors.

Ishizu also saw a symbolic value in the neighborhood’s landscape. Aoyama, literally meaning “green mountain,” let Ishizu channel his inner Moses standing atop the mountain, delivering the latest style commandments to the people: “I thought, if we made things from high ground like Aoyama, they would flow down to neighborhoods Shibuya, Akasaka, Harajuku, and Roppongi below.”

The 1964 Japanese Olympic Team in their Kensuke Ishizu-designed red Ivy blazers. (source)

The Olympics (p. 50): Ishizu accomplished two things with his placement of the blazer in the Olympic ceremonies. First, he improved the image of that particular jacket style by associating it with the official functions of the Japanese state. Second, he showed the blazer in its natural context — gentlemanly athletic competition. VAN never made blazers as a rebellious fight against Japanese clothing conventions. Ishizu simply wanted Japanese men to enjoy the Anglo-American sporting life, and this meant wearing a blazer. The Olympics gave the Japanese public a chance to see actual Westerners wear their traditional garb in a sanctified setting — a much better context for the clothing than delinquent high schoolers cluttering the streets of Ginza. With the Olympics, Ishizu set in motion his plan towards the legitimization of Ivy in Japanese society.

Olympics in black-and-white (p. 51): The Olympics’ live telecast saw a 84.7% rating in Japan, but it is worth noting that most people watching on their black-and-white TVs may have not noticed the red jackets.

Zukku (p. 52): Kurosu explains Japan’s first athletic shoes, “You’d wear them on the playground or the field, but no one thought it was okay to walk around in them.”

Traveling abroad (p. 54): Commercial air travel was rare in the 1960s. Japan Airlines started its famed JALPAK package tour service at the very beginning of 1965 but this was only for the ultra-wealthy. But once the government loosened the laws around travel in 1964, all the employees at VAN started to daydream about their chance for a field trip to the U.S.

Most people writing about America in 1960s Japan had never been there. Men’s Club illustrator Yasuhiko Kobayashi joked about his colleagues, “They wrote all these articles about the Ivy League without ever going there. We illustrators just sat around saying, ‘Wow, the East Coast looks like a really nice place…’”

Hajime “Paul” Hasegawa (p. 55): A third-generation Japanese catholic, Hasegawa grew up in one of the country’s most internationalized households. He says, “We had a huge family, and you’d always hear people screaming in English, get out of the bathroom!

His grandfather was a multi-millionaire business tycoon, and his father, emboldened by the language skills he picked up from his English nannies, attended university in Dayton, Ohio during the 1930s. The dashing elder Hasegawa found business opportunities in Tianjin, China, where he became friends with fellow clotheshorses Kensuke Ishizu and Teruo Ōkawa. “I think those three went out drinking every single night,” remembers Hasegawa.

Hajime “Paul” Hasegawa in Men’s Club.

The young Paul came back to Japan after the war and grew up in relative prosperity thanks to his father’s work for the Occupation. Their English language household always hosted American guests. The Hasegawa family stayed close to the Ishizus and Ōkawa, and Paul worked part time at VAN as a college student helping with sales to Tokyo department stores.

Hasegawa went to the U.S. in 1963 to study at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There he became well versed in campus life as well as the upscale country club style of Santa Barbara’s wealthy families. Hasegawa wanted to be in Japan for the Summer Olympics, so he joined VAN’s Planning Department. As a junior member of the team at VAN Jacket, Hasegawa did most of the grunt work: “I had to iron a lot of pants.” When Shōsuke and Kurosu started planning the film, Hasegawa was an obvious person to bring along to the U.S.

Hasegawa was also a key member of the Men’s Club editorial team, brought in to help shake things up. Hasegawa explains, “It was really boring when it was Otoko no Fukushoku. Very old-fashioned. We wanted it to be GQ, but better and younger, and more in line with what VAN was doing.” Hasegawa started a series of pieces for the magazine such as “Diary of an Ivy Leaguer” that told stories of American campus life that he and his friends had experienced.

Masayuki Yamazaki on Ivy: Yamazaki from Cream Soda wrote in one of his books, “At the time in 1965, when Ivy started to first come in, it first really took off with delinquent youth. I liked trends so I went for Ivy, thinking it was delinquent fashion.”

Take Ivy film (p. 61): While the book became more and more iconic and revered with each subsequent reprint, the film essentially disappeared. One of the main prints (shown above) was damaged in storage. A cleaner copy was located in the late 2000s but is hardly shown. Shōsuke remembers, “It was sent out to the countryside immediately after we finished so very few have seen it.” Kurosu admits, “I don’t think anyone has ever really seen the film. If you say Take Ivy, people think of the book, but it was really a film.”

Pennants: VAN even made money selling copies of the college pennants they picked up during their travels to the U.S.

T-shirts (p. 68): American soldiers in Japan tended to wear olive green T-shirts, and according to Shōsuke Ishizu, this became the color that sold best with Japanese consumers. The shirts did not, however, take off as a mass item before 1965.

After Take Ivy, Ishizu secretary Takeyoshi Hayashida recalls that the Ivy university T-shirts did great: “Kids would line up to buy them. We didn’t make very many, so they would all sell out. So kids started to reserve them and line-up on the day of sales.” And once the T-shirts found legitimacy in the market, VAN’s logo T-shirts also became a best seller.

VAN first thought that “meriyasu goods” worked as an inexpensive and fun way to promote VAN, but within a few years and continuing on into the next several decades, T-shirts became a significant business on their own. With this, VAN started a long tradition of using T-shirts in Japan to promote brands. Other companies like Coca-Cola and Panasonic soon came to VAN to print promotional tees. By 1967, Tokyo — especially Ginza — was aswarm with teens wearing company logos on their chests and backs.

A sign for a store selling Katakura Caron meriyasu.

T-shirts as meriyasu (p. 68): Meriyasu (from the portuguese word meias) means “undergarments” (i.e. briefs and undershirts), referring to the lightweight machine knitting technique that emphasizes the material’s ability to stretch used in socks and stockings. Some children 1950s wore a special kind of meriyasu shirts with blue stripes out on the playground, which were called “pirate shirts” but this was like wearing a pajama top outside and was only tolerated on children.

VAN goes young: To keep up with demand after 1966, VAN quietly stopped producing its sophisticated adult items and placed all of its production resources into the younger Ivy line. Kurosu once dreamed of transforming VAN into an exclusively Ivy fashion brand. No hijacking was necessary, however: Kensuke Ishizu ended up following the same direction just by following the business.

Winning over department stores: Young consumers’ insatiable demand for VAN goods melted away all remaining resistance from the department stores. When long-time hold out Mitsukoshi asked to stock a few items, Tokyo sales head Teruo Ōkawa used the brand’s rising clout to push the stodgy buyer into setting up an entire VAN corner — much to their dread.

A very VAN-like logo from rival brand JUN.

VAN knock-off brands (p. 68): There were many VAN knock-off brands, but these cheaper brands helped Ivy styles reach a much wider audience. (JUN’s logo was familiar — a stencil-like set of three letters in white and red — with a catchphrase “designed by young men for young men.”) VAN had always been very expensive, and through lower prices and wider distribution, the other brands put button-down shirts and cricket sweaters on the backs of far more people.

Labels for VAN-inspired brand JAX.
VAN Jacket’s football team, the Tokyo Vanguards, in 1975. (source)

Vanguards (p.69): From 1970, VAN Jacket’s house football team became the Tokyo Vanguards and played against other semi-pros.

VAN promotion (p.69): “VAN Music Break” on NET (now national broadcaster TV Asahi) put VAN logos on global Bantamweight Champion Masahiko “Fighting” Harada.

Cape Cod Spirit (p.69): Paul Hasegawa came up with the campaign name Cape Cod Spirit: “Cape Cod sounded better than Martha’s Vineyard.” One minor snag: No one at VAN knew anything about Cape Cod, including where it was located. So they rented a luxury boat on the nearby Aburatsubo inlet to replicate the resort feel and created a logo from three international maritime signal flags spelling out the word “cod.”

Kent (p.71): The Kent line was nearly indistinguishable from core VAN at the beginning, and many long-time VAN fans did not fall for the bait. Kurosu notes, “Those older customers all thought, I don’t want to wear the same clothes as those brats.”

New VAN slogan: As an early solution to VAN’s dropping customer age, the brand got rid of its famed “young and young-at-heart” logo and changed its slogan to “For the active man and the man of good taste.”

Shintarō Ishihara in a white VAN blazer upon winning his first election (Mainichi)

Ishihara in VAN: In 1968, famed writer and future Tokyo Governor Shintarō Ishihara campaigned for his first political election on the conservative Liberal Democratic Party ticket — in an ivory VAN blazer with the Japanese flag on the chest pocket.

VAN in peak years: Kensuke Ishizu was determined to not let his company end up as a soulless corporate enterprise. Teruo Ōkawa and Kensuke Ishizu — Okayama’s trouble-making bad boys of the 1930s — wanted to prove that they could have fun and still succeed at business. Kurosu proudly quoted to Heibon Punch in 1964 that VAN’s philosophy was “work hard, play hard.” Things lit up at night, between epic foosball matches in the game room and boozy camaraderie in the hostess club conveniently located in the basement. This starkly contrasted with the regimented work styles of the era’s other major Japanese companies. Students showed up at the VAN offices each week begging for a job — sometimes saying they didn’t need a salary. This collective passion helped the company soar despite a complete lack of diligence. “We had a better than average share of crazy people,” recalls Paul Hasegawa, “but for whatever the reason — the dynamism of the moment and the company — everyone just clicked. I don’t know how Ishizu found all of us kids but there were some very bright people.”

VAN and America: In late 1960s Japan, no one stood outside PXs to gawk at G.I.s buying luxury goods anymore, but America continued to represent the heights of affluence and abundance. Yoshio Sadasue remembers, “We watched so many American films, and they all showed amazingly lavish lifestyles. People in the movies would open the refrigerator doors, and there was all this food! No one in Japan had that much butter and cheese in their wooden iceboxes.” There was a deep primal adoration towards the United States, and VAN offered an outlet for this feeling in the form of Ivy-style clothing.

VAN, however, also pushed its image of America beyond reality. Paul Hasegawa admits that it went off track a bit: “Hollywood movies, television, American homes, American campuses were all models for us. Clearly not all of it was East Coast nor Ivy League. But — forget about what’s real. We ended up with something that felt right in our minds.” As fashion critic Shōzō Izuishi puts it, “American culture was just so bright and shiny — everything was great.”

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