At the mention of jeans, most of us may have the image of it as a product of the West, although it is a fashion item which is worn practically everywhere in the world. The popularity of jeans in Japan was said to have gained traction due to the large volumes of jeans released by American troops after World War Two ended in 1945 and the subsequent popularity of American pop culture in the country.
Do you know that there is a jeans town in Japan where the first pair of domestically-produced jeans originated from? Read on to discover the charm of Japan’s jeans at the ‘Holy Land of Jeans’, Kojima region (児島地域) in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture (岡山県倉敷市)!
KOJIMA JEANS STREET👖
— tomomi (@gajuma58) May 23, 2016
Before we explore what you can discover about jeans in Kojima, let’s find out why the region became known as Japan’s jeans town. Actually, Kojima has historically been a place for famous Japanese textiles like Kokuraori (小倉織) and Sanadahimo (真田紐) and has played a pivotal role in Okayama Prefecture’s textile industry.
With the westernization of clothing in Japan from the Meiji era onwards, the region shifted its focus to making school uniforms and corporate clothing. Since then Kojima has become a leading producer of school uniforms for boys and currently accounts for as much as 70 percent of the country’s output.
Kojima’s initiative to make jeans began in 1958 when a local manufacturer Maruo Hifuku (マルオ被服) who is commonly known by the name Big John (ビッグジョン), received an order to produce jeans. Utilizing the region’s longstanding history and expertise in making thick clothing and dyeing materials, Maruo Hifuku managed to produce Japan’s first pair of domestically designed and made jeans three years later.
Kojima Jeans Street is a gathering of local jeans producers at the retro-style Ajino Shopping Street (味野商店街) which was at one time the most prosperous area in Kojima. In order to rejuvenate the area and offer a one-stop location to promote the finest jeans produced in Kojima, these local brands took up the empty shops in the shopping street, which is separated into a North and a South area.
There are more than 30 shops selling mainly jeans and other denim clothing which are all dyed and manufactured locally by artisans. On the Jeans Street official website, you can take a look at an official brochure in English which contains the locations of the shops and descriptions about the selling points of each brand. Opening hours vary depending on the shops so it would be best to check the opening times of the brands you are interested in before paying a visit.
In case you need to fuel up while doing your shopping, there are also a number of restaurants offering delicacies such as ramen, soba, okonomiyaki, tempura, wagashi, Western food, Chinese cuisine, and local Setouchi cuisines, so be sure to check these out!
Last but not least, photography enthusiasts may be keen to take some nice shots of the shopping street which is bursting with nostalgia and offers a unique atmosphere which is rarely seen elsewhere. Since Kojima is in Okayama Prefecture which is known for its fine sunshine, the blue sky offers a nice background that will enhance your photography works!
To get to Kojima Jeans Street, you can either walk for 15 minutes from JR Kojima Station or take local buses which will take between two and six minutes to get to the street, depending on the route you take. Bus schedules and the bus stop list can be found on the Local Transport Website below.
For those visiting on Fridays, weekends or public holidays, the tourist bus service named ‘Jeans Bus’ would be a great choice especially if you plan to ride it more than once. A single ride ticket for adults and children costs 170 yen and 90 yen while the one-day ticket costs 510 yen and 260 yen, respectively. Simply board the bus from the No.5 bus stop at JR Kojima Station and you can get off and on at any stop along the 35-minute route.
— ベティスミス Betty Smith (@bettysmith_jp) August 1, 2017
While shopping for a pair of Kojima jeans, how about learning more about the town’s involvement in this industry through the Betty Smith Jeans Museum? Betty Smith is a jeans making company in Japan which has been around since 1962 and operates the only jeans museum in Japan which introduces the history and the production process.
There is an interesting ‘experience workshop’ unique to this museum, where visitors can choose their favorite parts and customize their ideal pair of jeans. For those who want to order a pair of tailor-made jeans, you will be glad to know that Betty Smith Jeans can arrange deliveries to overseas addresses so tourists can take advantage of this service. The outlet shop just beside the museum is also another must-see for those who want to buy high-quality jeans on the spot.
To get there, you can take a 10-minute taxi ride from the JR Kojima Station. The museum is open every day from 9 am to 6 pm (closing time during winter is 5 pm) except during the year-end and New Year holidays. Entrance to the museum is free-of-charge.
How about planning a trip to Kojima soon to discover for yourself what makes the Japanese jeans so good? I hope that you’ll have fun finding your ideal pair of jeans and soaking up the relaxed atmosphere of Japan’s jeans town!