Tokyo’s Best-Kept Secret
MR PORTER heads east to meet the punk-inspired leather makers behind cult Japanese label Blackmeans .
Blackmeans is an English transliteration of the Japanese word burakumin, meaning “village people”. Yep, that’s right: a brand called “village people” selling leather jackets. You couldn’t make it up. Do they have a sideline in traffic cop uniforms and Native American headdresses, too? Any term translated from one language to another risks losing something of its meaning in the process, and as you might have guessed, there’s a little bit more to the Blackmeans backstory than a few ropey Village People gags.
The term burakumin was coined during the Edo Period (1603-1867), a time of rigid social hierarchy in Japan. Men whose jobs broke the taboos of Buddhism – jobs considered impure, such as undertaker or leather maker – were considered beneath society and forced to live on the outskirts of town. Though such discrimination is now largely a thing of the past, the word is still not without a certain taboo, and when uttered in its native tongue it drips with sneering condescension, speaking of centuries of marginalisation and prejudice.
It’s this outsider status that Messrs Yujiro Komatsu, Masatomo Ariga and Takatomo Ariga were hoping to tap into when they founded Blackmeans back in 2008. Brought together by a shared passion for punk music and motorcycle culture, this underground design collective has since evolved into an international brand with a global cult following – but for all their success, the Blackmeans gang are still trying their hardest not to fit in. MR PORTER travelled to the brand’s off-the-beaten-track atelier in Kami-Kitazawa, Tokyo, to find out more.
Film by Mr Jacopo Maria Cinti