Pictures by Alex Scharf and Jasper Lipton
Although Alex and I visited a ton of great stores during our adventures in Tokyo, there was one stop in particular that I had been looking forward to since the very beginning of our planning stages: Okura, the home of Blue Blue Japan. I reached out to the brand before we left, but their tantalizingly spare answers to my questions didn’t do much to satisfy my curiosity - and so our visit, scheduled for my last full day in Tokyo, took on a quality akin to a lofty mountain peak shrouded in mysterious clouds.
Jack, Alex and I had spent the morning at the Tsukiji fish market eating the greatest sushi ever, so by the 9AM starting time of our photo shoot we were wide awake. Jack took off to explore the neighborhood, and while Alex and I were standing on the street corner in our matching Blue Blue Japan linen shop coats (I wore mine practically every single day we were in Japan), we got called out by one of the store managers who was on her way to work. Amusing, right? “Oh, these two white guys wearing our products must be the ones who are here to visit the store!” We were, of course. So we tagged along behind her, and she introduced us to the rest of the crew.
Jack, in a vintage french chore coat; myself and Alex in indigo-dyed and natural Blue Blue Japan shop coats
Seilin & Co., the company behind Blue Blue Japan, has several brands under its umbrella. In the interest of investigative journalism, our first stop was Hollywood Ranch Market, rather than Okura, primarily to see what HRM is all about. I’d seen it mentioned on Seilin’s e-shop, but we weren’t that sure what the deal was. Well, HRM opened in 1972 as Seilin’s flagship, and back then they sold stuff like denim western shirts and incense - which they still sell, but now the store has a bit of a California trinket-shop feel to it, with a lot of shelves to go through. Both Hollywood Ranch Market and Blue Blue (different from “Blue Blue Japan”) focus on Western styles, by which I mean the American West. It’s a very casual space - denim (washed and raw) shirts, tees, sweatshirts - and will appeal to a man in search of good-looking clothing that’s easy to wear. Of note are the washed denim pieces, some of which feature pleasant bandanna patch-working.
Soft, washed sweaters and shirts at HRM
The jewelry selection
A bandana-patched washed denim shirt
And a pair of washed, repaired jeans
But for me, the place to be is Okura, and the brand of choice is Blue Blue Japan. The store is done up beautifully in the style of an old “okura," all dark wood and cool, tiled flooring. It’s a lovely shop, and the clothing inside is gorgeous. Blue Blue Japan’s focus is, according to the literature, on the “seasons,” as well as on showcasing Japanese heritage and techniques, but you’ll notice that this translates primarily to a focus on blue. Yes, Blue Blue Japan lives up to its name: indigo dye, both synthetic (indigo-zome) and all-natural (aizome), is the star of the show. Coats, shirts, pants, bandanas and more are all done in glorious shades of indigo - the interior of Okura practically glows with blue light.
The tiled interior of Okura
The “Pure Indigo” products are those that have been dyed with all-natural plant extracts. You can read my article on indigo here, but to sum it up, natural indigo is not that common these days. The price for these pieces is a bit higher than the synthetically-dyed garments, but it’s certainly not insurmountable, and the clothes feel so special (good story-telling goes a long way!) as to be worth it.
The pure indigo, on a special rack in the front of the shop
The lower floor is devoted to men’s clothing, although it should definitely be noted that all of the men’s products would look great on women - many of the styles (shirts, coats, pants), are even the same, so it’s more a question of sizing. Jewelry, incense, and bandanas (all Blue Blue specialties) can also be found in the center of the spacious first floor.
Characterful dyes are the stand-out here
Even the simple items, like t-shirts, come in beautiful shades of indigo
But if your partner is female and she’s not convinced by the men’s selection, head up the tiled stairs to the women’s floor, where Blue Blue Japan products rub shoulders with a selection of garments from other Japanese makers. It’s an airier layout, more conducive to twirling the indigo-dyed dresses that hang from the prominent racks in the center of the room. Here, you’ll also find two honorary reptilian members of Okura’s shop staff, Kame-Kichi and Arthur, who at one point decided that they’d like to be a part of our photo shoot. Alex made sure to snap a couple of pictures before they returned to their patio lair.
Upstairs - for when you're looking for women's clothing and accessories, as well as traditional Japanese clothing, and turtles.
Kame-Kichi and Arthur, official staff members and mascots of Okura - and, I'm sure, indigo aficionados.
Aside from the pure indigo products, a couple of garments stand out: the sashiko fabrics, for which Blue Blue Japan is known (and of which both Fok and myself are big fans - you can read Fok’s article on the fabric here), are incredible, as are the patchwork boro garments. But regardless of the fabric, the aspect of the clothing that I like the best is its friendliness. It has an innate whimsy that Japan’s famous repro brands often lack, due in part to Blue Blue Japan’s fabric choices, which are often loose and easy-wearing (cottons are popular), and there’s an ease built into the cuts of the garments which means that even the heavier pieces have a lightness to them. Nothing takes itself too seriously, and you’ll find that it’s all presented with your enjoyment very much in mind.
Here's me, doing my best to look cool in a patchworked jacket, mesh pullover, and relaxed wide pants, all indigo-dyed. Oh, and one of Okura's great handkerchiefs, just for the fun of it.
There’s very little that’s pre-distressed outside of the patchwork pieces (although you will find items that have been washed, both for the resultant color and to prevent indigo bleed) - Blue Blue Japan really does encourage the customer to put their own personality into the clothing, to enjoy the day-to-day wearing of the garments. Both my girlfriend and I have sashiko coats that have already begun to take on our characteristics, to mold and shape to our preference. I wear mine with everything (as does she), whether it’s Alexandre Plokhov, Maison Margiela, or just a pair of jeans and sneakers. It's a little bit hard to describe. The clothing isn't as incredibly directional as, say, Julius (where we also went and had a great time), but I find myself drawn to it because of how cool each individual piece is - there is plenty of personality in every garment, but it works with a wide range of wardrobes, and feels so cool when you wear it that it's easy to find yourself acquiring more.
My girlfriend in a women's sashiko coat and sakura-print bandana
You may be able to tell that I enjoyed my visit just as much as I enjoy the garments I own. There are a few reasons for that, not least of which is the clothing itself, but the feature that struck me the most about our visit to Okura was the amount of care and love that has gone into both the clothing and the shop itself. The staff are incredibly warm and welcoming - and numerous. You should have seen them pouring out of the store when we asked to take a photo with everyone. They’re good-natured, too - laughing and joking with each other (and with Alex and me) in a way that puts you right at ease. And, of course, they’re happy to help you grab a different size in whatever you’re looking for. But I think that what really makes the clothing special is the sheer enjoyment evident on the design end - although there are multiple teams overseen by a head designer across Seilin’s brands, you really get the sense that, behind the scenes, the fundamental principle is to make clothing that’s cool. And that results in people who have fun wearing the garments.
Okura is a great space - beautifully and carefully laid out, with enough lovely pieces hanging from the rafters to draw you in, and enough hidden shelves and corners to keep you entertained, even if you’re not looking for a high-ticket item. When I visited, all I left with were a few handkerchiefs as gifts for my girlfriend (who really likes them). Because many of the products are recurring favorites, and because Okura doesn’t follow a precisely seasonal system of releases - and because they stock a small selection of other brands that they like - it does feel a bit like treasure-hunting. So, while this was perhaps a special visit for me, Okura is also one of the most charming stores we visited in Tokyo - and how often does reality live up to expectation? I’m certain that anyone who stops by is bound to have a great time, even if indigo isn’t your thing. But if it is, well then this - this is your temple. Especially if you like turtles.
Alex and I alongside the Okura staff - that's a lot of blue! And, as you can see, smiles all around. Great people, great products, and a great store - you couldn't ask for more.