Fashion industry finds Reiwa-boom a perfect fit

A Reiwa-themed handbag from the Souetsu brand.
PHOTO: The Japan News/Asia News Network

The Heisei era has come to an end after 30 years and four months of history, and the new era name, Reiwa, has been in use since May 1.

Unlike the era shift from Showa to Heisei in 1989, when the prevalent atmosphere was one of self-restraint due to the recent death of Emperor Showa, this time there has been a festive mood celebrating the new Emperor's accession to the throne.

The fashion industry is no exception. Products riding the wave of the Reiwa era have already hit the shelves en masse. The most notable are T-shirts printed with the new era name.

Efilevol, an apparel brand based in Tokyo, has made simple T-shirts bearing the word Reiwa in either kanji characters or English letters. Ceno Co.'s brand #FR2 has added a twist to its Reiwa T-shirt, priced at ¥7,560 (S$94). It's printed with the phrase "Reiwa saisho no otoko" (The first man of the Reiwa era) though I'm not sure what it means.

T-shirts by a.v.v., one of the brands of major apparel company Itokin, have the phrase "enchantee Reiwa" printed on them. The phrase means "Welcome Reiwa" in French. This series is priced at ¥2,990 plus tax.

Evisu Japan, which is popular worldwide for its jeans with seagull embroidery on both rear pockets, has announced made-to-order jeans with the kanji characters "rei" and "wa" on the rear pockets.

Handbag maker Kuipo has designed and manufactured a Reiwa bag under its Souetsu brand and is selling them mostly online. The bag is made of canvas cloth printed with Imperial era names that have been selected for their appearance and other factors. The names are printed in kanji, hiragana or English letters. Each name is presented in a colour and font that suit it. The era name Reiwa is printed in kanji characters in the middle of a rectangular leather piece.

This bag costs ¥24,800, a nod to Japan's 248 era names, including Reiwa.

Japanese handbag makers mostly sell licensed products of foreign brands, yet Kuipo designs and produces many handbags under original brands. Among them is "genten," its top-selling brand. A Japanese word meaning "origin," genten is very popular in the handbag market as well.

Kuipo started the Souetsu brand, another Japanese-name brand, after genten. Souetsu incorporates more Japanese elements in its products, such as tote bags and small leather items with extremely fine ink-jet prints of ukiyo-e works "Fugaku Sanjurokkei" (Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji), including "Kanagawa oki nami ura" (Under the Wave off Kanagawa) by Katsushika Hokusai, on tanned leather.

It seems fashion brand names in kanji characters are not very popular, possibly because it's believed they don't look fashionable. Examples of well-known kanji brand names are far and few in between. The ones that immediately come to mind are Kumikyoku, 23ku, Jiyuku and gotairiku, all by major apparel company Onward Kashiyama Co. I think there is room for more kanji brand names.

The number of tourists from overseas has surged to over 30 million per year. Maybe this is proof that non-Japanese people know more about good things in Japan than we Japanese. Now that the Reiwa era has begun, I hope there will be stronger moves to rediscover good things about Japan. Kanji brand names are one example.