the raw energy, black leather and close community of the japanese punk scene

As part of the Leather Japan project at London Collections: Men, Punk In Translation invites us to delve deep into the underbelly of Japanese subculture today.

06 January 2016, 12:00pm

Blackmeans is a label rooted in Japanese obsession and genre remixing. Since its inception in 2008, the collective combine a post-anarchist ethos and radical design with Japanese craftsmanship; but punk is the thread that brings it all together. Exploring the label's world, the Harris Elliott produced exhibition, Punk In Translation, showcases work from Japanese documentary photographers Yusuke Yamatani, Tatsuo Suzuki and Naoya Matsumoto. This collection of photographs showcases the scene's style and rebellious attitude, both unique to Tokyo's surroundings.

The Clash's Mick Jones famously remarked that the explosion of true punk lasted only 100 days. That may well be true but its aftershocks are still shaking things up, far from its 70s London epicentre. Held at The Horse Hospital, this exhibition highlights how the lifestyle and culture of how the UK punk fashion and music scene has influenced, and informed a new breed of subculture. Before it opens, we share an exclusive preview and speak to the trio behind Blackmeans to see just how punk is stitched into its leathers.

What kickstarted your love affair with punk and what do you think continues to hold you all so closely to this world? Yujiro. I read that you have loved punk ever since he was 12 years old!
Yujiro: It was seeing the Sex Pistols on TV when I was 12 years old. It was 1983.

Joey Ramone said "punk is about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying 'This is who I am'. Could you define punk? What does punk mean to you?
Yujiro: My definition of punk would be the assertion to make the world better. Punk is a reaction against the social and situation around us. It's an attitude that's able to adjust and has brought so much to fashion and music. For me, punk gives me courage and hope.

How is Japan's punk scene different from those of London, New York and beyond?
Yujiro: There's not the same class system in Japan, so the punk scene in doesn't reflect that as much. At same time, the virtue of modesty is integral to Japanese philosophy so it tends to criticise assertions. Ultimately, underground culture in Japan, especially after 1945, has been heavily influenced by things happening overseas, particularly Western culture, but many subcultures in Japan, including punk culture, have a unique mixture.

Which bands, venues and people encapsulate the scene in Japan?
Yujiro: Gauze, Lip, Cream, Death Side, Laughin Noze, Forward, Judgement, G.I.S.M, and so many more.

Could you tell us a little about Blackmeans' special network and the images showcased in this exhibition?
Yujiro: We have long been a part of the punk fun in Japan. I started to work at the legendary punk shop, Deadend, that brought a lot of things from London punk culture to Japan when I was 16 years old. Sadly, it no longer exists, but I met so many inspiring people there, and the relationships it forged have helped so much with this project.

How does this collection of images make you feel? Do you have a favourite shot?
Ani: To be honest with you, I found it incredibly difficult selecting the photographs, I wanted to show as much of the photography as possible. The photography on show here expresses only a snapshot of the current punk culture scene in Japan, but I believe that this exhibition summarises the scene well. I don't have a specific favourite shot... the entire "work" of this exhibition is my favourite.

Do these images regularly feature on your mood boards? How do the images inspire your designs?
Ani: I think that they must be the origin of our creativity. The lives that we lead, the bands we watch and the people we meet always give power to our creations.

What do you hope London Collections: Men takes away from the Leather Japan project?
Ani: Culture must be involved behind fashion. The creation of Blackmeans was inspired by punk culture, and it continually provides essential points for Blackmeans to grow. We'd like visitors to this exhibition to experience the essence of our world and explore the links between fashion and punk culture.

For this exhibition, you worked with Ken Tsuruta, "Mr. London". How long have you known one another? How did you guys meet?
Ani: We've known Ken for about 15 years. I met him when we sold our customised clothing on street in Harajuku. He offered to buy our works for his own store.

Ken, how has Tokyo's relationship with London fashion evolved over the last few decades since the birth of punk?
Ken: Punk culture has been a "bible" for fashion, its influence on fashion should not be underestimated and Tokyo fashion has long been inspired by London's fashion and punk scenes.

What sets London fashion and Tokyo fashion apart?
Ken: London is style, Tokyo is an edit. That is how I always describe the two and differentiate them.

What brings brings them together?
Ken: The selection and ideas.

Looking back, what do you think have been the most enthralling moments?
Ken: Well, I have to say that the moment when I experienced punk for the first time in my life back in 1976.

Fast forward to now, which London designers are you most excited by?
Ken: Hussein Chalayan. I don't have a specific favourite designer showing at LC:M currently but I'll try and explore the schedule and the city's offering.

Punk In Translation runs from Saturday 9th to Monday 11th January at The Horse Hospital


Text Steve Salter
Photography Yusuke Yamatani, Tatsuo Suzuki and Naoya Matsumoto