the raw energy of the japanese punk scene

'Punk In Translation,' a new London exhibition, invites us to delve deep into the underbelly of Japanese subculture today.

by Steve Salter
Jan 6 2016, 8:41pm

Blackmeans is a label rooted in Japanese obsession and genre remixing. Since its inception in 2008, the collective has combined a post-anarchist ethos and radical design with Japanese craftsmanship. But punk is the thread that brings it all together. Punk In Translation -- a Harris Elliott- produced exhibition slated to open in London -- explores the label's world and showcases work from Japanese documentary photographers Yusuke Yamatani, Tatsuo Suzuki and Naoya Matsumoto. This collection of photographs captures 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 epicenter. Held at The Horse Hospital, this exhibition highlights how the lifestyle and culture of UK punk 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.

Yujiro, I read that you have loved punk ever since you were 12-years-old! What kickstarted your love affair?
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.' 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 London's or New York's?
Yujiro: There's not the same class system in Japan, so the punk scene doesn't reflect that as much. At same time, the virtue of modesty is integral to Japanese philosophy, so it tends to criticize assertions. Ultimately, underground culture in Japan -- especially after 1945 -- has been heavily influenced by things happening overseas, particularly in 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. The relationships it forged have helped so much with this project.

Do you have a favorite 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 summarizes the scene well.

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 or "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 customized clothing on the 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.

Which London designers are you most excited by today?
Ken: Hussein Chalayan. I don't have a specific favorite designer showing at LC:M currently but I'll try and explore the schedule and the city's offering.

Punk In Translation runs from January 9 - 11 at The Horse Hospital


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

harris elliot
punk in translation