Why Is Japanese Denim Considered To Be The Best In The World?

Japan: The Denim Jean-iuses 

Japan is known for their high quality products, meticulous craftsmanship, unwavering attention to detail, and ability to adopt and master products from elsewhere in the world. Examples of this include whiskey, cars, watches, and electronics (shout out to those of you who rocked a Walkman on their hip growing up!). And it is no different with Japanese denim, so let's delve into the 7 factors that have established Japan as the undisputed champions of the denim world. 

1. Craftsmanship: Precision, Passion, Perfection

At the core of Japanese denim resides a steadfast dedication to craftsmanship. Japanese manufacturers take great pride in their diligent attention to detail and uphold traditional production techniques. Each denim piece is carefully crafted by skilled artisans, ensuring exceptional quality that stands the test of time. In stark contrast to the world of mass production, Japanese denim takes shape in limited quantities, granting an unparalleled level of precision, and quality control.

2. Quantity: Limited Production, Limitless Desirability

Japanese denim brands favor quality over quantity, often producing their denim in limited quantities using traditional methods and machinery, such as Shuttle looms. This deliberate approach, combined with the industry's reputation for excellence, generates a sense of exclusivity and rarity that captures the imaginations of denim enthusiasts worldwide. Owning a piece of Japanese denim becomes more than a fashion statement; it becomes a testament to one's discerning taste and appreciation for true craftsmanship.

3. Premium Materials: Worth Its Weight In Gold

Japanese denim's superior quality begins with the careful selection of materials. Renowned for using high-grade, long-staple cotton sourced from the likes of Zimbabwe or the United States, Japanese denim weaves its magic with the finest threads. This choice of raw materials contributes to the fabric's durability, luxurious softness, and distinctive texture. Adding to its allure, Japanese denim manufacturers often employ traditional indigo dyeing techniques, creating deep and captivating hues. We now see the likes of Pure Blue Japan, Studio D’Artisan, Japan Blue and more, along with ourselves at Okayama Denim pushing the boundaries with traditional and experimental dyes to create warps and wefts of turmeric, mud, peach, persimmon, and much much more. 

4. Selvedge Denim: Bringing The Past To The Present 

No exploration of Japanese denim would be complete without mentioning selvedge denim specifically. Selvedge is the shortened form of “self finished edge”. It is the narrow band found on both ends of the fabric. This Selvedge can then be seen on the inside of fabric, running the length of the outer legs of the jeans and proudly exposed to the world once the jeans have been cuffed. The functional purpose of this band is to prevent the fabric from unraveling and fraying but it also provides an aesthetically pleasing clean finish which cements the authenticity and quality of the product. Japanese producers customize this selvedge via threads, weight, color, and contrast. With such an extensive selection available, Denimheads can find their perfect match, tailored to their unique preferences.

5. Innovation: Honoring Tradition, Inspiring Ingenuity 

Japanese denim manufacturers thrive on pushing the boundaries of tradition. By utilizing slub yarns, uneven dyeing methods, and unconventional weaving patterns, Japanese denim creators achieve truly distinctive and visually captivating fabrics. This spirit of innovation keeps Japanese denim at the forefront of the industry without ever feeling kitschy. Note that it was only 1973 when Big John became the first Japanese brand to produce an entirely ‘Made in Japan’ pair of jeans. Big John was followed by Studio D’Artisan later in the decade. Whilst Japan is relatively new to the game (Levi’s was founded an entire century earlier for comparison), they have not only mastered the traditions but brands like previously mentioned Studio D’Artisan are continuing to set trends that reverberate throughout the fashion world.

6. Details: Where the Devil lies

Mentioned several times already, but the attention to detail in Japanese denim design cannot be emphasized enough. From intricate stitching to custom hardware and thoughtful embellishments, Japanese denim brands go above and beyond to create a truly exceptional product. These small yet significant elements contribute to the overall aesthetic appeal and exclusivity of Japanese denim, making it a coveted choice for discerning denim connoisseurs.

7. Shuttle Loom: Perfection Looms 

We cannot talk about Japanese selvedge denim without delving into the tool that makes it all possible. The “Shuttle loom” may be a term that you have come across before when reading about your favorite denim products but what exactly is it? How does it work? and what is so special about it?...gather round, and we will give you a brief lesson on this unique weaving machine….

What Is a Shuttle Loom?
A Shuttle loom is a type of weaving machine that is used to create fabric (and in this case, denim). It interlaces the weft threads (horizontally) with the warp threads (vertically) to form the fabric. The Shuttle loom was invented all the way back in 1733 and has been a staple in fabric production since.

How Does It Work?
  • Shedding: The process starts with the creation of a shed, which is an opening between the warp yarns on the loom. This opening allows the weft yarn to pass through (see below image).
  • Picking: The shuttle, a boat-shaped device, holds the weft yarn (see above image). It moves horizontally across the loom, through the shed, carrying the weft yarn from one side to the other.
  • Beating-up: After each pass of the shuttle, the reed, a comb-like device, pushes the weft yarn tightly against the previous rows of weft, compacting the fabric.
  • Warp advancement: The warp beam, which holds the warp yarn, moves slightly to release more warp yarn for the next pass of the shuttle.
  • Repeat: The process of shedding, picking, beating-up, and warp advancement repeats continuously, creating a woven fabric with the desired pattern and structure.

What Is So Special About The Shuttle Loom?

In recent years, more modern alternatives such as projectile looms have become more prevalent in the industry. This is due to their superior production output and ability to create cheaper fabric. Despite this, the Shuttle loom remains the preferred choice for Japanese craftsmen and global consumers alike who appreciate the unique characteristics that can only be found with denim made on the Shuttle loom. The projectile looms do not loop the weft back around in one continuous piece like a shuttle loom does (see above image), resulting in a non-selvedge frayed edge. Shuttle looms allow for more intricate and complex designs due to the ability to easily change weft threads during weaving. This versatility is particularly beneficial for creating unique fabric textures. Shuttle looms are typically well-suited for weaving thicker and heavier fabrics. The use of a shuttle allows for better insertion of thick weft threads, resulting in robust and durable textiles.

Japanese denim stands tall as the epitome of denim perfection. It is a combination of all the points made above that means when one dons a pair of Japanese denim jeans, they embrace a legacy of excellence and become a part of the enduring denim narrative, where tradition and innovation converge to create an unmatched denim experience.

For more on the history of Japanese denim, check out our “Birth of Japanese Denim” blog post here.