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Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style

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Look closely at any typically “American” article of clothing these days, and you may be surprised to see a Japanese label inside. From high-end denim to oxford button-downs, Japanese designers have taken the classic American look—known as ametora, or “American traditional”—and turned it into a huge business for companies like Uniqlo, Kamakura Shirts, Evisu, and Kapital. This phenomenon is part of a long dialogue between Japanese and American fashion; in fact, many of the basic items and traditions of the modern American wardrobe are alive and well today thanks to the stewardship of Japanese consumers and fashion cognoscenti, who ritualized and preserved these American styles during periods when they were out of vogue in their native land.

In Ametora, cultural historian W. David Marx traces the Japanese assimilation of American fashion over the past hundred and fifty years, showing how Japanese trendsetters and entrepreneurs mimicked, adapted, imported, and ultimately perfected American style, dramatically reshaping not only Japan’s culture but also our own in the process.

296 pages, Hardcover

First published December 1, 2015

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About the author

W. David Marx

4 books60 followers
W. David Marx is a long-time writer on culture based in Tokyo. He is the author of "Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style" (2015) and "Status and Culture" (2022). Marx's newsletter can be found at culture.ghost.io.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews
Profile Image for Mir.
4,845 reviews5,003 followers
May 15, 2018
Japanese teenagers spend an inordinate amount of time, effort, money, and energy in pursuit of fashionable clothing, especially when compared to their global peers. America, with a population 2.5 times larger than Japan, has fewer than ten magazines focusing on men's style. Japan has more than 50.
This is not a book, however, about the intricacies of clothing patterns or design concepts. Our story follows the individuals responsible for introducing American clothing to Japan, as well as the youth who absorbed these American ideas into the Japanese identity. More often than not, the instigators of change were not trained designers, but entrepreneurs, importers, magazine editors, illustrators, stylists, and musicians.
Japanese fashion is no longer simply a copy of American clothing, but a nuanced, culturally-rich tradition of its own.

Marx writes for American magazines such as GQ and it is clear than the intended audience for the book is Western and does not have a lot of background in the subject. Therefore he begins with a clear, if not deep, explanation of Japanese history over the past century and half, focusing on the meaning of clothing in Japanese culture and how it was restricted -- i.e. a lot. Japanese fashion legislation makes Roman sumptuary laws look mild by comparison. In earlier eras people could be penalized for wearing patterns or fabrics reserved for higher classes, and even a few decades ago young people could be arrested for wearing rebellious fashions such as

I'm not reading the entire book because I'm not that interested in fashion. I got this from the library because it is literally THE ONLY book my system had on modern Japanese culture. How is that?

The author recommends the documentary "Take Ivy".
Profile Image for Josie.
188 reviews14 followers
April 17, 2017
Honestly? This was THE best book I've read all year. Which is just as well, because 2016 is now almost over and I have just managed to hit my target reads for the year.

Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style is a MUST for anyone with any interest in fashion, particularly Japanese fashion. In fact, fashion aficionados of the 21st century now know that you cannot possibly disentangle the geneneralised concept of 'fashion' from 'Japanese fashion', the most vibrant and diverse fashion industry in the world and home to the greatest number of men's fashion magazines per capita and a fashion-forward and hype-focused population like no other. But it wasn't always this way, which was the central message the book tried to convey.

Marx traces the history of Japanese fashion from its inception during the post-WW2 period through a number of styles, cultural icons, written guides, geographies and their resulting companies. He notes in particular the fact that 'Japanese fashion' was never really a concept that existed prior to Ichizu's artificial incorporation of Ivy style into the Japanese cultural mindset. Most notably, Ivy style, a 50's American fashion style that was recreated dogmatically by Ichizu and proselytised to the population through the magazine Men's Club, represented the first time Japan was introduced to any concept of fashion. WIth this, Marx reflects on the impact the resultant VAN company, created by Ichizu to promote this imported Ivy, had on the national consciousness, its legacy protected through companies such as UNIQLO and Beams, the premier fashion magazine Popeye, and other styles such as heavy duty, Americana, streetwear, surfer, prep, Miyuki-zoku, the denim fad ... all of which captured the nation in transitory phases and continue to leave imprints today.

Additionally, Marx writes about the impact on the creation of streetwear such as BAPE and Japanese avant-garde brands such as Comme des Garcons (Junya Watanabe), Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and others managed to evoke on the Western fashion consciousness, representing a genuine two-way communication in style. He connects this to the explosion of Harajuku as THE most dynamic fashion location in the world ... a change that happened practically overnight.

What I found most interesting about the history of fashion in Japan was how the Japanese managed to infuse their own traditional values into the industry itself. Whether this be by the obsession the Japanese have for rules leading to their persnickety attention to detail when it comes to dressing, or by their necessity to be 'dictated' to by magazines, style guides, product catalogues and style icons, or by the fastidiousness of Japanese designers and retailers in recreating every stitch and fabric of denim to create jeans more 'authentic' than their American originals ... it was clear that the Japanese took the concept of 'fashion' to new heights and recreated it with such integral aspects of their cultural consciousness that it is now impossible to separate the 'Japanese' from the 'fashion' ... something absolutely unthinkable just half a decade ago.
Profile Image for Carolyn .
77 reviews74 followers
November 27, 2022
Trudny początek, ale ostatecznie bardzo ciekawa książka. Mam anegdotki na kolejne 3 imprezy
Profile Image for John C..
40 reviews1 follower
January 23, 2016
I read this on the heels of Julian Cope's "Japrocksampler," which is another excellent book about post-war Japan's adaptation of a Western form. I found "Ametora" a bit more engaging, perhaps because I'm getting older and menswear is now more interesting to me than obscure Sabbath clones. In any case, this book is absolutely wonderful. The way it contextualizes each wave of Japanese men's fashion within a historical and economic moment makes it a great primer on post-war Japan as well as a compelling read on fashion in general. I also liked that Marx subverts a few popular assumptions/stereotypes about Japanese design without being baldly political at any point. What a book. Heartily recommended.
Profile Image for Neek.
1 review
January 14, 2022
At first, this book will seem like it has a really narrow focus and that it might not appeal to people who aren't so interested in Japanese fashion. I do have an interest in fashion, especially denim, which is covered extensively in this book, but this book's appeal was how detailed and all-encompassing it was within its niche. The lessons imparted in this book about how culture travels (especially pre-internet), marketing, and the logistics of international trends, trade, import, and manufacturing, makes this book particularly fascinating and widens the scope of the book past fashion.

The basic premise of this book is the investigation of how American fashion was brought to Japan, it becoming a hit in the post-war era, and the subsequent incubation of American (especially American Traditional, or Ametora) style in Japan. In latter half of the 20th century, Japanese designers took American style and iterated on basic designs that we take for granted, like button-up shirts, jeans etc. and made them something entirely of their own, outside of the purview of the Western fashion world. Now, the tables have turned -- large parts of the Western fashion world takes lessons from Japanese designers. A good analogy of this posited in the book is how the basic dish of chicken katsu was imported to Japan from Germany long ago, but now, served with miso soup and rice, Japan's take on it is universally recognized as authentically Japanese.

I thoroughly enjoyed this as a fashion book, but also as one that documents how culture and commerce can travel and be adopted by different countries. Strongly recommend!
3 reviews
April 21, 2017
This book is deeply informative and helps the audience to understand the origins of many popular American fashion trends. The amount of information that is included in this book is astounding. The author does a great job at explaining storylines and introducing influencing aspects that created trends in Japan that were then brought to America. The book describes in depth a wide array of things like photography and cultural events that were important in shaping trends. The topic of fashion exchange from Japan to the United States is a little known area of history that will be brought to the spotlight as the fashion industry of the United States continues to grow. The book highlighted many important facts about the history of the Japanese fashion industry that created a fascinating reading experience for the audience. Marx also does a brilliant job of showing the evolution of the fashion industry and the exchange from Japan to the U.S. While the book mainly focuses on fashion it also brings up a number of important questions about cultural exchange and how it relates to life in each country. Overall, this book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the fashion industry of Japanese culture. The amount of information that was provided made the book worth reading.
Profile Image for Ryan.
977 reviews
February 10, 2022
I don't recall how I came across W. David Marx's Ametora, but it's almost certainly one of the best books I'll read this year--and this in spite of the fact that I understand neither fashion nor style. Much of this book is about how Japanese businessmen copied Ivy league prep style in spite of some public pressure against it. Marx explains that Tokyo “law enforcement swept the streets in search of overly fashionable youth” (5) at one point. In spite of the odds, that initial venture led to an intense interest in American style. That market led to the Japanese saving all of the American designs and often also technology used to create mid-20th century denim, etc. When American designers began to look for clothing designs that did not rely on mass production techniques, they wound up finding the information to make quality clothing not in America but in Japan. It would be difficult to list all of the things that Marx explores in telling this broad story, but I'll leave off saying I found it fascinating.

I did start making a list of iconic "American" things that caught on here:

-The American military
-JFK's haircut
-Prep and the Ivy league universities
-Many subcultures, including biker gangs and leather jackets, surfer culture, greasers, and hippies.
-Coke advertisements and pinup girls
-Catalogues and especially Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalogue
-Many movies, though I sometimes wonder if Hollywood is just amplifying these cultures that are already established--in a sense, it might not be very creative.
-A lot of this book is about Oxford cloth button downs and denim, though rarely together. It occurs to me that the two together now with a nice pair of boots might be considered a good look. But I'd warn anyone from trusting what I have to say about clothing.

I once listened to an interview with former CIA director John Brennan in which he argued that American culture is one of its most powerful assets, and I suppose there is some truth to that. I was impressed by how many aesthetic/ cultural movements it was able to give rise to--and this is by no means a comprehensive list.
Profile Image for Ca.
54 reviews20 followers
May 5, 2022
Good read for anyone interested in fashion, history or culture, particularly Japanese and how the US influenced it. The author explained the concept of 'ametora' concisely and comprehensively with references from culture, history and the Japanese psyche as well as their obsession towards detail and authenticity. I'd recommend this book to anyone, really.
Profile Image for Nicole Wong.
60 reviews5 followers
November 6, 2022
A fascinating book that sheds light on the genesis of what most have come to know as modern Japanese fashion from the early years of IVY to more recent brands like UNIQLO, BAPE, and Engineered Garments.

As an outsider, having the curtain pulled back to reveal who have been pulling the strings of culture was very fascinating
Profile Image for Alejandro Yee.
11 reviews
August 13, 2019
Excelllent read for understanding the apporpiation, improvent and exportation of culture between countries and how it affects the culture.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Wu.
7 reviews23 followers
June 18, 2017
Ametora, written by W. David Marx, is a historically exhaustive survey of cultural flow between Japan and the United States. While seemingly dense for a niche issue and topic, Marx keeps it interesting by centering the book around the story of a few movers and shakers. People like Kensuke Ishizu of VAN Jacket, Nigo from A Bathing Ape, and Masayuki Yamazaki of Pink Dragon dot the fashion landscape as they took what was familiar in American fashion and made something distinct from it.

If culture is a large yarn ball stemming from a single pole, Marx unravels it across national boundaries to find contemporary foundations and pillars we can point to. In the same way that Take Ivy became a preservation of information long gone, Marx has revitalized and reorganized decades of fashion and cultural dialogue into one succinct book. I definitely would recommend to those who are made curious by who trends start and how culture is disseminated not only domestically but globally.
1 review
December 29, 2015
Page-turning and packed with information

Ametora's introduction features a quote by William Gibson- fitting, since it was his twitter where I first heard of this book.
Anyone can make a nonfiction book informative, many can make them entertaining- and some deeply thought-provoking. But Marx manages to do all three with his fascinating history of the Japanese obsession with American fashion, from black market blue-jeans to young Americans rediscovering classic collegiate style in the painstakingly researched pages of Take Ivy, and all the subtle adaptations along the way. A must-read for anyone with an interest in fashion, economics, history, or cultural interchange.
Profile Image for Maureen.
464 reviews28 followers
January 21, 2016
Truly a fascinating read for anyone interested in either fashion, design, or Japanese culture. Well researched and detailed. I enjoyed the chapters on the Take Ivy photography series, as well as the vintage Americana obsession that launched (revived?) Harajuku. Could have done without the streetwear section, as I wasn't convinced of the connection to the rest of the historical arc, which was a weakness. Anyway, very interesting stuff.
Profile Image for Brandur.
283 reviews7 followers
May 7, 2016
Ametora is an amazing book that is very informational while managing to stay easy to read and quite succinct. All its stories, from the rise of Ivy style, to the domination of international streetwear with A Bathing Ape, to the obsession and mastery with first finding vintage American denim, and then later with its production, are enthralling. A perfect example on how the history of fashion can be interesting.
Profile Image for Rachel.
34 reviews5 followers
January 15, 2016
Anyone interested in Japan or fashion will enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Brian.
647 reviews79 followers
October 30, 2019
I'm going to do that thing I do--I'm glad I lived in Japan in the later 00s, because I got to see Ura-Harajuku in the post-2000 heyday. I've been to the A Bathing Ape store, wandered through a bunch of the vintage shops, and watched all the people dressed with more style than I had realized was possible.

I didn't buy any clothes, of course. I wasn't nearly as cool then as I am now.

I have some issue with Ametora's subtitle, as most of the book is a history of post-war Japanese fashion. It starts with the charity drive for clothes in the immediate-post-war period, when Japan had basically been bombed flat, and continued with Japan looking to America as a fashion beacon, Kensuke Ishizu bringing East Coast Ivy League style to Japan and spreading its gospel through a rigid series of rules that taught men how to properly dress, through the suspicion from the Japanese establishment, Marxists adopting blue jeans as a symbol of revolution, an introduction of the America 50s into the Japanese 70s, and so on until post-Bubble Economy, it was Japanese streetwear brands like A Bathing Ape and UNIQLO that were reminding Americans they didn't have to go everywhere in sweatpants and flip-flops.

That was Ivy style when I was a university student at Penn. Guilty.

My favorite part was the long section about deadstock jeans. "Deadstock" is a fashion term for items of clothing no longer made anymore, and apparently the manufacturing process for jeans used to be different. Japanese people greatly preferred the old-style jeans to the new ones, and the market meant it was worthwhile to go to America, buy a ton of old jeans, and ship them to Japan. Or for Americans to make contact with Japanese buyers, go to stores claiming that they were outfitting workcrews, and buy four dozen pairs of jeans. It reminds me of the reverse situation in retro video games, when Americans would go to Japan and look through old game shops to buy cheap retro games, bring them overseas, and resell them for a premium, and in both cases basically cleared out the other country. There's a quote that almost 75% of American deadstock is now in Japan.

I also appreciated the parts about how the constant fashion changes led to clashes with the establishment, including police performing mass arrests of fashionable students hanging out in Ginza. As one aggrieved student said in the Asahi Shimbun:
What's wrong with wearing cool clothing and walking through Ginza? Were not like those country bumpkins around Ikebukuro or Shinjuku.
There were even hippies in Japan! With all the other copying of America that Japan did I shouldn't be surprised, but somehow I was.

The only flaw is, as I said, the subtitle doesn't really apply. The last chapter is about Americans looking to Japan's sense of style as a guide for how to be fashionable, and about finding old copies of Ivy Tribe and using them as a sartorial guide, but I would have preferred at least a couple chapters about it. Most of the book is historical, and I would liked a bit more of a modern focus.

I may be cooler now, but I'll always listen to more advice.
Profile Image for Annelie.
118 reviews20 followers
August 3, 2022
When I first read this book, I was troubled by its seeming abundance of blind spots: although it did devote a section of the book to the vintage craze of Harajuku, I was surprised that it didn't mention the Fruits magazine at all. Of course, Harajuku fashion is much more trendy right now during our current Y2k resurgence, but still--I sometimes felt that this book focused too much on individuals who changed the fashion industry, instead of the large swathes of nameless teens from the lower and middle classes who created entirely new styles during the aftermath of Japan's lost decade.

Of course, Fruits magazine fashion is not really an example of Ametora, which is the book's focus. In that regard, it does a great job of emphasizing the enduring relevance of Ivy fashion (in particular), as well as other trends. This book is very focused, which is great--and perhaps this is better than any of the philosophical routes that this book could have taken. In particular, I would have been interested in how America's past and current fascination with Japanese clothing is related to Asiaticism (as opposed to the more past-directed Orientalism), which also manifested in art in movies such as Blade Runner, which warned of a Asian-dominated dystopic future, and the successful globalization of anime.

Perhaps I"m wrong, and these considerations would have weakened the book overall. I am leaving this book, though, with many questions unanswered.
Profile Image for Eswar.
162 reviews
March 28, 2022
Genius book. W David Marx is a Japanese fashion mensch. Initially he chronicles Japanese history from the perspective of the post-war evolution of fashion (import). In parallel to the growth and confidence in the economy, fashion consciousness mutates and matures. Marx concludes that the same trends and breakthroughs we have seen in the electronics, automobile, and gaming industries in Japan, can be extended to the metamorphosis and global dominance of the domestic fashion industry.

In general, Japanese look up to a role model whom they emulate, methodologically mimicking through a rules-based framework of do’s and don’ts, finally excelling on quality shokunin execution to become the sensei.

The book itself is designed fashionably. The blue on the inside cover is likely Okayama trademark denim blue. There are no typos and grammatical errors - Marx executes to Japanese quality.

My high school Japanese History teacher says that Japanese Adopt from outside, Adapt to their needs, and become Adept at quality production. This books highlights another case study. Honestly, Korea has learned and surpassed Japan just like in other industries (e.g. Supreme).
Profile Image for Max.
5 reviews15 followers
January 2, 2020
The first word that comes to mind when reflecting on Marx's book is "informative". I've gotten into menswear over the past 2+ years and have absorbed information from blogs, Instagram and the occasional magazine article. I haven't found any detailed non-editorialized background on the origins of particular styles, trends and Japanese designers on the level of this book.

The most enjoyable part of the book, aside from the overall context, is the collection of niche anecdotes related to the people and trends that shaped how Japanese menswear has evolved. I imagine Marx unearthed these from interviews and the extensive sources list he included in the book, but they really add color to the facts.

I finished Ametora yearning for the next chapter about how a now "arrived" Japanese menswear industry will shape global menswear trends. Hopefully Marx brings as much insight to the modern day as he did to past decades.
March 9, 2023
Fascinating dive into a (very) niche topic at the intersection of culture, fashion, and history. Interesting to learn about how trends start, why we follow them, and what we deem as "valuable" from other cultures.

"With these writings, Ishizu hoped to relay his conviction that Ivy fashion was not a fleeting industry trend but the path towards a noble way of life." p.41

"The term zoku means 'tribe" in Japanese, but the postwar usage connoted 'delinquent subculture...As the summer of 1964 progressed and school let out for vacation, high schoolers swelled the Miyuki Tribe's ranks, ballooning to two thousand members each weekend" p.43

"He loved American culture- especially jazz and Hawaiian music....but he despised the United State's military presence across Asia...We were leading completely contradictory lives." p.99

"From a young age, Yamazaki came to understand that 'all cool fashion is delinquent fashion'" p.125
February 28, 2021
This book was recommended by one of my favorite YouTubers, Bliss Foster. Here's a link to the video if you're interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao-sM...

I'm so glad that I read this book. As someone who is starting to get more into fashion and reading about it, this book was a great informational read. I felt like I took away a lot of interesting historical facts, along with notable business and marketing approaches/strategies that Japanese clothing labels and magazines have used. As someone who is interested in fashion and business, this book was perfect for me. The writing didn't feel like a lengthy, boring academic article or report. Marx did an excellent job of writing about history in an entertaining, memorable, and engaging way. Definitely recommend for those interesting in learning more about the past (and future) of fashion.
352 reviews
July 3, 2021
Fascinating, enjoyable and well researched history that traces the rise and evolution of the Japanese interpretation and fondness of American fashion, including the Ivy and Heavy Duty styles among others, and how they made it their own, told through the history of innovators such as VAN, Bape and Beams among others

The author also does a good job of weaving in pop culture, and media and fashion industry commentary throughout

I particularly enjoyed the author's writing style and choice of pictures in bringing each fashion era alive, as well as the latter chapters on Japanese streetwear which was influenced by its American counterpart, before coming full circle, Japanese fondness of American vintage clothes and the market that was created for it, and how Ametora and Americana have a polycultural influence on one another in the present day
Profile Image for Henry.
494 reviews9 followers
July 14, 2021
- Japan at first drawn to American fashion due to amazement of how wealthy American Middle class was at first

- Ivy (abbii) was the first American fashion that came into Japan. However, their understanding of American culture was limited. Thus they copy precisely to the point (versus in America style was mostly inherited without precise rules). Such trend continues as Japan then copied Preppy, 50s, Greasers/James Dean (Yankii) fashion style

- As the buying power of Japan enhances, people crave more authentic goods rather than local copycat

- Fashion goes into cycles. The younger generation typically gets tired of the older generation and crave for more, and subsequent generation revert back to the previous-previous generation (as the previous generation is now "outdated")
Profile Image for Krolby Kagan.
68 reviews10 followers
August 22, 2022
I just wanted to know whether wearing pleated khakis is okay or not, but instead I got the post-WW2 history of Japanese fashion. Basically, the Japanese learned about American clothing from the soldiers that occupied Japan after World War 2. Some guys, most notably Kensuke Ishizu (why doesn't he have his own wikipedia page?), got totally obsessed by American fashion. At first the Japanese wanted to get the original American fashion. Later they replicated it, making even better quality products than the American originals. Nowadays some Japanese brands have stopped trying to replicate old American fashion styles and are trying to so something special. Probably the best book you can find on this topic. It has information that's not available on wikipedia.
40 reviews
September 30, 2021
My rating might be higher if I knew anything about fashion (I’m a 40 year old American who had never heard of Banana Ape, or any of the other Japanese brands, other than Uniqlo, mentioned in the book.)

I read this because it was lauded on one of the book podcasts I listen to. Even for someone who knows nothing about fashion, I still found it interesting and eminently readable. A delightful read that feels like a series of unexpectedly great magazine articles.

My only nitpicks are that the author didn’t quite explain the Japanese phenomena of trend/style gangs and the idea of people treating fashion mags as authoritative guides about how to dress.
97 reviews
September 22, 2021
Much more than you wanted to know about the influence of American fashion on Japan. General path was that postwar American styles were adopted by streetwise anti-establishment kids in Japan (even true of establishment styles in America, like Ivy League), eventually gained wider acceptance, and then survived in capsule form in Japan until they were eventually re-exported to America and elsewhere (e.g. Japan as the only modern source for "authentic" selvedge jeans, J Press as a subsidiary of Onward Kashiyama, Uniqlo as modernized Japanified preppy clothing).
Profile Image for Nick Beach.
36 reviews
February 28, 2023
I mostly struggle with nonfuction but the subject matter here was obviously an exception. It lacked flow and felt repetitive through the middle chapters when speaking on the history of Japanese subcultures but the last few chapters were so rewarding and further cemented what I know to be brilliant about Japanese Americana. It's rare in life to find that people care so much about the niche things you waste your time and money on, and Ametora reminded me there are people out there that care as much as me.
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