One might be tempted to say that Japanese aesthetics are currently going through a kind of renaissance. It’s easy to lend weight to this claim—Uniqlo is defining the fast fashion landscape, artists in hip-hop are revealing influences in anime, Makoto Shinkai is a powerful director in animation competing against other titans like Dreamworks and Pixar, Yayoi Kusama is a deity walking among us. The weeaboo friends you used to make fun of are moving pop culture in dynamic ways.
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But to say that Japan is having a moment is a hackneyed assumption to make. The thing is, Japanese art and fashion have always been cool as hell, and probably play a bigger part in our visual lives than we realize. Barbed wire tatts and tramp stamps have lived and died, but dragons are forever. And “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” (not “of” but “off,” get it right), and most ukiyo-e woodblock prints for that matter, will always be arresting. Evidence of this ageless swagger can be found in the sukajan of Mememenome, a Japanese thrift store tucked away in the ever-shifting cultural microcosm of Makati Cinema Square.
Sukajan are basically souvenir jackets, popularized post-war. American soldiers who were stationed in Japan wanted, well, a souvenir before returning to a heartland basking in peacetime. So these soldiers, perhaps with sentimental attachment for the home of their former Axis enemies, had their shirts and jackets embroidered with the places in Japan they’ve been to. And so it is, you’ll find on the backs of some of these jackets stylized cartographies, the continent imposed with names and surrounded by mountains, dragons, tigers and eagles.
Managing partner Renz Baluyot, who mans the fort of Mememenome, is also a visual artist, who came to acquaint himself with souvenir jackets through art shows with Japanese galleries. It was through 2015’s Art Taipei where he came to meet his other managing partners: Ryotaro Shigami from YOD Gallery in Osaka, and couple Hiroshi and Tomoko Kogure from Gallery Kogure in Tokyo.
“Hiroshi, sometimes when he attends events or art fairs abroad, he usually wears these jackets,” Renz tells me. “We started talking about [the jackets] because I really wanted to get one as well.” Hiroshi himself is an avid fan of souvenir jackets. According to Renz, he acquired his collection of jackets by going around Tokyo and Okoyama. And because Okoyama is a big producer of denim in Japan, Hiroshi (and by extension) Mememenome, also sells a lot of vintage Japanese denim, from well-known brands such as Momotaro and Evisu, and the Levi’s-inspired Edwin.
In case you didn’t quite catch that: Mememenome is basically Hiroshi’s personal collection of vintage finds. The place is a suppository loaded with history. An explorer’s dedication is stitched into every jacket, interwoven with fine polyester, rayon and satin. Most of the jackets are from the 80s and come from legendary sukajan brand Tailor Toyo, but there are also quite a few aloha shirts (again, that intersection of the American and Japanese sartorial sense) from Sunsurf Toyo.
The store does plan to put up an online shop via Carousel sometime this year, but going to the shop is kind of its own experience. Part of the magic is the shop’s interior, designed by managing partner Tomoko-san, who was responsible for the wooden lattice from which the clothes hangers suspend. “Some of the buyers who went here, they told me it’s like going to Japan,” Renz says.
Look, it’s not that Mememenome is the only store of its kind. Look hard enough and you’ll find other Manila-based retailers peddling Japanese threads, from glossy sukajan to silky kimonos. But most, if not all of those are brand new, and online retailers, unlike Mememenome, don’t have dressing rooms. There are also vintage shops that are glorified ukay joints here, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that specializes specifically in rare finds from The Land of the Rising Sun.
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Manga prints hanging from the shop's lattice.
Short trousers and a selection of jackets.
Quilted jackets with tiger image.
What distinguishes Mememenome from other local sukajans is that it specializes in hard-to-find vintage items.
A souvenir jacket and a painted on pair of Japanese denim trousers.
Meaningful Tokyo spots for soldiers find their way into jackets via emboidery.
Vintage manga for sale at the shop.
Figures from the Japanese animated movie Akira.
A figure from the Japanese animated movie Akira.
Framed Japanese teks cards.
Mememenome is uncompromisingly niche. “As a fan of Japanese vintage, even I find it hard to look for it here,” as Renz puts it. “I think many people are like me.” Sure, the prices are a little steep. The cheapest jacket here is 17,500, and fees can go as high as 30k. This understandably catches a lot of the shop’s walk-ins off guard. But what makes the shop’s wares all the more premium is that these vintage jackets used to hang from the wardrobe of an actual Japanese collector—a gallery owner, no less. Also, where can you find sukajan being sold alongside other vintage knick-knacks like teks cards, Japanese manga, and figures from the movie Akira?
There are some brand-new items in the shop, like the bags and a few shirts. But Mememenome does a lot of heavy lifting as a shop keeping the spirit of Japanese vintage jackets alive and real. So don’t be too quick to dismiss a five digit price tag when it’s on a reversible sukajan whose dye is still bright after decades. What you’re getting is timelessness.
Photographs by Chris Clemente