In terms of sneaker game, it’s arguable that Japan is the #1 all-time champion. With a rich history in design and a love of pushing the boundaries of fashion, the country is fertile ground for advances in footwear.
Of course, even the casual sneaker fan knows about Asics, Onitsuka Tiger and Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 collaborations with adidas. But scratch the surface and you’ll find a whole world of up-and-coming, independent footwear designers ready to take over the market.
To get you started, we’ve highlighted the Japanese labels we think are doing the most exciting work.
These guys are relatively new in the sneaker game. Born in 2014, Flower Mountain has been touted by tastemakers like Emily Oberg (Kith, Complex, Sporty & Rich) as the name to watch in the next few months.
It’s a collaboration between Chinese footwear icon, Yang Chao, and Japanese designer, Keosuke Ota, with the label all about print-heavy kicks. Relying on natural and floral motifs, they’re the perfect transition footwear once the weather gets warmer.
The silhouette of all Flower Mountain releases is pretty basic, letting the statement lie in the graphics. This simple design means they’re the perfectly understated statement shoe. With unisex appeal and a pretty low price, it’s probably worth collecting a few pairs.
Where to buy: flmountain.thebase.in
Expect to pay: $180 - $200
A creation of Tokyo-based designer, Ryo Kashiwazaki, Hender Scheme has become synonymous with super clean design and artisanal leathercraft.
The label produces more than just sneakers. But its handmade recreations of iconic sneaker silhouettes in raw, untreated leather, has made it a major player in the international footwear scene.
Hender Scheme’s ‘mip’ series saw Kashiwazaki release minimalist homages of some of the most-loved sneakers ever, including the Reebok InstaPump Fury, Timberlands, Nike Presto, Jordans and Air Force 1s.
Where to buy: online.hendersceme.com
Expect to pay: $400 - $1000
Founded in 2002, Visvim’s creator Hiroki Nakamura has spent the last 15 years building a low-key streetwear empire. The brand’s instantly recognisable America-inspired sneakers are the heart of the Visvim label.
Visiting Alaska as a teenager, Nakamura became inspired by American design and natural textiles. But it wasn’t until his visit to New Mexico in 2008 that he started to get serious about incorporating this into his work.
Visvim sneaker-moccasin hybrids are a fascinating blend of progressive design with historical culture and Japanese design aesthetic. They may not be for everyone, but they’re definitely pushing the boundaries.
Where to buy: shop.visvim.tv
Expect to pay: $450-$1000
Shoes Like Pottery
The team behind Shoes Like Pottery arguably produce the best canvas shoes on the market. Crafted using what’s called the ‘ka-ryu’ process, also known in English as ‘vulcanising’, the super clean kicks are are fired in a kiln, just like pottery.
The firing process means the sulfur mixed inside the shoe’s rubber chemically reacts, giving it a super soft, flexible but durable sole. The technique is based in Kurume, on the island of Fukuoka, which has been home to the label since 1873.
Shoes Like Pottery is the go-to if you’re wanting a fresh perspective on the classic Chuck Taylor-esque basketball sneaker silhouette.
Where to buy: thepracticalman.com
Expect to pay: $179.00
Born in 1998 as Rhythm Footwear, RFW produce easy to wear, super versatile but distinct everyday sneakers. While sticking to more classic designs, it’s the label’s experimentation with textures and textiles that makes it a cult favourite.
Founded by designer Takashi Kanokogi, RFW was an exclusively Japanese label for a long time, but 2009 saw the label go global with its Fall/ Winter collection.
If what you’re hunting for is a super relaxed canvas or leather sneaker that’ll age like a fine wine, then RFW is right on the money.
Where to buy: rhythmtokyo.com
Expect to pay: $150-$250
Rolling out of the sneaker-crazed Harajuku in 2012, Losers has quickly become the first port of call for anyone wanting an easy shoe that says they know about the scene.
The way Losers releases work is they have a core line. From that line, the brand release limited custom-made versions, changing with each season.
According to the label, the motivation here is “always striving to create things with a sense of iki.” Roughly translated, ‘iki’ in Japanese is a way to explain a traditional aesthetic ideal. Essentially sophisticated but simple, what’s most appealing about the label’s output is its lack of pretentiousness.
Where to buy: losers-styg.stores.jp
Price point: $100-$150
Illustration by Twylamae.