Strolling round the streets of Umeda and Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s fashion hubs, typically triggers one of three complexes. One is the inferiority complex: You might be humbled by believers in fads such as ‘gyaru’ and ‘lolita’ dressed in crinolines and ten-inch heels, sporting handbags too tiny for iPhones. A second is the neutrality complex: Everything is okay, anyone can wear what makes them happy, up to and including that one dude you saw with a mohawk literally made of trash. The third and most obvious is the superiority complex: If our Uniqlo jeans and novelty t-shirts lack pizzazz, well, at least we’re not wearing corsets.
While they may bruise the eyes, there’s little denying that Japan’s fashion monsters have 10 times the ambition of the rest of us (if one-tenth the sensibility). A good fashion sense appeals to almost everyone, cynics included. But, even in a cosmopolitan metropolis, it can be difficult to find a decent outfit, as the better-known districts are overrun by sweatshop giants or smaller shops selling t-shirts strewn with non sequiturs. What a relief, then, that fashion salvation can be found in Kansai – one only has to know where to look.
The first stop of anyone having a fashion crisis in Kansai should be Green Pepe, located in Nakazakicho, just east of Umeda. Established eight years ago by Kagawa native, Megumi Ishihara, and her partner, Green Pepe was born out of a love for the pin-up girls of the ’60s and ’70s, thus most of the items are vintage used clothing designed for women.
But this should not dissuade other genders, as the store might be best viewed as a space to explore unseen patterns and refine one’s aesthetic. The experience of walking through Green Pepe is comparable to that of entering a contemporary art exhibit, for the fabrics pop with designs that seem of a future age: a dress with black dots against a warm cyan, a navy blouse with periwinkle Roman scales, and many others so unexpected that they escape the realm of description. Unlike many vintage shops, most of green pepe’s items are found in Japan – it might be this very exception that makes the shop such a marvel. It should be the gold standard of Kansai fashion.
Up the street and around the corner is Orange, a small vintage store which could be viewed as green pepe’s humbler, yet equally stylish, younger sibling (it’s also unisex!). Almost all of the items are American imports as the owner, Yuki Matsunaga, travels to Chicago two to three times a year to find used clothing at thrift franchises like Goodwill. Plaid is the main theme of Orange, which overflows with criss-crossing colors, green and red, blue and yellow-orange, and has had several items featured in Japanese fashion magazines. Two other Nakazakicho shops of similar quality are Tad and Petit Bonheur, both a bit south of Orange and catering mainly for women.
If you are of the mind that 60s fashion should have stayed in its own decade, but still want something forward-thinking, then venture into Hanane T-shirt Living, run by Hyogo native Tei Kobashi since 2004. If a Zen garden could be squished into a t-shirt, Hanane’s clothing would be the result. Shirts of all colors become pictorial Buddhist ponds, home to frogs, lilies, squirrels and, yes, angry dragons, each meticulously hand-painted by Kobashi (custom orders are available). Some designs work better than others: One of a white fish swimming through a blue ocean of shirt is hard to fathom wearing past infancy. But the best shirts, such as one of a translucent jellyfish billowing in a black abyss, evoke a peculiar reverence. If nothing else, you’ll out-weird the wannabe Kyary Pamyu-Pamyus on Mido-suji.
Price range: ¥1,900–¥10,000
Access: Nakazakicho Subway Stn, 3-min walk
Price range: ¥3,000–¥10,000
Access: Nakazakicho Subway Stn, 4-min walk
Hanane T-shirt Living
Price range: ¥7,800–¥12,000.
Access: Nakazakicho Subway Stn, 7-min walk
Vintage in Shinsaibashi…
For items at the bizarre end of the used-vintage universe is Fugs of Amemura. Started 14 years ago by musician Wataru Toyokawa, Fugs’ used clothing is also purchased in America, but the commonalities end there. Fugs is a textile freak show.
A list of items recently for sale at Fugs:
1. A jacket covered only in a world map, with elementary school colors – blue for every sea, then some hue of red, orange or purple for every nation
2. A belt with squares of Marilyn Monroe’s sultry visage in a spectrum of saturated duo-tones
3. A white shirt with a scramble of ladybugs, flowers, and vegetables sewn onto the shoulders
4. A shirt tiled with a sepia print from Gone with the Wind, featuring Clark Gable gazing lustily into Vivien Leigh’s eyes
5. A mannequin sitting on a stool with its legs crossed, and no head or torso (not for sale, but it does exist)
Open: 12pm–8pm daily
Price range: ¥1000–¥100,000 (seriously)
Access: Namba Stn, 5-min walk