It's a familiar cycle in Japan: See an international trend, adopt and analyze and fine-tune it as minutely as possible and then embrace it so fully that the result is somehow almost more authentic than the original. It happened with selvedge denim, Ivy League prep, motorcycle style and countless other things outside the menswear world—cocktails and single-malt whiskey, for example.

Tailoring is no exception. While American, British, and Italian suitmaking styles are largely considered to be the most significant, Japanese tailors have carved out a niche with an import-export that far outweighs its relatively young age and small scale of production.

Japanese men began wearing suits only recently compared to their European and American counterparts; the Meiji Restoration in 1863 opened the door for Western cultural influence in Japan, but it wasn't until the 1930s that most men were wearing Western-style tailoring. Japanese suits of the time were heavily influenced by British styles: structured, with full shoulders and stiff silhouettes. Following World War II and the subsequent American occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952, Japanese youth began to notice and adopt the American style of off-duty servicemen. That, plus a growing inflow of Western cultural ideas in the country in the subsequent years, shifted Japanese style (including its tailoring) towards Ivy League prep in the 1950s and 1960s, popularized most significantly by designer Kensuke Ishizu of VAN Jacket.

The most significant and lasting influence of Japanese suitmaking, though, came by way of Italy. Japanese tailors, interested in learning the subtle nuances of traditional European cutting and sewing, traveled to Italy (Naples and Florence in particular) to learn the art from master tailors. After long and studious apprenticeships, they returned to Japan with a deeper understanding of the suitmaking craft and an appreciation for the Italian approach—soft and unstructured Neapolitan styles in particular. Through the mid- to late-20th century, these Japanese tailoring students returned home and founded small tailoring houses focusing primarily on Neapolitan-Style suitmaking. And, true to the Japanese devotion to craftsmanship, these new tailors devoted an absolutely obsessive attention to detail to their suits' constructions, especially the fine handwork that allows for the delicately puckered shoulders, rolled lapels, and handsome buttonholes that Neapolitan suits are known for.

There are outliers, of course—not all Japanese tailors are focused on this kind of Italian style, just like not all American tailors make sack suits nor do all Savile Row shops make rope-shouldered and double-breasted jackets. But speaking generally, Japanese tailoring has developed into a unique offshoot of Neopolitan tailoring with even greater emphasis on handwork and fine interior stitching. Japanese suits often have a subtle sharpness to them as well, giving the silhouette a touch more shape compared to the breezy drape of a Kiton or Isaia. Where Italian tailoring is louche, The Rake says, here it is both soft and sharp at once.

To exemplify these styles, here’s a small selection (five to be specific) of Japanese tailoring brands that manage to exemplify and embody this perspective best.

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Tags: neapolitan, take-ivy, sartorial, japan, beams