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Jeans story
Kurashiki Jeans Map
kojima,Holy Land of Jeans
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First pair of jeans made in Japan and sold by BIG JOHN. Fabric, thread, and zippers were imported.
Hop aboard the Seto-Oohashi line from Japan Railway's Okayama Station and travel 20 minutes on the express train. Ride through a tunnel and the scenery suddenly changes from rice paddies and fields into the blue ocean of Setonaikai. Soon, the train approaches Kojima station, the last stop on Honshu, the main island of Japan. Kojima, with the third largest population in Kurashiki-city, embraces Washuzan, the point where the Setonaikai National Park begins, and is a well known scenic area. On the other hand, the city has been known for long as one the nation's major centers of textile industry and today its massive amount of production qualify Kojima to be called Japan's "Holy Land of Jeans."

The history of textile in Kojima can be traced back to the mid Edo-era. In the 18th century, new rice fields were developed throughout the country. Kojima was no exception and numerous land reclamations were carried out. However, salt residue in the land which originally was part of the ocean made it unsuitable for growing rice. Moreover, Kojima has very small amount of rain that there is even a saying: "dry weather in Kojima, good harvest throughout the rest of Japan." So the weather too was not suitable for growing rice either.
"If rice doesn" It grow, grow other crops." It can be easily imagined that great effort was put into a search for a crop to substitute rice. Through trial and error the land proved capable of producing high quality cotton wool, which has been grown in Japan since the beginning of 17th century (it is said that cotton was traded at higher prices than rice back then). This was how cotton production began in Kojima---the base for future textile manufacturing.
Back then cotton produced around Kojima and the southern parts of Okayama Prefecture were graded high-quality alongside Mikawa Wata (cotton produced in the old province of Mikawa, the current Aichi Prefecture). In a region that produced such fine materials, it was only natural that cotton goods production would follow. In 1978 at Tanokuchi, Kojima; production of Sanada Himo began. A Sanada Himo is a flat woven cotton cord named after Sanada, Masayuki (a feudal lord during Japan's warring-states period) who wrapped this cord around the hilt of his sword. This Sanada Himo became well-known for its quality and merchants of Kojima peddled them throughout the country. By the 19th century, production spread outside of Tanokuchi to a wide area around Kojima to location such as Ogawa-mura and Kami-mura (the current Kamino-cho).
In the mid-19th century, production of Tabi (foot cover worn with a Kimono) began at Akasaki-mura (the current Akasaki), and the foundation for secondary manufacturing was established. In the Meiji period, Samurais were forbidden from carrying swords and demand for Sanada Himo, used mainly when wearing swords, dropped dramatically. Production shifted to products for the general public such as Tabi, wicks, puttees, and Hakama (skirt worn over kimonos) material. Among those products, Taitaitsu (cord used to hold Chinese skirts), Benpatsu Himo (string used for Chinese style pigtails), and Kanjin Himo which was used as waist sash in the Korean Peninsula were products that became great commercial hits for Kojima. Kojima textile had already been introduced to countries across the ocean from this time.
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There is a person who is referred to as "Father of Gakusei Fuku (school uniforms worn by students)." He is the founder of Kojima Orimono Co. Ltd., Zenpei Yamori. In 1921, he bought 20 treadle sewing machines and began making Gakusei Fuku. While the uniforms were still not common back then, material was not difficult to obtain locally and cutting and sewing skills for a Tabi could be immediately put to use allowing an easy business transition from Tabi production. In the Showa period, Gakusei Fuku quickly spread throughout Japan. Accordingly, many changed their trade and by the outbreak of the Pacific War, 90% of the nation';s Gakusei Fukus were produced in Kojima.
Kojima prospered as the home of Gakusei Fuku during the Showa period. Tanimoto, Masashi who joined Kanewa Hifuku (current JOHNBULL) in 1954 and is still actively involved in the work process looks back at that time:
"Many young female workers from around Kyusyu, Shikoku, and Yamaguchi came here for a job. There were many dorms in the city and no vacancies. The city was flourishing. The streets were full of young girls on Sundays."
Kojima's Gakusei Fuku business reached its height, but it was hit by the recession starting in 1964---the post Tokyo Olympic Games economy slowed down. Demand for Gakusei Fuku was also declining just at that moment and it was clear to all that Kojima has reached yet another turning point.
In 1965, the first jeans manufacturer was born in the Kojima district. Maruo Hifuku, who had manufactured Gakusei Fuku and work wear, succeeded in producing the first pair of jeans made in Japan and introduced its product to the market. Ooshima, Toshio who worked for Maruo Hifuku says:
"There were already secondhand clothes stores all over the country back then, and used jeans sold well. Ivy League look was popular throughout the world. Ivy meant copying the way American students dressed on campus and they wore jeans more than they did cotton pants. However, VAN, a retailer which was immensely popular at the time, only carried cotton pants. We thought, why not manufacture jeans, and that's how it began."
A long period of trial and error followed. Needles of an ordinary sewing machine could not sew together the thick fabric. Domestic textile wouldn't fade. Threads broke easily. There were a series of unsuccessful attempts. With the hard work of the staff they finally managed to begin production. The jeans were branded "BIG JOHN." This brand name comes from the company's President Ozaki, Kotaro's first name "Ko-Taro" "Taro" is a common male name similar to "John" in English and "Ko" means "little," and the two put together is "Little John." Since "little" was thought inappropriate for a startup business, "big" was used instead and that is how they came up with "BIG JOHN."
Their jeans did not sell much for a few years after going on the market. This changed when color jeans using 24 color denims imported from the U.S. made BIG JOHN's name known throughout the country. Soon their blue denim jeans started selling as well. In the 70's jeans came really into fashion. Back then, "no sooner they were produced than they were sold out" says Ooshima. Jeans were sold after being washed and dried in the sun, however with the retailers in a rush to obtain the goods, there were times (like when bad weather continued) that jeans were shipped only half way dry. So great was the demand that there were people who "wanted the product, no matter in what state it actually was !"
Manufacturers in Kojima that formerly produced Gakusei Fuku and work clothes entered the jeans market one after another--"JOHNBULL" and "DOT" in Akasaki, "BigBell" in Tanokuchi to name a few. The foundation as "Holy Land of Jeans" was formed in the 70's. Kojima's jeans industry claimed 70% share of the production within Japan.

From Sanada Himo to Taitaitsu and Kanjin Himo. From Tabi to Gakusei Fuku. And then, on to jeans. Kojima's textile industry has survived keeping up with time by changing its products. Without its strength and flexibility, Kojima as "Holy Land of Jeans" would not have made it, says Tanimoto. "(In the last half century,) products have changed and we experienced both good and bad economies. Looking back, the period seems long and yet short. There was no time to stop and think. Even today, Kojima has nothing if textile is taken away from it. It feels like our land ---which is a dead-end--- is now fully opened to the outside world."
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