In 1993, we opened a small shirt store in Kamakura - a historic city located south of Tokyo.
Since the very beginning, everything we have done has been for you, our customers. We have put every effort into producing shirts made to the highest standards, worthy of the title 'Made in Japan.' We believe that the finest quality products, together with the spirit of selfless hospitality, are paramount in bringing you the greatest satisfaction, and have centered our operations around this.
“Is there no one to take over my vision and make Japanese men fashionable?”
Those words began it all — the words of Kensuke Ishizu, founder of the VAN Jacket clothing company (VAN Jacket Inc.). Our chairman, Yoshio Sadasue, and his wife Tamiko both worked for VAN Jacket, the company responsible for introducing American Ivy League fashion to Japan in the 1960s and 70s. Ishizu’s words of woe continued:
“It was my job to establish a clothing company during Japan’s post-war recovery, and to teach Japanese people to dress in a manner that wouldn’t be dismissed in international company. After VAN went bankrupt, men’s fashion in Japan deteriorated significantly. No one has come forward to take over my vision.”
Yoshio Sadasue immediately replied to him, “Then I will start a shirt store.”
Sadasue was secretly developing a business plan, one that focused on customers’ long-term happiness.
The idea was to start a specialty shirt store that sold high quality products at an honest price, a completely new take on the retail business models of the past. Fairness and respect would be paid to the makers of the shirts, the factory workers, prioritized through direct communication. Shirts are a necessity for men in order to be fashionable, and they must be made well to stand the test of time. By providing high quality and long lasting shirts within an accessible price range, Sadasue was certain that customers would be pleased. After seeing Sadasue’s determination, Ishizu wrote the following letter of recommendation.
“My finest apprentices, Mr. and Mrs. Sadasue, have told me that they are to open a shirt store. Mr. Sadasue intends to shut himself away in a factory to make the shirts, and Mrs. Sadasue will sell them to customers directly. This is truly the modern version of SPA. I would like to applaud them for endeavoring to undertake such a difficult task. This is precisely the confidence and philosophy needed to establish a shop that feels special. I am sure that many people have been waiting for a store like Maker’s Shirt Kamakura – most certainly.”
In 1993, Yoshio and Tamiko Sadasue opened their small shirt store, above a convenience store in Kamakura. It was their hope that, one day, their shirts and brand would be recognized by everyone - including those at the heart of Ivy League fashion, on the sacred ground of menswear, a place of admiration since the days of VAN Jacket: New York.
Where it all Began
Kamakura, where the company was born, was the same city where President Tamiko Sadasue was born and raised. The reason we include the city's name in our brand name is because Kamakura itself has special connotations. With mountains surrounding the East, North, and West, and Sagami Bay to the South, the area is a natural fortress. In 1192, the first ever military government, led by samurai, was established here using this geographical advantage. As a result, Kamakura became the political and cultural center of Japan. These samurai followed the path of Zenshu, and made Kamakura the birthplace of Zen philosophy. In modern times, a host of writers and luminaries have fallen in love with the city and made it their home, and many unique trends have emerged due to their influence.
The city of Kamakura attracts tourists from all over Japan and beyond. Not only does it boast of the proud heritage of the ancient samurai, it also embodies the natural beauty of the ocean and mountains to offer, all while remaining easily accessible from Tokyo. It is an honor for Kamakura Shirts to use the name of such a beautiful city, and we will continue to nurture our brand, in order to stay true to the prestigious image of Kamakura.
Business often takes me out of Tokyo, and whenever I meet new people, the conversation always goes like this:
“Where are you from?”
“That’s such a nice place to live!”
It’s always the same, but it always makes me happy. I was born and raised in Kamakura. Other than the five years in Osaka for my husband’s job and then two years in Mishima, Shizuoka, I’ve lived in Kamakura my entire life. So I tend to think living in Kamakura is an obvious thing. But I guess it’s not, and I’ve come to realize that people aspire to live here.
When we founded the company, my husband (Chairman Yoshio Sadasue) chose the name “Maker’s Shirt,” because we were selling “freshly made” shirts. I thought the name was a little dull. I wanted a more memorable name to launch me back into the working world, having been a homemaker for 22 years. I thought it had to be “Maker’s Shirt Kamakura.” Thinking that my husband would object, I anxiously suggested that we add “Kamakura” to his idea. I was surprised that he approved without hesitation: “Let’s do it.” It wasn’t much of a shop – just a rough little space, on the second floor of a convenience store.
Let’s go back and look at Kamakura’s history: Back in 1192, Minamoto no Yoritomo established a national military government in Kamakura. The area is a natural fortress, difficult for enemies to attack. Mountains surround the East, North, and West, and the South faces Sagami Bay. An Emperor has never once lived in Kamakura, giving it a spartan feel. And even today, there are many shrines and temples from the era that keep the samurai spirit alive. Kamakura is austere, dignified, and makes the most of the natural environment. It's a big contrast with Kyoto, with its aristocratic culture, and where the Emperor lived for generations; Kyoto’s streets and buildings are colorful and flamboyant, from the Golden Pavilion to the Silver Pavilion.
During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Kamakura became home to the culturati, including writers Soseki Natsume, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Doppo Kunikida, Yasunari Kawabata, and Jiro Osaragi. There are many novels that use Kamakura as their backdrop. Both Doppo Kunikida and Masaaki Tachihara wrote novels called Kamakura Madam, which were love stories. From these novels, the phrase “Kamakura Madam” took a life of its own. Young people may not know the term, but Kamakura madams were wealthy women, just like “Ashiya madams.” Ashiya, between Osaka and Kobe, is a famously affluent residential area - and Kamakura was its equivalent in Eastern Japan. Commoners would call the graceful and beautiful matriarchs “Kamakura madams.” This makes me remember that the first time Kamakura Shirts was written up in a magazine, the article title was “The Favorite Store of Kamakura Madams.”
Then there’s the ocean, which strongly ties Kamakura with the surrounding Shonan region. The Shonan region includes the beachside towns of Zushi, Hayama, and Kamakura. In the 1950s, Shonan gained fame as the haunt of the youths dubbed the Sun Tribe, or Taiyozoku. This name was coined by the Shonan-based novelist Shintaro Ishihara (who later became the governor of Tokyo), who wrote a book about local teenagers called Season of the Sun. The book won him the esteemed Akutagawa literary prize at age 23, and after receiving attention from several media outlets, the teens out on Shonan beach became known as the Sun Tribe. They wore sunglasses and flamboyant beach clothes, and liked to play around. Even though Japan was not as developed as it is now, the Sun Tribe sat under parasols on the beach listening and dancing to American songs on their transistor radios. I was a very young girl at the time but intrigued by the Sun Tribe. I almost felt like they weren’t Japanese. Even though I watched them from far away, the memories are still vivid. Those Sun Tribe teens must now be in their 80s... Since then, Shonan has been at the cutting-edge of trends.
At the end of the 1960s, Shonan became home to Japan’s first surfers. Teenagers in beach style who surfed became known as “Shonan Boys.” They were stylish young men from good families who grew up in the area. “Kamakura Madams” and “Shonan Boys” are both very charming names.
Since the Meiji Period, many of the country’s top luminaries have owned vacation homes in Kamakura. Since it’s just an hour from Tokyo on the Yokosuka Line, there are also many executives, writers, and actors who commute every day on the train’s first-class Green Car. And because it’s a city with so much history, Kamakura sees tourists year-round, from northern Hokkaido all the way to southern Kyushu. It has always been a popular destination for tourists coming from overseas as well.
With its rich historical backdrop, the natural scenery of ocean and mountains, and beautiful residential areas a step away from Tokyo, there is no other city in Japan like Kamakura. There is nothing that makes us happier than the fact that we have been able to identify our brand with the image of Kamakura, a charming city known all over Japan.
At some point, people in Japan just started calling us 'Kamakura Shirts', and today we’re better known as 'Kamakura Shirts' than 'Maker’s Shirt Kamakura.' So, when we opened in New York, we decided to call the brand 'Kamakura Shirts.' It makes sense: our company was born and bred in Kamakura, and our flagship shop is still in Kamakura - right next to the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine.
It is an honor to wear the name Kamakura, and to be called Kamakura Shirts. We will continue to do our best to live up to that name.
From the very start, Kamakura Shirts has been committed to ensuring the usage of quality materials, promoting high standards of manufacturing through our Japanese factories.
The sewing techniques used in Japan are among the best in the world, exemplifying precise craftsmanship and excellent skill. Upholding the principle “each stitch placed with the greatest care”, each garment is delicately and meticulously sewn together. The shirts are finished with single needle seams that look neat even on the inside, and the shirt pattern itself is elegantly curved to fit around your body. Many fabrics we use are 100% cotton, while some collections feature a luxurious 200 or even 300 thread yarn count. The buttons are made from natural shell, and our interlinings are non-fused. Simply putting your arm through one of the sleeves will reveal to you why our shirts are so special.
We work very closely with our factories and deal with them directly. We research and develop new ideas together with them, and place emphasis on all-Japanese manufacturing. These factories work as a team, not as rivals, and share techniques freely in order to promote better craftsmanship as a whole. Keeping the entire production process in Japan facilitates communication between all parties involved. Both maker and seller are able to unite for a common goal.
Through direct communication and the elimination of outside contractors, we are hands on throughout the process. We also deal directly with fabric mills and subsidiary material makers to facilitate our operations. All of this is for the sake of achieving our goal of producing shirts honestly, with reliable quality.
There are over 5,000 companies in the world that are more than 200 years old. Of those companies, over half are located in Japan. This heritage reflects Japan’s culture of putting the customer before profits, as well as the desire to succeed the accomplishments of past generations. The idea of “sincerity” is very important in Japan.
The Sadasue family were mercers as far back as the Edo period (17th to 19th century). From a young age, Yoshio was taught the principles of trade and the art of being a true merchant by his father:
“Merchants have always been seen as having low social standing. That is why it was important for them to value dignity and pride, even more than high-ranking samurai. A merchant takes his share only once the customer is happy. A true merchant does not lie. He works hard for others, sells what he has gathered, and lives on the reward of pleasing someone. Therefore, have the same, if not more dignity and pride than the samurai, and follow the path of a true merchant.”
What Yoshio’s father taught him was not merely a business model but a “mind model.” His experiences taught him the importance of having high aspirations, even as a merchant.
Yoshio and Kamakura Shirts inherited the respect for fair play from Yoshio’s father, and we commit ourselves to producing and selling shirts with the deepest sincerity. We are devoted to maintaining a business that can be trusted, and dedicated to providing high quality products alongside the intangible Japanese spirit of hospitality within our service. This is an embodiment of the honest merchant’s way, which we have always desired to fulfill.
People’s tastes are always evolving. For that reason, we must provide our customers with the best shirts possible, with service that surpasses expectations. With this in mind, we continually search for superior fabrics, improved sewing techniques and shirt patterns; we constantly seeking to evolve and innovate in both quality and design. We have implemented a remarkable system of preserving our craft, and it is our pleasure to hear people say, “I didn’t know that these kinds of shirts existed.” Whatever the age, we maintain a global perspective and keep our senses alert.
Since ancient times, Japanese art and culture has enshrined meticulous attention to detail, and the spirit to spare no effort for self-improvement. It is rooted in our culture to follow tradition while still adapting to the times, and we take care to keep to these ideals when it comes to our manufacturing process.
The cultural shift from the traditional kimono to Western-style clothing such as shirts has, historically, been a challenge for us in Japan. That in particular is why we have put our customers' needs first, and why we refuse to give up searching for ways to make you happy. We challenge ourselves to evolve and tirelessly work to improve, bringing our finely crafted shirts now not only to Japan, but to the world.