This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Japan for the very first time with my brother and there was no way that I was going to pass it up. Fortunately, my brother is generally very easy going and allowed me to plan much of the trip. This allowed for it to be a very denim-centric vacation that could only have gone better if I had had more money and more time to spend there. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I am doing everything I can to bring my fiance there on our first vacation after our honeymoon.
We spent 9 days in the Land of the Rising Sun from June 24 through July 3 with 3 in Tokyo, a half day in Nagano, 3 in Kyoto, and 3 in Osaka. I did my best to blend denim/work wear in with food and general tourism and I think I struck a decent balance. Tokyo was the most shopping-heavy. We visited White Kloud, Brass Tokyo, The Real McCoys, Timeworn Clothing, Freewheelers, and a Flat Head store. We then went to the headquarters of The Flat Head in Nagano, visited Conner’s Sewing Factory outside of Kyoto, and went to one last Flat Head store in Osaka.
On the very long plane trip
This series will be broken up into three parts. The first (this one) will contain the introduction that you already read along with everything that we did in Tokyo over the first two days, focusing on the visits to White Kloud and Brass/Clinch. The second part will be cover the clothing stores we visited in Tokyo as well as our trip to the Flat Head in Nagano, and the third part will include everything in Kyoto and Osaka, including the trip to Conner’s Sewing Factory.
Part 1: Tokyo and Boots
We landed in Tokyo after an 11 hour flight that left us both extremely jet lagged and tired. Fortunately, our hotel was pretty damn nice and more importantly, was right in the heart of Shibuya. If there is one thing that I am really good at, it’s choosing great hotels in exactly the right location. We could actually see Shibuya crossing from our room, which I really enjoyed. Once we gathered ourselves and figured out how the robot toilets worked, we wandered around for a few minutes looking for dinner.
Something that struck me immediately was the fact that there were far fewer cars than I had expected and there were many small streets that were completely full of pedestrians with only taxis and delivery vans driving down. This was wonderful and was fortunately a trait that extended to the other cities that we visited. These smaller, denser walking streets were generally packed with restaurants, making it extremely easy for us to find delicious food throughout the entire trip.
the very awesome view from our hotel (my apologies for the small pictures)
After wandering around for several minutes, I chose a small, unassuming ramen restaurant at the end of the block. This introduced us to another very welcomed characteristic of Japan. This ramen shop, like most of the small, fast food type restaurants that we went to in Japan had a vending machine in the front with pictures of all the available menu items. All we had to do was put in enough cash and click the button for whatever we wanted and we would receive a ticket to take to our table while we waited for the food to then be brought toward us. Luckily, we had already been told that Japan very much favors cash and we had already brought the appropriate amount of Yen for the duration of our stay. This system is extremely convenient for people like me who cannot read any of Japan’s three alphabets and cannot speak the language. It makes ordering food an absolute breeze, especially given that many restaurants also have displays of what food is available in the window.
the best ramen I have ever eaten
I was certainly glad to have chosen this particular restaurant because it turned out to be the most delicious and spiciest ramen I had ever eaten in my life. The noodles were thicker, the broth was richer, the pork was fresher, and the spices were spicier than any other ramen I had had in California. As it turned out, no other ramen bowl (and we had a lot this trip because my brother does not much care for seafood) even matched this one. It was so delicious and so vivid in my memory that I still remember exactly how to get to this exact ramen shop and replay the route in my head at least once a week so I can take Alee to this shop when we go to Japan.
Luie’s ramen from that night
The next day, we went to Akihabara and had a delicious breakfast of fried chicken, egg, and rice after walking through the beautifully rainy streets of Tokyo. After this, we found the anime boobs quite easily as they are quite difficult to miss in this part of town. MY brother and I both do enjoy a few anime shows and my all time favorite movie is ‘Spirited Away,’ but we don’t exactly consider Akihabara the sacred holy land that many people do. With that said, it was still really damn fun. The arcades there were insane in the best way possible. They are several stories tall and include everything from rhythm games, to fighting games, to claw games. After the arcades, we visited a card shop and a couple of electronics shops, but could not stay long because we had to make our first actual appointment of the trip, which was with Show Goto of White Kloud boots.
breakfast in Akihabara
anime/weeb/otaku stuff is pretty fun
White Kloud has been the ultimate grail item for me along with a Himel Bros jacket since I discovered raw denim and leather jackets. I got my first Himel jacket last year and just recently received my second and both exceeded my expectations, but a pair of White Klouds always seemed like a pipe dream. I contacted Goto-San a couple of years ago when I figured I had enough money, but was told that it was required to go to his shop to get a pair made. I did not really understand this way of thinking at the time and was very disappointed, but obviously I had no choice but to respect his rules and basically gave up on getting a pair any time soon.
in the cab on the way to Goto-San’s workshop
Fast forward about a year and I had the opportunity to go to Japan with my brother. I messaged Goto-San immediately and made plans to get my measurements taken. He was very nice as far as I could tell and he even offered to meet us both at the train station and take us over to his shop personally.
inside the White Kloud shop
We had a 2pm appointment, but after experiencing the meaning of punctuality with Japanese trains (seriously, how can America screw up trains so much while the Japanese do them so perfectly?) we decided to arrive a little early. Just as I figured, we recognized each other quite easily. Despite Japan’s fascination with vintage American clothing, those who would fit in on Denimbro are needles in a mountainous, humid haystack.
Despite the fact that he said his English was poor, it was surprisingly good as far as I was concerned. We walked out of the station and he gestured us into a taxi. I tried to pay for the ride, but he refused me. We were driven through a quiet, but beautiful suburban neighborhood until we reached the White Kloud workshop. The shop itself is beautiful. It appears to just be the bottom floor of his house, but it’s quite nice and was of course covered with boots.
the delicious tea we drank during the visit- I have since started purchasing this tea at home
Once we sat down, Goto-San gave us some Japanese snacks and cold tea and told us he would need around 3 hours to get everything done. The time actually passed quite quickly. Google translate was our best friend and we managed to make decent conversation during the process. The measuring process was more thorough than anything I could have imagined. I was measured personally by Brian from Role Club and I thought that he covered everything, but Goto-San is on a whole different level.
The measurement process was very thorough
He measured my feet from every angle, felt them with his hands in certain areas, etc, and then had me try on some sample boots. He had set aside a size 10 for me because I am a 10.5 on a Brannock device, but after measuring, figured out that I’m the equivalent of a size 9 in his boots. This is where he really started to go above and beyond. He didn’t have a pair of size 9 boots that were ready, so he took the most finished pair he had and started nailing heels to them so I could try them on properly. Once he had got them on my feet (of course he tied them for me as well) he had me walk around for a bit. As soon as I said that they felt pretty good, he motioned me outside. We went on a 15 minute walk of his neighborhood so I could really get a feel for what fit right and what didn’t.
The walks through Goto-San’s beautiful neighborhood were a joy
We got back and after some consulting, he added a thin insole to each boot and we had another nice 15 minute walk and I gave him my final notes on the fit of the boots.
Finally, we went through the options list. I pretty much went all out with these. If I’m going to have one pair of lace up boots, they might as well be exactly what I want. They will be essentially the same model as the one shown below. He calls this the blucher, which is his standard trench boot/packer boot model. I went with the smaller round last and without the toe bump. His leather choices are quite extensive, despite having only two actual leather types (Chromexcel and Badalassi). There were at least 8 colors of Badalassi to choose from and as tempted as I was by the blue and green colors, I went with the cognac so I could actually wear them consistently. I also went for hand welting rather than stitch down and of course chose his double row sole stitching. The final option I went for was to get the brown heel and sole from Vibram so the sole would actually match with the outsole color.
my boots will look fairly similar to these
Next came the gift exchange. I talked with Neil from Standard and Strange before going and he advised me to bring something for the most important people I was visiting. I brought 4 bottles of Angel’s Envy because 1. It’s one of my favorite whiskeys and 2. I looked and it did not seem readily available in Japan. Goto-San was very pleased with his gift and in exchange, he gave me a card holder made out of the cognac leather that my boots will be made out of. We told him that we planned to head to Mushman’s afterward and he offered to call a taxi for us and apologized for not having time to take us there personally. Once it arrived, he attempted to tell the driver where to go, but quickly figured out that the driver did not know where to go. He got in with us and directed the driver to the store and again paid for the taxi. I tried several times to give him money, especially because he was probably going to take yet another taxi back, but he refused again.
At Mushman’s, he translated for us and helped us around the store. I was mainly looking at getting one of their vests, but unfortunately, my size was not available. He then walked us over to the train station, taught us how to add money to our subway cards, took some pictures, and bid us farewell. I have to say, even my brother was blown away by this experience. I have met quite a few craftsmen and brand owners in my short time with this hobby/passion, but nobody has been as kind, thorough, and committed to perfection as Goto-San.
more White Kloud masterpieces
He took that pair of burgundy boots out for me to take pictures, but handled them with gloves and wouldn’t even touch the uppers. He also made sure to tell me not to touch them. It seems that once he has finished and polished up a pair of boots, he does not allow even himself to touch them with his fingers. It turns out that I am only the 5th non-Japanese person to get a pair of his boots (one of those 5 is Giles Padmore from Iron Heart) and I told him that there are actually quite a few people that would like a pair of his boots, but can’t get them due to his policy of meeting the customer at his shop. When he heard me say this he thought for a second before saying something along the lines of “Maybe, but meeting is better.” That basically sums him up right there. He makes less than 60 pairs of boots every year, but if I am anything to go by, he treats every client like family and I can really see now why he is so committed to his policy.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, but without question they are immaculately made
Just from seeing his boots in person (they are stitch perfect as I expected) and spending time with him, I can pretty much guarantee that his boots will be my most prized possession, even above my Himel jacket. I’m sorry for going on about this, but it is very difficult to express just how incredible this experience was. He even remembered the day I told him we were leaving and on that day, messaged me a picture of the whiskey bottle I gave him and wished my brother and I a safe flight home. In fact, that right there may be what sums him up best. Not only was it a kind and thoughtful gesture, but only he would be so detail-oriented to send the message on the exact day we were leaving. Anyway, it will probably be another several months before I get my boots, but you can bet you’ll be seeing them quite a lot once I get them.
I want these too!
I know I didn’t mention Mushman’s in too much detail. It was a nice store and the staff were friendly, but the stock there was not as extensive as I was expecting given what their online store looks like. Obviously, they had quite the collection of Rainbow Country jackets, but I’m not in the market so I didn’t look into them too much. If you’re in the neighborhood, I recommend it anyway. It was not the most impressive shop that I visited, however.
Goto-San and I
After saying goodbye to Goto-San, we headed straight for Brass Tokyo to pick up my 2 custom pairs of engineer boots. I believe this location is fairly new to them based off of Instagram. Either way, it is a stunning little setup. This was my favorite storefront we visited in terms of style and looks. As you can see from the pictures, the inside is adorned with shoes and boots, globes, and some very unique and clever lighting fixtures which really add a stylish feel to the store.
The Brass workshop is a stunning location
I introduced myself to the guy who seemed to be running the shop (there were three Brass employees in there at the time) and he went to get my boots from upstairs, which is where the actual workshop is.
As far as I can tell, both pairs came out perfectly. The black ones are made of their Japanese veg-tanned leather and there is some wax residue left over in some places, but I don’t consider that a problem. I think they look pretty smart with the red contrast stitching and medium brown edges.
The beautiful black boots from Brass
The stunners were the horsehide boots. These are easily my favorite boots that I own to this point. The leather blew me away. From what I gathered, it’s horsebutt from an Italian tannery that is sent to and finished in the Shinki tannery. It really does have a very Shinki-esque look and feel to it, whatever the amount of work that Shinki actually put into it. Either way, this is probably the best leather for boots that I have seen or handled in my life so far. I love my Role Clubs, but this leather is certainly superior to any form of chromexcel in my eyes. Anyone who has seen my Instagram has seen plenty of pics of these boots. Other details include natural finished edges, 9in rather than 11in height, and some very light tan contrast stitching which I absolutely am over the moon with.
My current favorite pair of boots that I own
The man I spoke to the most (I failed to get his name) spoke very good English and my brother and I were able to hold a conversation with him quite easily. I managed to learn some more information about Brass that I thought would interest several people, though this may not be news to all of you. First off, they now have 9 people who actually work on making the shoes and boots. However, the hand welting is done by only one man as of right now. I have his Instagram if anyone is interested.
Luie and I with the owner/head of Brass Tokyo
Also, while the inner welting is done completely by hand, the sole stitching is done with an old Goodyear machine. I am not sure if this is correct, but I believe that Brian actually hand sews even the sole stitch. I did confirm with Goto-San that he does that by hand. Finally, I did get to meet the founder/owner of Brass (he is pictured next to me below) and he instantly recognized my boots and informed me that he worked on them. I have his Instagram as well, but some of you may already follow him. All of this info was from the man who ran the shop so I believe it to be accurate. They were also quite happy with the Bourbon and gave my brother and I Brass branded shoe horns (which I find funny to give to a guy picking up engineer boots)
My full Clinch collection
Overall, these first two days in Japan went as well as they possibly could have. The food was incredibly delicious, the city was beautiful, and the people we met were incredible. Of course, meeting the makers of my boots was the best part. I do not take for granted the fact that I live within 30 minutes of Brian the Bootmaker’s shop in LA and it has been wonderful to meet and talk with him as much as I have. With that said, I never thought I would have a chance to meet the other two brands that make hand welted work boots, much less be able to pick up my boots from Brass and order my pair from White Kloud. I hope you enjoyed coming along with me on this first part of the trip because there are still two more parts left to go!