Japan Trip Part 2: Tokyo and The Flat Head Headquarters

The first day and a half in Tokyo were incredible and after the epic day filled with boots, I really thought that the trip was going to be all downhill from there. Fortunately, I was wrong. In this second part of three, we hit up several denim-oriented stores around Tokyo and then head out to Chikuma in Nagano for a tour of The Flat Head’s facilities.

time wornTimeworn Clothing

After a day that was focused on boots, we spent the second full day visiting clothing stores around Shibuya and Harajuku. Timeworn Clothing was up first. Their shop was very nice, but they had a very strict policy of no pictures, so I unfortunately only got shots of the outside and of the shirt I purchased. Their selection is not large, but the store is laid out nicely and they seem to have a good amount of stock of what they do have- mainly denim, trousers, t shirts, henleys, and chambrays. The shirt I ended up with was a very cool cotton knit polo. It makes me feel like a Cuban gangster and it breathes beautifully, so I couldn’t pass it up. They have a man at the store who speaks excellent English, having spent over a decade living in London.

IMG_20170716_145544This is the perfect summer shirt

After another delicious bowl of Ramen in a beautiful Tokyo side street, the next shop was The Real McCoys. I was not expecting such a massive store. It’s down at the basement floor, but it is huge. I got what pictures I could, but they do the place no justice. There were at least 4 or 5 staff members there and every piece of RMC gear I have seen was there, and quite a few pieces I have not seen were there as well. Something I noticed that seemed to be new was the Buco J-100 being available in a dark brown color as well as a D pocket in dark brown. I had never seen these before and I know that the J-100 was pretty much only available in black and blue before, aside from the short time it was available in a tan color. I actually did not purchase anything here. My brother walked out with 2 shirts, though- a navy blue work shirt with white polka-dots and a purple chambray shirt.

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IMG_20170626_131353Pictures do not do this incredible store any justice. It was paradise!

The final shop of the day was Desolation Row. We actually accidentally found what we think was Freewheelers’ headquarters first on google maps. It was a house with an old pickup truck outside and engineer boots at the door. I didn’t know that we needed to search for Desolation Row specifically because I’m an idiot. The store is not all that big (again, no pictures so I could only snap the one of me in the jacket I tried on) and they were out of pretty much everything in my size. I tried on the La Brea and I liked it, but the sleeves were far too long and they did not have a Sunset in my size. Again, my brother walked out with more than me, purchasing a really nice burgundy shirt.

IMG_20170626_150231Desolation Row

IMG_20170626_150847I wish the sleeves fit me better

Something that I want to touch on is that I did not visit any truly denim-focused shops. Other than Conner’s Sewing Factory, we did not visit any shops or brands that focused mostly on denim, unless you count The Flat Head, which I do not due to their focus on so many aspects of clothing. This is due to the fact that I had already ordered a pair of jeans and jacket from Conner’s Sewing Factory and was looking very forward to those.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that denim itself has never been my main focus in this denim and work wear hobby. The boots, jackets, shirts, chinos, and trousers have always been just as if not more important to me than denim itself. In fact, as you will see in the third part of this series, it is Conner’s Sewing Factory that really made me love my jeans as much as the rest of my clothing.

Y95E4dMEverything in this shot from the sneakers to the rings are Flat Head/R.J.B. I am a fanboy.

The Flat Head/R.J.B is one of the main reasons that I find so many other parts of this hobby to be more enjoyable and interesting than denim itself. My R.J.B jeans that I wore during this trip were indeed my favorite jeans until I bought my first pair from Conners Sewing Factory, but they are not the reason why The Flat Head/R.J.B. is my favorite brand in the world. The unbelievably intricate and amazingly beautiful shirts, beautiful jewelry, top quality sneakers, perfect fitting t shirts, and accessories such as wallets that are among the very best in the world are what make me love the brand so much and are the reasons that a visit to their headquarters was such a huge deal for me.

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Finished wallets

We were met at the train station by J. Attila Antal (he’s the newest guy doing what Cold Summer on SuFu used to do) and his boss, Masaki Horiuchi. Considering that they and I were dressed completely in FH/RJB gear, it was easy to spot each other. They took our bags, despite us trying to refuse (I noticed that the Japanese are very insistent on carrying bags for you and they are much better at it than Americans) and drove us in a van to Chikuma, where the Flat Head headquarters are located. We met with Kobayashi-San, founder and owner of The Flat Head very briefly before going over to the Stockburg leather factory to see how their leather goods are made.

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Inside the Stockburg facility

This was quite impressive. ‘Factory’ is a bit of a misnomer here as the only machines in the whole building were the sewing machines they used for hemming and jean repairs. The closest thing to a machine they had that was used on the leather was a hand operated press to cut out the leather and press the logos into certain items. We met the man who runs the Stockburg facility and they gladly allowed us to film and take pictures the entire time, probably because they were happy to show off just how hand made everything is in the facility. I am a massive Flat Head/RJB fan, so the fact that I was beyond impressed should not surprise anyone. They do everything from the sewing, to the edge finishing, to even cutting the holes by hand with only the simplest tools. Downstairs was where the outer parts of the wallets and bags were done and the inner linings were done upstairs.

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Upstairs at Stockburg

It was a lot of fun seeing how my wallet that I bought over a year ago was made and I must say I feel even more sure that I made the right choice buying a Flat Head wallet. They even had one of their sewers teach me how to sew for a bit! I was terrible, but it was quite fun and it gave me an appreciation for what they and other leather craftsmen do.

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Training the next generation of leather artisan

Kobayashi-San actually showed up while I was sewing and we then went to his house from there. Well, when I say house, I mean houses. He owns an entire block basically- 3 houses and 5 garages. His daily driver is a twin turbo Mercedes wagon (if I’m not mistaken, I saw the same car parked outside of Konaka-San’s workshop, but I can’t be sure) and he also owns a limited edition Fiat 500, a Datsun 50 Bluebird SSS, a Chevelle SS (’66 or ’67 I believe), a ’57 Bel Air convertible, a Harley, a Kharmann Gia, a VW bus, and a Porsche Gt4 with a manual transmission for extra cool points. He even had a large amount of vintage Snap-On tools including Bel Air edition and Harley Davidson edition sets. The coolest thing was the custom Flat Head logo on one of his driveways and the fact that every car’s license plate said 3005.

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Kobayashi-San’s car and tool collection was quite impressive!

He had even more crazy stuff inside one of the houses which he uses as his design studio. He showed us a pair of $15k WWII levis which made my Conners WWIIs seem like a bargain and an actual brick from the Indianapolis motor speedway. In fact, his collection of Americana is so impressive that I cannot even remember half of it and will not bore you with trying to recall every little detail and instead, pick up at our delicious lunch.

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Outside Googie’s Cafe

We then left the design studio and headed down the street and up to the second floor of one of his Googie’s Café restaurants and were served the best meal we had during the entire trip. This included all locally sourced fruits and vegetables in the salad (the salad dressing was yogurt-based and made fresh daily), French fries dipped in maple syrup (it made no sense, but it actually tasted good), 2 different pizzas (one normal, one with apples, honey, and maple syrup), some fresh beef, their take on hamburger, and mushroom risotto.

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It was kind of American food, kind of not. The ingredients were so good that everything actually worked really well together. Apparently Nagano is so famous for their apples that they even feed the cows with them. I am not sure if there is some magic in these apples, but I will say it was some of the best beef I have ever eaten. For dessert, we had their frozen yogurt which apparently won ‘best frozen yogurt in Japan’ one year. It was definitely the best I have ever had.

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After this truly world class meal, we went to another Googie’s restaurant that also housed an impressive Flat Head store. I purchased an RJB rayon shirt and two rings that I picked up at a store in Osaka. I also bought a necklace with dice pendants because I really don’t care for feather pendants that seem to be all you can find. My brother walked out with an RJB loopwheel t shirt with felt letters and a stunning RJB sea foam green dress shirt (easily the coolest shirt he bought the whole trip).

IMG-20170628-WA0054The necklace I bought 

Finally, I bought him a wallet from Stockburg as a thanks for bringing me on the trip. As it turns out, that wallet is only sold in Chikuma which makes it even more special. We did the gift exchange here as well and we received signed Flat Head bandanas from Kobayashi-San and he received the bourbon. Apparently he does not drink much anymore, but he was thrilled nonetheless. We also offered to show them around and buy them dinner when they are in LA next. They were particularly interested in my brother’s offer to take them on a tour of his workplace (he works in aerospace.)

IMG_20170701_181604I bought these rings in the Osaka store because my sizes were not available in Chikuma

It is impossible to fully describe just how wonderful this day was. We were treated as if we owned a store that they wanted to do business with, such was the kindness we were shown and the facilities we were able to see. I knew that this was going to be a highlight of the trip, but I did not expect it to be as epic of a day as it was. It certainly solidified The Flat Head as my favorite clothing brand in the world even further and if I am ever able to go back to Chikuma to see everyone again, I will.

IMG_20170704_183833This rayon shirt that I bought in Chikuma is life

The third part of the trip was certainly less denim and work wear focused, but you should definitely look forward to reading about it because it includes the visits to Conners Sewing Factory, The Flat Head store in Osaka, and a tour of the oldest whiskey distillery in Japan!

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IMG_20170627_170831Pics with the man himself!

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