Throughout the month of January, we’ve had a continuing focus on the Japanese fashion scene, reaching out to influential figures in the Japanese fashion industry that cover a variety of roles to ask them about their perspective of Shibuya & Harajuku. After focusing on creatives in the field for a different outlook from each we decided that we also wanted to hear from someone influential that also fits in the role of a consumer or enthusiast to get an unbiased opinion of the state of things as of late. We could have just talked to any number of people on the street to get that outlook but when the opportunity to speak with REO SANO, dancer and member of GENERATIONS from EXILE TRIBE, we knew that he was the perfect fit for what we were looking for. One look at his Instagram account and you can tell that he’s a fashion enthusiast with a broad sense of tastes, something that we dig into as we spoke with him.
OTAQUEST: This month we asked several influential people to help deliver more information about current Japanese fashion and we wanted to change lanes a little bit with this interview to speak with someone who represents the younger generation, rather than a longtime creative. We reached out to you, REO-san as someone who we think represents that aspect and has really cool style.
REO SANO: Thank you.
OTAQUEST: We would like to ask you some things regarding your lifestyle, REO, can you recall where you grew up and the situation when you first encountered the fashion scene?
REO SANO: Sure, I was born in Gamagori, a town in Aichi prefecture. When people talk about Aichi, usually they only think of Nagoya, but Gamagori is a town there that is known for its speed boat racecourse and an old amusement park called Laguna Sea.
OTAQUEST: I’ve heard of that, it’s the one with pools, right?
REO SANO: Yeah. I was born there, but my mother loved rock bands and different music like hardcore punk so we moved to Tokyo soon after I was born and lived in Kinshicho until I was four.
OTAQUEST: So, you have been here in Tokyo since you were little.
REO SANO: Yes, but I went back to Aichi prefecture and lived there for about two and a half years to three years, then came back to Tokyo when I was eight years old. Nakano was where I lived at that time
OTAQUEST: So that’s one of the reasons why you often visit Nakano.
REO SANO: Yes. I lived in Nakano for the longest. And I started dancing when I was around 9 years old.
OTAQUEST: Can you recall when you started to be aware of fashion and clothes or you started to think about the clothes you wanted to buy yourself?
REO SANO: I think it was after I started dancing. My mother loved Japanese band culture a lot, so that was my style when I was young.
OTAQUEST: Can you tell us more about that band culture?
REO SANO: She loved independent bands much more than so-called major bands. And the band she loved the most was BRAHMAN, though it was rather famous. My father used to play bass guitar in his band, and it was more hardcore, something like X, the style where you would see pink hair, or like the song “Pink Spider” (laughs). It was like Hide.
OTAQUEST: So your parents loved music and playing music.
REO SANO: The clothes my parents bought for me were probably rather fashionable, I think, so I had an appreciation for clothes when I was young. I was wearing BOUNTY HUNTER without even knowing the brand. After I started dancing, starting with hip hop dance, then Krump which is from the west coast USA, everyone wore west coast fashion at that time. It’s a fashion style that kind of had roots with so-called skaters and that culture. So I started music at the age of nine, and I first started dancing hip hop but after about six months I started dancing krump because I saw a documentary called “Krump” which was also released in Japan. It was the time and age when the dancers in the movie wore an MLB baseball cap, an authentic cap, and a plain loose T-shirt. Also wearing denim jeans with Timberland shoes. I think I started from there. I liked that kind of style, culture, and music from the west coast, and that’s where I started to get into fashion. So dance and music are where I started, I think.
OTAQUEST: You have quite a lot of knowledge about brands and designers, but were you interested in those things at that time as well?
REO SANO: At that time, I was more interested in clothes the dancers and musicians in the U.S were wearing. When I started dancing, I did about 80% of Krump and 20% of hip hop. I really liked the west coast fashion when I danced Krump, and I wore more like New York-style when I danced hip hop. I thought it was really cool that my dance teacher was wearing Supreme and Airforce 1s. When my music style changed, it appeared in my fashion style as well. For me, what I wear when I dance is what makes my mood, even today. When I dance hip-hop, I choose fashion which makes me feel like I am in a certain town, and it is about that culture. When I dance Krump, I choose fashion which has a root in the west coast which put me into a different mood. Krump dance was born in South Central Los Angeles, so I choose something more like the west coast.
OTAQUEST: That makes sense about the stage clothes, but did you wear that kind of fashion in your day to day life?
REO SANO: Since I started dancing, my fashion style became like that. I think fashion and music flow together. I started with loose style like the west coast fashion and shifted to a thinner style as time went on.
OTAQUEST: You are talking about baggy clothing?
R: Yeah. Brands started shifting into the high end. At that time, NIGO’s A BATHING APE was very popular, and I learned about NIGO because my seniors wore BAPE, even though I was a child. Some of them gave their clothes to me, and various musicians were wearing that brand, so my fashion changed toward luxury street fashion from just street fashion. The price range became higher than what I could afford as I did not have money because I was dancing. I became more and more intrigued by such fashion, and I became more and more interested.
OTAQUEST: So dancing is deeply ingrained in your body. Do you think people from punk, hardcore or skateboard cultures influenced you?
REO SANO: I started dancing from hip-hop and came in contact with the culture and music of Krump, and from there my tastes spread more and more. I delved into it, and I began to listen to various music. After all, I think that there is a backbone to each culture and scene. Dance, skateboarding, music, rap, and so on. But I think that everything I express and that I’m into is a “lifestyle”. Depending on what kind of lifestyle a person chooses, there are things to wear, people to spend time with, music to listen to, and I think that everywhere has their own culture that represents it too. That’s why I happened to start from dance, but I really like various communities and have a lot of friends in each.
OTAQUEST: So, you have friends from different scenes.
REO SANO: Yeah. Some friends are skateboarders, some have bands and do music. They have their own color with their cultures and it’s quite interesting. I also listen to rock music, too.
OTAQUEST: Have your friends’ fashion influenced your tastes? Or is it more like “I stick to Krump style!”?
REO SANO: Not at all. My fashion style has been changed a lot (laughs). Of course, when I am dancing krump, I have this mind to wear “this style,” like a uniform, but Krump is more like a culture rather than fashion, and it is more like the way to live as dance.
OTAQUEST: But your “lifestyle” as a Krumper does not change.
REO SANO: Yes. I feel like I have an antenna or a switch for fashion in me.
OTAQUEST: In fact, the current trends are a fusion of various tastes. In the old days, if you look at what someone is wearing, you could tell “I think this person is hip hop, this person is punk, or this person is a skater”. I think that there is no such thing now. It’s the same in Japan.
REO SANO: It is completely gone. In a simple example, even for the collection brands or in Paris, Virgil Abloh became a designer for Louis Vuitton, Dior invited Shawn Stussy as a guest director, and NIGO announced LV2 from Louis Vuitton. People who created street history are crossing over with fashion week, collection brands, and other places that were considered different from street fashion. Rappers wear luxury fashion with sneakers, they really mix it up. I think everyone enjoys their own way of expressing themselves with fashion.
OTAQUEST: Japanese people choose clothes by looking at American people and people around the world and being influenced by them or longing for them, but when we actually go to the U.S or other counties, they say “Japanese people are really fashionable.” And I sometimes realize that there is a unique way to dress in Japan. REO-san, I think you travel abroad or check the fashion overseas, but don’t you think there is something unique to Japan?
REO SANO: That’s right. I think the Harajuku culture, which was called Urahara (Editor’s Note: Back-street Harajuku) in the 1990s, has the most fans around the world among all the Japanese street fashion scenes.
OTAQUEST: What do you think attracted people?
REO SANO: Well, I thought it was attractive that people gathered and played in this area of Harajuku in Tokyo. I think Tokyo is a great city from a global perspective. You can go to Harajuku within 15min, you can go to Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Ikebukuro, and you can even go to my local town, Nakano. There is plenty of food, clothing, and residences everywhere. It is a futuristic area from a global perspective, and people who created culture from that period in time all like fashion and music culture, and they got together to create a community. It spread rapidly, and there are people who started brands from nothing, people who created music, and people who opened shops.
I think that various designers in Japan were born through the ongoing continuation of that kind of thing. In addition, people from overseas and young people who were influenced by things like the feeling of those days delve into the archives and look for deeper knowledge. The things people wore at that time, things worn by people we now call legends, and things people made at that time are still fresh to young people today. I think it was born from the closeness of Harajuku that created the community.
OTAQUEST: REO, can you tell us more about the shops, designers or brands you got hooked on and are influenced by?
REO SANO: When I was in junior high school, there were many vintage stores in Koenji and Nakano. Vintage clothes were really cheap back then. Now vintage clothes have more value and the market for them itself is going up, but at that time it was cheap.
OTAQUEST: It was probably like the idea of “secondhand” became “vintage” right?
REO SANO: Yeah. I used to buy that kind of stuff because it was cheap. A T-shirt, a cap, whatever. I liked used clothes. Of course, I like the brands of the current time, and I bought a variety of things, but I like secondhand clothes, and that’s something that settled down most in me. There are many people influenced me, but NIGO-san influenced me the most, I think.
OTAQUEST: So it is like NIGO taught you that secondhand clothes are fun rather than to wear clothes from his brand.
REO SANO: Yes. Also, I saw what people were wearing back in the day. What a person wore in real-time, but it’s now been 20-30 years since then, and it’s become vintage for us. What I was influenced most is usually by musicians.
OTAQUEST: For example, if you want to go and find vintage clothes at scores now, you can, but an artist I know said: “I got a nice condition of Nirvana’s tour shirt on Mercari!” If someone from overseas wants to find good condition vintage clothes in Japan, what would you recommend? Where to go, what to do, use the internet, anything specific?
REO SANO: It’s good to check online shops, but you need to be careful and figure things out. There are a lot of fakes. Like, something might be using a base shirt from the ’90s, but it has a print from the 80’s on it. Now secondhand clothes are getting more valuable, so there are so many fakes all around. I love secondhand clothes, so I know a stylist who teaches me a lot of things, and I have a lot of friends who work overseas and like old clothes, so when I go abroad, I go to my friend’s shop, ask them, and look for what I want. Like “Do you have something like this?” “Do you have this artist’s T-shirt?” “Do you have secondhand clothes like this?” If I’m looking for it I just ask.
OTAQUEST: You said there were a lot of secondhand clothes shops in Nakano before, how about now in Nakano?
REO SANO: I think there are fewer shops in Nakano now, but there are a lot in the Koenji area. Also in Harajuku. I think it is easier to visit Harajuku. Harajuku has a lot of secondhand clothing shops.
OTAQUEST: In the back-street area (Urahara) of Harajuku, right?
REO SANO: Yes, especially on the street leads to Arrow’s in the back street Harajuku(Urahara).
OTAQUEST: The Olympics are coming this year, and Shibuya has been redeveloped so more and more people are coming to Shibuya, frankly speaking, do you feel the trend is shifting from Harajuku to Shibuya?
REO SANO: Uh, I think the purposes of visiting those towns are different. Shibuya is really cool like now PARCO has been renewed.
OTAQUEST: That is definitely a new symbol.
REO SANO: I think since people gather in those places recently, many new buildings have been built.
OTAQUEST: There are many different fashion brands in each of the buildings.
REO SANO: Yes, there are. There are clubs and commercial facilities built, but the purpose is different again. In Harajuku, there is Omotesando Hills in Omotesando, and the number of various luxury-brand shops is increasing from Aoyama to the slope of Omotesando. When you go down there, you can get to the backstreet Harajuku (Urahara), and you can find something a little more street. What is interesting is that when you get off Harajuku Station, there is Takeshita Street, where high school, junior high, and elementary school students hang out, and when you enter Urahara, the area feels more mature like it’s for 20 and 30-year-olds. Then when you go up to Omotesando, you’ll find that area is for a little older demographic there. It’s interesting to see that spread in age all at once in Harajuku. Shibuya is also very interesting in that there are so many new buildings coming up because of urban development, and it is like crowded with information. You walk to different places.
OTAQUEST: Yeah, Harajuku has more of a flow.
REO SANO: I really think Harajuku has more of a flow to it, and you can see it from the people there.
OTAQUEST: It is different from Shibuya. I think it has the same feeling as Harajuku, but many Americans still think Harajuku is synonymous with styles like Lolita fashion. Of course, Lolita fashion is one aspect of Harajuku but there are more.
REO SANO: True.
OTAQUEST: There are some foreigners that still think of Harajuku like it’s from a music video of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, or old Harajuku like Gwen Stefani showed. How do you think we should explain the current Harajuku to those people?
REO SANO: I wonder if it would be good to explain it as part of Japanese culture. Why Harajuku was hot. I think that various people came out of the fashion magazines, not only the fashion of Urahara but also styles like lolita fashion. Various entertainers, various fashion icons. Or when “gyaru” was the culture, and “otaku”, and I think various things were so enthusiastic at that time. It was a personality, Harajuku is a town with a strong personality and had something people from overseas could feel.
OTAQUEST: The purpose of our feature this month is to communicate to readers that things are quite developed since that time. Can you tell us about some popular Japanese brands?
REO SANO: Um… I know many designers from different Japanese brands, first NIGO-san owns a brand called “HUMAN MADE” which is different from what he used to do and has a vintage philosophy and feel to it. NIGO-san studies fabric, what types of sewing machine can make a specific type of seam and makes what he really wants to wear, and that is “HUMAN MADE.”
OTAQUEST: So it has a “vintage” philosophy at the core.
REO SANO: “This type of person with this music style was in this type of fashion”. Whether it is denim co-ords, bondage pants, hoodies, jackets, or riders’ jackets. NIGO-san is making that kind of feeling. I like secondhand clothes and so that inspiration pulls my heart.
OTAQUEST: Do you like to mix real secondhand clothes with what you wear from “ HUMAN MADE”?
REO SANO: I really like to do that actually. There are designers who refresh the look of used clothes by copying what like Levi’s and Lee jeans did, but this is the good thing about “HUMAN MADE.” It’s made with an updated design using specific knowledge and that is what attracts people. That is what pulls my heart. There are many other brands like that for me…
OTAQUEST: Is it hard to name them?
REO SANO: It is hard to pick because there are jewelry designers too.
OTAQUEST: For our feature month, Poggy-san recommended some shops for foreigners coming to Japan. Do you think back-street Harajuku is the area they should be visiting?
REO SANO: Absolutely. I don’t go there often but Shimokitazawa is a fun place to visit, too.
OTAQUEST: Each town has its own color.
REO SANO: Yes.
OTAQUEST: This time and age has become genre-less, and we can find different fashion styles in different towns because each town has a different color.
REO SANO: Definitely different
OTAQUEST: You said it!
REO SANO: Totally different. Vintage clothes move around and flow. Someone might buy something sold in Shibuya and get tired of it, so they might sell it in Shimokitazawa, and then the same clothes might end up being sold in Osaka or Fukuoka. Things migrate, that is very interesting.
OTAQUEST: Thank you very much for your interesting stories.
REO SANO: This is going to be totally small talk, but I’ve been hunting for vintage clothes like T-shirts on online auctions for a long time. It happens often like “someone sniped this T-shirt for 3,000 yen, so I missed the chance. The T-shirt had a hole on the side, the size was XL, from 90’s” and then I find the same T-shirt selling for 20,000 yen in a secondhand clothing store in Harajuku or Koenji. It is fun to find something at the store that I was watching on auction websites before.
OTAQUEST: So hunting itself is fun.
REO SANO: Yeah, a lot of fun.
OTAQUEST: In the U.S, a lot of people sell vintage clothes on Instagram now.
REO SANO: Yeah. My followers make me offers a lot. (laughs) Secondhand clothes are really popular in Thailand.
OTAQUEST: Offers? You mean…?
REO SANO: When they see me in a rare vintage artist T-shirt, like a rare one from Mosquitohead, one from SADE’s tours in the ’90s, one of New Order or Bjork. They ask me if I am interested in selling it so they can sell them at their store.
OTAQUEST: So they send messages like “Are you interested in selling?”
REO SANO: Yes, like from Thailand, New York, and Los Angeles.
After the interview, REO also invited us to go check out a vintage shop in the Harajuku area that could only be described as a treasure trove of ’90s American Hip-Hop and Rock culture. PORTRATION is hidden away deep in the back alleys and has the cream of the crop when it comes to vintage shirts featuring acts like Type-O Negative, Wu-Tang Clan, Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, and more. Items are priced according to rarity & style, but if you’re in the market for some highly sought after vintage pop culture shirts they have an insane collection to choose from. We want to thank them for letting us take some photos for this article in their shop, and thank REO for introducing them to us!
If you want to get a feel for what kind of stuff they have in stock you can check PORTRATION on Instagram, or visit them for yourself while you’re in Tokyo at 2-19-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo Japan.