Cover Story September 2012

Flying the Flag for Fashion

The Union Jack is becoming increasingly popular on Japanese clothing

The unmistakable red, white and blue of the UK’s Union Jack flag has become de rigueur in Japanese fashion circles, usurping the Stars and Stripes of the US as the design in which to be seen.

The flag has been integrated into numerous corporate logos over the years, including those of sports brand Reebok and clothing shop Next. In recent months, the distinctive design has exploded onto the streets of Japan.

From bags, bras, flip-flops, T-shirts and socks, to stationery, mobile phone covers and even kitchen utensils, the Union Jack is big in Japan.

“The Union Jack is a readily acceptable fashion look and has been put to use for longer than just before the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games”, said Roy Larke, professor of international marketing and Japanese business at Tokyo’s Rikkyo University.

“But I would say that the current interest we have seen in Britain from around the world has certainly pushed it along”.

It has been a big year for the UK with the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and the success of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

According to airlines flying between the two countries, more Japanese have visited the UK so far this year than in 2011. Historically, there has been a mutual interest in, and respect for, the history and culture of the two nations.

As a result of Shinji Kagawa recently having joined Manchester United, students who would never before have turned up at Larke’s lectures in football shirts have suddenly emerged wearing the team’s colour: red.

In recent years, Britons have not been ones for waving their flag at every opportunity. However, it’s good to see the Japanese doing it on their behalf, especially as they used to consider the US flag a fashion statement.