17 Questions with Yosuke Otsubo

17 Questions with Yosuke Otsubo

I met Yosuke in 1988 on a trip to Japan and I knew that he was going to be a constant presence in my life both personally and professionally. 

Describing Yosuke is not an easy task:

Eccentric in his simplicity. Confident in his shyness. Hermetically eloquent.

At 64 years old, Yosuke is a walking information-desk for whoever wants to learn more about Japan, the business of clothes, where to eat perfect food, as well as the places to avoid. After having spent 29 years living in the United States, Yosuke brings a thoughtful perspective on the cross cultural pollination of East and West. 

- Maurizio

Besides your parents and family, name the person who inspired most in your life. Why? What did you learn from him/her?

It’s difficult for me to name someone besides my wife, my daughter and my very close friends around the world. You all know who you are. 

As I’ve divided my life between Japan and America for a very long time, I think of Isamu Noguchi as an inspiration, particularly because of the breadth and depth of his work across the two countries. 

Who would you like to meet and what would you like to talk about with them?

I would’ve loved to have had a conversation about life and happiness with Isamu Noguchi and Walt Disney.

Who are the most influential people in Japan in your industry today?

Hirofumi Kurino, who is United Arrows’ senior creative director.

Ray Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons.

What is the essence of friendship for you?

It’s difficult to describe the essence of friendship. However, trust and respect play an integral role and with that also comes laughter and a sense of comradery. 

What is the most precious thing you own in value?

The art my wife and I have collected over the years as well as a 1958 classic sports car: an English Buckler DD-2 . 

What is the most precious thing you own in sentimental value?

The eyeglasses case my father used every day.

Birthday cards from my daughter. 

What is the most precious thing you would like to own, or to collect?

Late 1940’s – mid 50’s Italian sports cars. (And a large car garage to house them in).

What represents perfection in an object?

Beautiful lines and craftsmanship.

Name the most inspiring place you have visited in your lifetime.

Hard to list only one…

Yakushima, Tuscany and Havana.

What is for you, the most inspiring place in Tokyo? 

Harajuku, Omotesando, Daikanyama, Ginza. 

And also “Todoroki Valley Park” which is near my house in Tokyo.

If you could create the perfect city, which places from your travels would you include?

Hotel J in Stockholm

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. 

Yakumo Saryo restaurant in Tokyo. 

And few of my favorite (and secret) food and tea places in Kyoto.

Name a place that you haven’t been to yet but would love to visit. 

An unpopulated, natural, beautiful island.

What positions Japanese culture to excel at the art of making jeans?

The admiration that Japanese people have for the lifestyle of the midcentury era in America.

What is unique to Japanese denim? 

Of course the long tradition and history in indigo dyeing and textile looming, especially going back centuries in the cities of Okayama and Fukuyama which are now, by no coincidence, the textile denim centers of Japan. 

The postwar era led to a gradual change in Japanese lifestyle, mainly inspired by the west. The change in lifestyle generated a decline in traditional apparel in favor of a more casual attire, particularly among young people. 

During the 1980s, and especially the 1990s, a few denim aficionados started replicating American iconic blue jeans with exceptional precision and overall quality. These people teamed up with indigo farmers, yarn factories, yarn dye houses,  fabric mills, metal rivet suppliers and even with leather tanners to create the perfect replica of Levi’s 501XX leather patches. Needless to say, some of these small brands were able to improve and perfect the original fits and details of those denim icons.

Some of the founders and designers of these brands became the first generation of Denimheads. 

What differentiates it from the rest of the world?

The Japanese art of studying, replicating and ultimately perfecting, is evident even in simple products - a pair of blue jeans, for example. 

What words do you live by?

In Japanese: Taru Wo Shiru.

In English: To be satisfied with one’s lot in life. Which I learned from an old man in Beijing.

If you had to choose another profession what would it be?

Musician or a singer since I cannot sing.

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1 comment

Good questions & intriguing answers… I’d expect nothing less!

Glenn A. Mance

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