Last week, Reebok Classics invited me to preview their collaborative range with Maison Kitsune in Tokyo, an invitation that I gladly accepted. As one of the few people in our office that has not been to Japan I was excited to check out a country that has been so influential in contemporary style and culture in the past couple of decades. Although only a brief visit, this trip did provide an insight into the unique way in which Japan has adopted aspects of US culture, in particular its love of baseball.
Our Japan experience included a variety of activities designed to emphasis the story behind the Reebok and Maison Kitsune collaboration and began with a baseball training session at Meiji Jingu Stadium under the tutelage of head coach of the Tokyo Swallows baseball team. We warmed up using bamboo stretching poles and learned the basics of baseball on a humid, Tokyo morning. After our baseball session we enjoyed hotdogs, burgers, and corn dogs before the unveiling of the Reebok x Maison Kitsune collection. The collection stems from the subtly designed Reebok CL Nylon ‘Arctic Fox’ shoe, accentuated with mild, off-white suede detailing on the upper and patent leather on the tongue, and gets progressively louder with the eight apparel pieces that fill out the collection, each referencing baseball.
Japan’s relationship to the sport of baseball began in the 1870s when it was introduced to the nation by an American professor, Horace Wilson, based at a Japanese university during this time. Before Williams taught the sport to his students, there were surprisingly no team sports being played in Japan. The popularity of the sport can be credited to Hiroshi Hiraoka whom studied in the US and returned to his homeland with an obsession for the Boston Redsox. Hiraoka founded the first official Japanese baseball team, the Shinbashi Athletic Club Athletics in 1878 and several other teams began to appear shortly thereafter.
Today, Japanese baseball clubs are everywhere and baseball is the most popular sport in the nation. Most young men play baseball in school and most Japanese support a Major League team. Several Japanese players have achieved successful careers in the US MLB. Whilst the Japanese are crazy for baseball, most of this passion remains directed at their National league rather than to the US MLB (although Japanese players who have made it to the MLB are revered). In a sense, baseball represents the merging of Eastern and Western culture that is so evident in the big cities of Japan and in particular, the Japanese penchant for taking aspects of Western popular culture, re-appropriating and refining them in their own unique ways. From denim to hamburgers, Americana has evolved and even improved in highly creative ways under the obsessive direction of the Japanese.
Similarly, Maison Kitsune is a concept borne out of a partnership between the French native Gildas Loaec and Japanese born, French-raised Masaya Kuroki. Maison Kitsune is not only a merging of music and fashion, it is also a merging of Japanese and Western creativity. Kuroki’s recent relocation to Tokyo has seen him more directly referencing the land of his birth via his fashion designs and that is where the essence of the brand’s recently released collaboration with Reebok Classics stems from.
Kuroki first linked with Reebok after he was introduced to people at Reebok Classics Japan by style icon and hip-hop superstar Verbal. This introduction lead to the release of the first Kitsune x Reebok colab, a product that inspired Kuroki to propose taking the Kitsune and Reebok relationship further to include a full range of apparel and footwear. And when Kuroki began to look for inspiration for his collection he honed in on a pastime that is equally Western and Japanese.
So oddly, In many ways this trip was about baseball. An idea that may seem counterintuitive, until you witness the local passion for the sport firsthand. Where the Japanese differ from much of the rest of the world is that when they adopt international culture, they localise it, they strive to do it better than the originators and they make it their own. Kuroki has referenced both his Eastern roots and Western upbringing in order to bring this collection to life and whether intentional or not, he has created a metaphor for his own cultural-hybrid experience in the process.
Words by Andrew Montell
The Reebox x Maison Kitsune ‘baseball’ collection is available via selected retailers worldwide from September 12.