Each autumn in Tokyo there are a series of annual rituals which alert shoppers that crisp weather and burgundy maple leaves are just around the corner. First, traditional menswear retailer Beams Plus covers an entire wall with stacks of fluffy Jamieson-made sweaters in a crayon’s box worth of color variations. Next, stores such as United Arrows, Tomorrowland, and Ships join Beams in bringing out piles of thick wool shawl cardigans from Inverallan, each with a tag certifying the sweater’s hand-knit origin. In November, men celebrate the bountiful harvest of late summer trunk shows: their made-to-measure Harris Tweed sports coats have arrived. They match their herringbone and dogtooth jackets with explosions of fair isle patterns and tartan scarves to scatter festive color across the Tokyo streets.
After living in Japan for more than a decade, I have taken these rituals for granted, believing that Scottish goods are a common part of the consumer landscape in every major metropolitan area. And yet on a recent trip to New York City — once a bastion of men’s traditional wear — I could find hardly any retailer with a fraction of the variety of shetland sweaters that one stumbles upon in Tokyo. Why would Scottish knitwear, some of the best in the world, not be stocked in all the major fashion capitals? Viewed in a global context, suddenly it became very clear: Traditional Scottish staples have become a significant and standard part of the Japanese wardrobe. As Scottish-born, Kobe-based illustrator Graeme McNee says, “When I think of classic Scottish brands I realise I'm just as likely, perhaps even more likely, to see them in Japanese stores as I am back home.”
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