The Miyuki-zoku: Japan’s First Ivy Rebels

This was Ivy Style’s first post to go viral back in November of 2009. It is written by Tokyo-based W. David Marx, who went on to develop his pioneering research into Japan’s fascination with American fashion in his book “Ametora.”

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The first Japanese to adopt elements of the Ivy League Look were a youth tribe called the Miyuki-zoku, who suddenly appeared in the summer of 1964. The group’s name came from their storefront loitering on Miyuki Street in the upscale Ginza shopping neighborhood (the suffix “zoku” means subculture or social group). The Miyuki-zoku were mostly in their late teens, a mix of guys and girls, likely numbering around 700 at the trend’s peak. Since they were students, they would arrive in Ginza wearing school uniforms and have to change in to their trendy duds in cramped café bathrooms.

And what duds they were. The Miyuki-zoku were devotees of classic American collegiate style. The uniform was button-down oxford cloth shirts, madras plaid, high-water trousers in khaki and white, penny loafers, and three-button suit jackets. Everything was extremely slim. The guys wore their hair in an exact seven-three part, which was new for Japan. They were also famous for carrying around their school uniforms inside of rolled-up brown paper grocery bags.

What lead to the sudden arrival of the Miyuki-zoku? Although Japanese teens had been looking to America since 1945 for style inspiration, these particular youth were not copying Princeton or Columbia students directly. In fact, Japanese kids at this time rarely got a chance to see Americans other than the ever-present US soldiers.

The Miyuki-zoku had found the Ivy look through a new magazine called Heibon Punch. The periodical was targeted to Japan’s growing number of wealthy urban youth, and part of its editorial mission was to tell kids how to dress. The editors advocated the Ivy League Look, which at the time was basically only available in the form of domestic brand VAN. Kensuke Ishizu of VAN had discovered the look in the 1950s and pushed it as an alternative to the slightly thuggish big-shouldered, high-waisted, mismatched jacket-and-pants look that dominated Japanese men’s style throughout the 1950s. As an imported look, Ivy League fashion felt cutting-edge and sophisticated to Tokyo teens, and this fit perfectly with Heibon Punch‘s mission of giving Baby Boomers a style of their own.

When the magazine arrived in the spring 1964, readers all went out and became Ivy adherents. Parents and authorities, however, were hardly thrilled with a youth tribe of American style enthusiasts. The first strike against the Miyuki-zoku is that the guys — gasp! — would blow dry their hair. This was seen as a patently feminine thing to do.

More critically, the Miyuki-zoku picked the wrong summer to hang out in Ginza. Japan was preparing for the 1964 Olympics, which would commence in October. Tokyo was in the process of removing every last eyesore — wooden garbage cans, street trolleys, the homeless — anything that would possibly be offending to foreign visitors. The Olympics was not just a sports event, but would be Japan’s return into the global community after its ignoble defeat of World War II, and nothing could go wrong.

So authorities lay awake at night with the fear that foreigners would come to Japan and see kids in tight high-water pants hanging out in front of prestigious Ginza stores. Neighborhood leaders desperately wanted to eradicate the Miyuki-zoku before October, so they went to Ishizu of VAN and asked him to intervene. VAN organized a “Big Ivy Style Meet-up” at Yamaha Hall, and cops helped put 200 posters across Ginza to make sure the Miyuki-zoku showed up. Anyone who came to the event got a free VAN bag — which was the bag for storing your normal clothing during loitering hours. They expected 300 kids, but 2,000 showed up. Ishizu gave the keynote address, where he told everyone to knock it off with the lounging in Ginza. Most acquiesced, but not all.

So on September 19, 1964, a huge police force stormed Ginza and hauled off 200 kids in madras plaid and penny loafers. Eighty-five were processed at nearby Tsukiji jail. The kids got the message and never came back, and that was the end of the Miyuki-zoku.

Starting in 1945, Japanese authorities generally viewed all Western youth fashion as a delinquent subculture. Despite looking relatively conservative in style compared to the other biker gangs and greasy-haired rebels, the Miyuki-zoku were still caught up in this delinquent narrative. In fact, they were actually the first middle-class youth consumers buying things under the direction of the mainstream media. It was Japanese society that was simply not ready for the idea that youth fashion could be part of the marketplace.

After the Miyuki-zoku, however, Ivy became the de facto look for fashionable Japanese men, and the “Ivy Tribe” that followed faced little of the harassment seen by its predecessor. The Miyuki-zoku may have lost the battle of Ginza, but they won the war for Ivy League style. — W. DAVID MARX

24 Comments on "The Miyuki-zoku: Japan’s First Ivy Rebels"

  1. Excellent article, Mr. Marx.

  2. Nice post. Look at those inseams. Awesome.

  3. The guy on the right in glasses and corduroy is Zachary Deluca’s Japanese doppelganger.

  4. What’s a seven-three part? I can’t seem to find any information on the web about that, and can only assume it means a straight part placed 70% (or 30%) over from the side.

  5. “What’s a seven-three part?”

    In Japanese the word is 七三分け (shichi-san wake) or “seven-three split.” And yes, it means that the straight part divides the hair into a 30:70 split. Seems very mathematical for such a simple idea.

  6. Zachary DeLuca | November 25, 2009 at 8:11 am | Reply

    The guy on the left in the dark suit is Thom Browne’s Japanese doppleganger.

  7. Fantastic post. I bet that meeting and then the mass arrest were something to behold. I’d love to see pictures of that stuff.

  8. Hard to imagine penny loafers and khakis being taken as rebel garb (especially in the 50s & 60s). Clearly a very different time and place.

  9. They look like Asian-American California mods in the 80s.

  10. This is great. I have always wondered about the Japanese trad phenomenon.

  11. These guys look great…strange to think the Japanese authorities viewed them as a threat….I often look at http://www.van.co.jp shame they don’t do Mail order worlwide….what music would they have been into I wonder???

  12. Cool guys, I love the look.
    Really interesting about the Japanese,
    I really love the old photo

    Beaut xxxx

  13. ” Since they were students, they would arrive in Ginza wearing school uniforms and have to change in to their trendy duds in cramped café bathrooms.” Interesting comment. I wonder what these school uniforms looked like. Japanese traditional? From my American point of view, the school uniform is the historically definitive example “prep”, that being khaki trousers (plaid skirt for girls), blue blazer with school crest, and school tie on white or blue shirt, (or tab tie on white blouse for girls).

    Prep being a sub-category; pre-ivy.

    So does this mean essentially that this group of normal teen-agers were preps just trying to look like the big kids (ivy)?

    Seems pretty obvious to me that the answer is yes, but there is this conflation of terms.

  14. Charlottesville | June 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Reply

    Interesting post. As an earlier comment from Zachary DeLuca noted, the clothes look a lot like the stuff that Thom Browne was promoting 10 years ago. No cod pieces or high-heeled spectator shoes, thankfully, but the trouser lengths is identical, and the sport coat on the center guy to the right appears to be of similar length. As with Mr. Browne decades later, the “cuff, no-beak” suit pants of the ivy league and high-water khakis of still growing prep-schoolers was the jumping off place for extreme exaggeration.

  15. Charlottesville | June 26, 2019 at 2:33 pm | Reply

    Please excuse the typos in my comment above. Should have been “trouser length is identical” and “cuff, no-break.”

  16. Charlottesville | June 26, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Reply

    Matthew – Considering that this site is free, I think we get a lot of fresh content, and I enjoy seeing re-posted articles I may have missed, such as this one, or forgotten about. The few bucks Christian makes from ads and the Patreon account (which I gladly support), probably cover his costs and I hope give him a bit besides. While no doubt helping to publicize his writing career and contributing some income, this site is largely a labor of love. I would very much miss it if it went away. I don’t see this type of content presented consistently anywhere else on the web.

  17. Matthew is a troll so I used my magic button and made his comment disappear and sent him to the park to do chin-ups followed by Jordan Peterson videos.

    I’ll be announcing my retirement and new project soon.

    The site can continue by reposting every day, 365 days a year, and the cycle will not repeat for 6 years — that’s how much material there is.

    Ivy forever,

    C.

  18. Interesting how this would be called “cultural appropriation” if the borrowing was in the other direction.

  19. CC

    Joke or no joke?

  20. Charlottesville | June 27, 2019 at 11:09 am | Reply

    Christian — I can’t wait to hear about your new project, but if you are saying that that Ivy Style will no longer be publishing new material, that is very sad news indeed.

  21. I think I have a man who can take over as editor as I step back to being just the publisher. I have intimated here before that there can be no more long-form Ivy expositions from me. Life is short and art is long.

  22. Charlottesville | June 27, 2019 at 3:35 pm | Reply

    God speed, Christian. Looking forward to what lies ahead.

  23. Christian

    I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors.

    Will

  24. Mark Russell | June 30, 2019 at 10:04 pm | Reply

    Thanks for the memories.
    All the best for your future endeavors.

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