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Glossary - 0-9

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A 1950s style Aloha Shirt
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ALOHA SHIRT

Although often seen as an American fashion mistake, Hawaiian shirts, commonly referred to as "Aloha shirts" in Japan, have their origin in clothing made by Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, and, in fact, Toyo Enterprise Co. is the holder of the "Aloha Shirt" registered trademark in Japan.

The traditional 'yuzen' dyers in Kyoto printed patterns on fabrics and exported them to Hawaii through Japanese immigrants.

Aloha shirts thus have close ties with Japan, but when post-war Japanese youths began to "re-import" them from America, wearing one was seen as an affront to all things Japanese and as embodying the war conquerer's nation.

In 1948, "Kikyo" (Repatriation), Jiro Osaragi's novel was printed as a serial in the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

In it one character notes: "The same people that competed to wear state-designated uniforms are now changing into aloha shirts. ... They are a perfect example of a stateless people."

Osaragi was far from the only intellectual of the time who deplored the abandoning of their nationality by war-defeated Japanese.

According to sociologist Koji Nanba, author of "Yankee Shinka-ron" (Treatise on the evolution of delinquents), "The Season of the Sun" (1956) is among the earliest films that featured aloha shirts.

The film's popularity helped to spread the image across Japan of aloha shirts being the shirt of choice of young male delinquents, Nanba said.

In the 1973 film "Battles Without Honour and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima," set in 1950 during the Allied Occupation of Japan, a junior gangster played by Sonny Chiba wears super-gaudy aloha shirts as a symbol of his defiance of the establishment.

In the second half of the 1970s, aloha shirts also became popular among Bōsōzoku motorcycle gangs, which were seen by many at the time as a serious threat to Japanese society.

"There was no wonder that motorcycle gangs began to wear them, because they descended from the genealogy of delinquents' fashion," Nanba said. "Dressing light is dangerous for motorcycle riders because of what would happen if they crashed, but they were probably showing off their frenzied recklessness."

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In the summer of 2011, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, touting "super cool biz" to save on air-conditioning power bills (in the West we'd call it 'being eco-friendly' or 'going green'), allowed its employees to work in polo shirts, patternless T-shirts or aloha shirts instead of suits and ties during the summer months.

However, other government departments continue with their ban on aloha shirts, as they are still seen by many Japanese as a potent symbol of defiance against authority.



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