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Japanese Construction Worker Fashion
August 15, 2012 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Kaseyama Co. makes clothes for Japanese construction workers, who are called "tobi." Here is what they look like.
posted by Sokka shot first (96 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why "tobi?" One folk etymology has it that during the Shinto ridgepole-raising ceremony conducted upon the topping-out of a traditionally-constructed wooden building, the carpenters would jump ("tobu") from joist to joist, earning them the appellation "tobi." Another possibility is that they inherited the name from their most iconic tool, the "tobiguchi," or "kite's beak."
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Well, now I know who to call.
posted by maryr at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


YES
posted by clockzero at 12:51 PM on August 15, 2012


Hell yeah. If they come with the awesome dramatic lighting, I'm taking up construction.
posted by brundlefly at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The way this is shot reminds me of this "are you man enough to fill it?"
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are they all wearing sandals? Do they make steel-toed sandals?
posted by LionIndex at 12:53 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Damn those are sweet duds.
posted by Mister_A at 12:53 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you say "It's a little thing called 'style', look it up" in Japanese?
posted by boo_radley at 12:54 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those are fucking amazing.
posted by brennen at 12:55 PM on August 15, 2012


I didn't know Hiro Protagonist was a real person.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:56 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


the real ghostbusters
posted by Avenger50 at 12:56 PM on August 15, 2012


Awesome! The 地所 must be built!
posted by fallingbadgers at 12:58 PM on August 15, 2012


i want these guys to intimidate middle school bullies
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:58 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


WANT
posted by maudlin at 1:00 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


In Japan, even normal jobs are worthy of cosplay.
posted by Avenger at 1:00 PM on August 15, 2012 [22 favorites]


So where do we buy these?
posted by procrastination at 1:01 PM on August 15, 2012


Are they all wearing sandals? Do they make steel-toed sandals?

Tobis wear tabis--steel toed tabis
posted by Chrischris at 1:01 PM on August 15, 2012 [21 favorites]


LionIndex: Yes.

Incidentally, each photo comes with a quote from its subject, and some of them are real gems.

This guy says: "Instead of yelling at someone when they can't do something, I try to think of how can I teach them."

From this couple: "So long as we always get along and lift each other up, and just keep growing together..."
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


i want to love these, but those flouncy wide legs are just waiting to get stuck on, under, or between something heavy and/or sharp and/or rotating at high speed.
posted by facetious at 1:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [20 favorites]


Isn't 'baggy' an attribute in clothes you don't want around heavy machinery and unfinished construction?
posted by rh at 1:03 PM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Awesome photography, fantastic models. I think I know what I'm being for Halloween this year. (transparent excuse to get this stuff shipped over from Japan and then wear it all the freaking time.)
posted by 256 at 1:04 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't 'baggy' an attribute in clothes you don't want around heavy machinery and unfinished construction?

Uh, what am I thinking. This is Japan. They can just hit Start and select an alternative outfit from their Inventory when they need to do a quest that involves machinery.
posted by rh at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [25 favorites]


> Are they all wearing sandals? Do they make steel-toed sandals?

It's kind of astounding how much outside labor is done in Japan (and SE Asia) by dudes wearing sandals. Well, not even sandals. Flip-flops/shower shoes to be precise. Once, I watched some movers in Tokyo go in and out of a residence and deftly kick off their flip-flops while carrying furniture and other bulky items.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:14 PM on August 15, 2012


I'm just putting this idea out there now, so that I can claim some kind of royalties when it happens: First-person version of Blast Corps with this woman as the main character.

Because that game would sell a bajillion copies.
posted by etc. at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Some of the inspiring quotes, courtesy of Google Translate:

"eight-minute set-up, Let 's each other a good job. Two minutes work!"

"and. Leave even one, a different work with people. Tell"

"I create something not gold! Artisan life, convinced that they have."

Definitely adds to the air of brooding mystery!
posted by HotToddy at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


LionIndex: Yes.
Tobis wear tabis--steel toed tabis


Holy shit. I have been edumacated.
posted by LionIndex at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2012


I WANT MY HOUSE TO BE BUILT BY NINJAS AND/OR SAMURAI
posted by ninjew at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Damn. Now I want these outfits for when i putter around the garden or lounge around the house thinking of doing some fix-up work.
posted by happyroach at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always heard them called nikka-bokka. They can get caught on things, which some say encourages the worker to be more careful. I do not find that to be sound logic, but there you have it.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


My karate sensei's partner is a construction worker. I have sent her the link. They must do a photo shoot together. MUST.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:27 PM on August 15, 2012


They have a whole line called Super Weapon!
posted by Constant Reader at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2012


Why are these not the standard attire for humanity? Come on, it's the 21st century! 👮
posted by Jimbob at 1:29 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I might be concerned about getting caught up on a nail or the like, but these are carpenters, for the most part, so there is little to no heavy machinery or spinning parts involved.
posted by Bugbread at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2012


Is it because they're naturally breezy due to the excess fabric or are they trying to look like something out of a previous era?
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2012


I love this! Stylish and practical working gear, very fun shots. What's more, the jikatabi Chrischris linked to have just gone straight onto my birthday wishlist (shame my next birthday is in eleven and a half months).
posted by daisyk at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2012


They can get caught on things, which some say encourages the worker to be more careful.

This is why we've strewn our house with loaded handguns and angry badgers. We're teaching the kids to be careful.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 1:35 PM on August 15, 2012 [19 favorites]


Huh, I thought you were teaching the badgers marksmanship.
posted by exogenous at 1:36 PM on August 15, 2012 [24 favorites]


The trousers seem to be a variation on the sashinuki-style hakama (pleated trousers gathered at the ankles) that have been popular at various times in Japanese history. In fact these look just like the karusan-bakama that became popular in the late 16th century, after the arrival of the Portuguese.

That being said, for my ride to work, I normally wear army pants over bike shorts, with the trousers cuffed at the knee. I would definitely considering switching to karusan-bakama, but only in something like purple with white polka dots.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:36 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Much faster coral cache.
posted by dmd at 1:42 PM on August 15, 2012


I recall reading somewhere that the bagginess/floppiness was considered a safety feature because it meant there would be more fabric between the worker and any sharp/hot/dangerous object that might attempt to come in contact with them. Not sure where though, so consider it anecdotal.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:42 PM on August 15, 2012


It's like a samurai road crew!
posted by Thorzdad at 1:44 PM on August 15, 2012


European workwear suppliers should take a page from this book and start offering platemail workwear, and hardhats that look like this. :)
posted by anonymisc at 1:50 PM on August 15, 2012


I recall reading somewhere that the bagginess/floppiness was considered a safety feature because it meant there would be more fabric between the worker and any sharp/hot/dangerous object that might attempt to come in contact with them.
ISADORA DUNCAN! ISADORA DUNCAN!

OK, that may be a stretch, but I wouldn't want to wear something that baggy near construction machinery.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:51 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Waiting patiently until these turn up as a plot device in William Gibson's next book.
posted by permafrost at 1:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yea, I've worked in industrial settings, around welding crews, in enclosed spaces/holes, and all over machine shops more than the average person and all I've ever been told is that baggy clothes and long hair is a bad idea. Full Stop. Do not pass GO. Do not collect 200 yen.

Maybe things are different there but I can't help but think this is 99% fashion statement and 1% awesome fiction novel plot device.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Who ya gonna call?"
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2012


I'm fairly sure Momus said something about this in his LiveJournal a few years ago.
posted by acb at 1:56 PM on August 15, 2012


From this article a spokesman for one of the companies making the style claims that workers use the extra fabric like cats whiskers to avoid injury. I don't think OSHA would see it that way. But very cool clothing just the same. Also apparently the stye is not traditional but derived from the second hand military pants available in the post World War 2 era.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2012


This is what people building the future will wear.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad : It's like a samurai road crew!

Meh, I saw Samurai Roadcrew open for the B52s at CBGBs, they weren't that hot.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:14 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


At least as of 2003 when I was last there, construction workers really did look like this. And even more punk rock sometimes.

I really, really want jikatabi too. I'd wear 'em with khakis and a button down shirt, I don't even care.
posted by koucha at 2:17 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh yes! I was in Japan two years ago visiting some friends in both Tokyo and Osaka and my absolute favorite thing was seeing municipal gardeners and / or construction workers because of their cool outfits. They really do look like samurai / ninja getups. Very comfortable looking too.
posted by jnnla at 2:23 PM on August 15, 2012



So Samurai! Love!

I can't express how enthusiastic I am about these uniforms. Plus, how awesome are the dudes posing?

Japan isn't a country, it's a concept!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:30 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


these are carpenters, for the most part, so there is little to no heavy machinery or spinning parts involved.

Drills and rotary saws (table and handheld).
posted by LionIndex at 2:34 PM on August 15, 2012


Also available in dungaree format.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:40 PM on August 15, 2012


I want a set of overalls like these. I'm 6-4. Possible? How do I get them in the States?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:46 PM on August 15, 2012


LionIndex: "these are carpenters, for the most part, so there is little to no heavy machinery or spinning parts involved.

Drills and rotary saws (table and handheld).
"

I perhaps used the wrong word. These are construction site carpentry / foundation / shingling / etc. workers, so there are no table machine tools, just hand tools. I don't know that I've ever heard a rotary saw used at a construction site here in Japan (most of the lumber arrives precut, and the stuff that isn't is usually cut on-site with a hand saw). Drills, on the other hand, I have heard (though I'm not sure how you could get your pants caught on a hand drill).

Not saying that these clothes are particularly safe, mind you, just that they're used in situations that are slightly less dangerous than perhaps MeFites are imagining.
posted by Bugbread at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cool post. I once worked in a warehouse in Japan loading and unloading construction equipment from flat bed trucks, but we had to wear normal polyester construction uniforms.

A lot of the guys who wear these duds are working high steel, and I've always wondered how practical the pantaloons are. Easier to work in than jeans, I reckon, and more fashionable than a boiler suit.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2012


I'll third Koucha & Jnnla: Japanese construction workers do dress like this, and (as in some of the pictures) tuck the ends of their workpants into the steel-toed tabi, which go up to mid-calf. They look like genies to me.
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


(most of the lumber arrives precut, and the stuff that isn't is usually cut on-site with a hand saw).

It's pretty cool to watch a house go up: first the steel beams arrive and are lifted into place with cranes... Then the preassembled modules come and are bolted onto the frame. Takes about 1/10 as long to build a home in Japan as it does in Canada (where we lived for 5 years or so started out as rice fields that were gradually consumed by subdivisions and strip malls).
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on August 15, 2012


I am sad that I can't dress like this all the time without most people thinking I am a weeabo jerkface. (Also, as I have mentioned in the past, styles like these tend to make me look like a fat baby tusken raider.)
posted by elizardbits at 3:00 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


KokuRyu: "A lot of the guys who wear these duds are working high steel"

Yeah, sorry, I should have mentioned that. I was just thinking about the folks like this that I see day-to-day, which are all home construction or road maintenance folks (road repaving, etc.). The folks who work on high-rise buildings also dress like this, but I have no idea what their construction tool situation is, or if only people with certain specialties dress like this (like, for example, if people who bolt on beams wear this, while people who weld wear different pants, etc.)
posted by Bugbread at 3:08 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


From what I understand the tobi are a throwback to a samurai's kimono. These guys are mostly working-class and a little rough around the edges, so they'd certainly identify with some warrior-class. The practical reason I've heard is that the baggy pants afford them a lot of flexibility when they're scampering on the scaffolding.
posted by zardoz at 3:13 PM on August 15, 2012


(Also, as I have mentioned in the past, styles like these tend to make me look like a fat baby tusken raider.)

They're not precisely slimming, for sure. I worry that with legs that wide and my... um, upper body, I'd hit apparent sphericality long before I achieved ninja-hood.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:16 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This will be the basis for the Prada 2013 menswear collection, mark my words.
posted by Lucien Dark at 3:17 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


From what I understand the tobi are a throwback to a samurai's kimono. These guys are mostly working-class and a little rough around the edges, so they'd certainly identify with some warrior-class.

Except that the samurai weren't working-class but rather gentry, or more specifically, a service aristocracy. They had noble status, in return for military service to the feudal hierarchy.
posted by acb at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're OK, but what I really want is a pair of those Korean Hospital Pyjamas that say HOSPITAL on them in faux-Korean.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Japan can be fairly warm, right?

I'm thinking those baggy trousers make for... keeping the family cool. Yes?
posted by Artful Codger at 3:21 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that some of these are straight outta the Elvis jumpsuit playbook. BRAVO.
posted by Kitteh at 3:29 PM on August 15, 2012


Where can we buy these in the US?
posted by Bwithh at 4:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


acb,

I don't think zardoz is saying that these working class guys identify with samurai because they have a sound basis for doing so, just that they do identify themselves with the samurai. This matches up with what I've observed in Japan as well.
posted by Bugbread at 4:35 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The practical reason I've heard is that the baggy pants afford them a lot of flexibility when they're scampering on the scaffolding.

That's the explanation I heard too last time I was Japan and went to the construction workers clothes store to buy some pants. The clerk said they're all about mobility, and demonstrated with two quick squats which looked less than comfortable in his regular slacks, but with these pants there's no restriction at all. I wimped out and got black rather than the full-on hyper-extended purple, but they still great for gardening.
posted by ecourbanist at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am SHOCKED that the super creepy Japanaphile I used to work with didn't show up to work in these.
posted by mollymayhem at 4:38 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have felt, for some time now, that there should be a uniform the profession: 'I.T. Guy'. The posted pictures serve very nicely as a basis for this idea.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 5:01 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


'for' the profession.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 5:02 PM on August 15, 2012


I have felt, for some time now, that there should be a uniform the profession: 'I.T. Guy'. The posted pictures serve very nicely as a basis for this idea.

There seem to be two: black jeans/T-shirt combos for the more alternative (goth/metal/roleplayer) side (the leather Neo trenchcoat is dress uniform and not necessarily worn in everyday duty), and technical-conference polo shirts for the more square types.
posted by acb at 5:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


My wife usually hates how I dress. She hates my chosen combination of colors and suspects I have an unknown version of colorblindness.

I've suggested to her that I wear jumpsuits before. I'll have to remind her again with these. Mostly I work in an office, but sometimes do construction-y related activities.
posted by Cog at 5:24 PM on August 15, 2012


I was delighted to see that the outfit for women was neither sailor related nor included a school-girl miniskirt.
posted by blueberry at 5:30 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not that these will fit tall-Welsh me, but for the fifth time, where can these possibly be bought without going to Japan? If I say please?
posted by vers at 6:00 PM on August 15, 2012


These are construction site carpentry / foundation / shingling / etc. workers, so there are no table machine tools, just hand tools. I don't know that I've ever heard a rotary saw used at a construction site here in Japan (most of the lumber arrives precut, and the stuff that isn't is usually cut on-site with a hand saw).

Well, obviously, this is Japan, so I'm not sure how things are done there, but at least at residential construction sites in the US there will be a table miter saw set up somewhere, and every framer generally has his own hand-held rotary saw for cutting studs and relatively small pieces of lumber. Lumber here is also precut to certain standard lengths, but things aren't always built to those dimensions, and then there are smaller pieces needed for blocking and plywood sheets and all, so there's a lot of sawing going on at a construction site.
posted by LionIndex at 6:31 PM on August 15, 2012


That said, the bagginess would be more of a concern if it were in the sleeves than the pants. I wouldn't worry about my pants getting caught in machinery as much as them just hindering me while manipulating other objects, like my hammer catches in a fold or something when I try to lift it.
posted by LionIndex at 6:32 PM on August 15, 2012


vers: "Not that these will fit tall-Welsh me, but for the fifth time, where can these possibly be bought without going to Japan? If I say please?"

I'm googling, but I can't find anything, really, except for ebay. That said, there seems to be a good selection on ebay. Search for "Toraichi" (the biggest brand of these work clothes), or "nikkapokka" (one of the names of the pants). The prices look to about double the prices in Japan, though, so it's not a purchase for the weak-hearted.

LionIndex: "Well, obviously, this is Japan, so I'm not sure how things are done there, but at least at residential construction sites in the US there will be a table miter saw set up somewhere, and every framer generally has his own hand-held rotary saw for cutting studs and relatively small pieces of lumber. Lumber here is also precut to certain standard lengths, but things aren't always built to those dimensions, and then there are smaller pieces needed for blocking and plywood sheets and all, so there's a lot of sawing going on at a construction site."

I've never really gone on-site to a construction site here in Japan, so all I know is what I've glanced at while walking past the sites, but I've never seen a table saw, or heard any power sawing (including hand-held rotary saws). I think handsaws are still the norm on-site. I know that construction sites here in Japan sound very different (much quieter) than they do back home in Houston.
posted by Bugbread at 6:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, going to so forward this site to my Samurai construction worker son. He thinks Utilikilts are cool--these should blow his mind.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:26 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Strange. Not nearly enough sneering, piercings, or smoking. Amongst the younger crowd, bad tattoos are increasingly common as well.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:59 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, calling bullshit. I remember this guy, he was in Capcom vs. SNK.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:08 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've lived in Japan, and seen these outfits around, but didn't realize there was such a culture around it.

It seems to fit the same cultural work-as-self-expression niche as Dekotora. Those things are crazy, monstrous, and amazing for transporting fish, among other things.
posted by mariokrat at 8:20 PM on August 15, 2012


Those of you wondering where you can buy these in the US (or anywhere) might be interested in a clothing company I helped start a while back, and the Steeplejacks we produce, which are heavily influence by tobi pants. They're pretty much the only pants I ever willingly wear and do offer an incredible range of movement. Also they're super durable and made in the USA. Looking at the online store it seems we're super low on stock right now, I'll talk to my partner about getting a production run happening. Maybe in Mefi blue...
posted by Jawn at 8:28 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


WANT!!!!
posted by Freen at 8:53 PM on August 15, 2012


such unmitigated badassery.
posted by Freen at 8:54 PM on August 15, 2012


My Twitter peeps found the actual shop.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tobi are specialists in working in setting up and working off of scaffolding (usually fitting various parts of a house/building/etc. together), so the use of machinery doesn't really come into play. Since they're moving around several meters off the ground (without safety lines in some cases), their baggy pants (a kind of knickerbockers or "nikka-bokka" as Tanizaki alluded to) serve several functions:

1) They allow flexibility when jumping, squatting, or otherwise bending at the knee
2) They help prevent being burned from still-hot rivets or welds
3) They act as "sensors" to detect objects, similar to a cat's whiskers
4) They flap in the wind, allowing the wearer to roughly estimate the wind speed

and

5) They look awesome
posted by armage at 12:15 AM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, the overlap between construction workers and yankii subculture is very nearly 100%, as far as I can tell.
posted by armage at 12:20 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jawn, I want to thank you for starting a company just to make clothes for me. I honestly really appreciate it.
posted by cthuljew at 1:36 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a speeeeeeeedsuit, Cog!

/dr venture
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:59 AM on August 16, 2012


Isn't 'baggy' an attribute in clothes you don't want around heavy machinery and unfinished construction?

安全第一! [safety first]
As neurotic as Japan is about safety, there were always a few things that seemed exceptionally unsafe (this before Fukushima). My partiuclar peeve was on the side of every road: a deep, open gutter just waiting for your bicycle wheel or lower leg. It was never clear which side of the road to anticipate them on, either.

On tobi: I took a boyfriend-at-the-time to get the work tobi, with grippy rubber soles and heavy blue canvas top. Wonder if he got much use out of them.
posted by whatzit at 4:15 AM on August 16, 2012


Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese: "They can get caught on things, which some say encourages the worker to be more careful.

This is why we've strewn our house with loaded handguns and angry badgers. We're teaching the kids to be careful.
"

I find out angry handguns and loaded badgers works better for me, frankly.
posted by Samizdata at 8:05 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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