Jeans Review: Tanuki Brings Streetwear to Selvedge

Launched in 2016 in Okayama, where most of Japan’s legendary denim is crafted, Tanuki has catapulted to popularity on the denim scene, achieving serious notoriety in a seriously short span of time.

Some will say Tanuki translates as ‘raccoon,’ but it actually means ‘raccoon dog,’ a real animal that looks like its name and has a rich history in Japanese folklore as a supernatural being capable of feats of transformation. (You may recall Mario turning into one in Super Mario Bros 3. Or a Mario game that wasn’t released in the 80s.)

Tanukis are shapeshifters, and transformation is the central theme of Tanuki, the brand. Their slogan is Transform Your Being, and it makes sense given people tend to buy selvedge denim for the transformation: to see it change and evolve and, yes, fade, but also take on the stories it’s lived. 

Multiple outlets that have reported on the company describe it as formed by a “super-team” of Japanese craftsmen who have worked cumulative decades in the denim industry. A team who, among other low tech, high tech accomplishments, have figured out a refined rope dying process that uses less indigo to achieve a deep color.

They’re also known for clean construction lines, modern fits, and extreme mystique. If you want to know who comprises that super-team, you’re out of luck — they write on their garments that their “names don’t matter,” they just want their creativity and passion to shine through in their sharply designed garments. 

Today I’m checking out their famous Kaze line, specifically the KHT 13oz “Kaze” Fade Blue High Tapered, which is a great example of their innovative, streetwear-focused approach to selvedge denim.

Tanuki Kaze Denim 

  • 13 ounces
  • Unsanforized, one-wash, slub selvedge denim 
  • Color made through fewer rope dye dips
  • Greenish undertones
  • Unbleached weft
  • Combination of Californian short staple and Peruvian long staple cotton
  • Textured, but not rough

This denim is 13 ounces, which is one of the lightest offerings from Tanuki. It’s designed to be very breathable (it is) and it’s also made with their lightest color. It obviously stands out for its unique, brilliant shade of indigo.

While intended to pay homage to the vintage denim of the 1960s and 1970s, these aren’t faded jeans. This color is achieved with fewer rope dye dips, with the process described on their site like this: “it will decrease in the time of each dip and quicker exposure to oxygen after each dip.” This “also results in some greenish undertones in the denim,” which will become more noticeable after a few washes.

tanuki jeans denim close

That’s how they make the warp. The weft is a rustic, unbleached beige that you can see poking through in the image above. A beige weft is usually considered something of a throwback to old fashioned jeans, as the beige gradually coming to the fore as the indigo fades is what produced the classic denim fades of the mid 20th century. This beige weft is cheese dyed, meaning it’s performed at temperatures higher than boiling and under high pressure, in a rotating drum, which results in most of the excess water being removed.

It’s a low tension weave; more textured than rough.

An extra interesting fact about this denim is that it’s a combination of short staple Californian cotton and longer staple Peruvian Aspero cotton. Long staple is generally more desired because it’s very resilient, while short staple is cheaper and easier to grow — it’s what over 90% of cotton in the US is made from. That combination gives you denim that’s a little dry and crisp, but still comfortable. 

[Learn more about long staple cotton in our guide to Zimbabwe cotton]

tanuki jeans pocket detail
The stylized “Ni” on the back pocket

Tanuki Jeans Features

  • Ni symbolizes both tradition and change
  • Japanese flag reflected in pocket detail and selvedge ID
  • Multicolored stitching
  • Stylized tanuki on button fly

The first thing you’ll probably notice besides the color is the ni symbol on the back pocket here, which is also etched into the deerskin waistpatch.

tanuki jeans waistpatch

Ni is the Japanese number for two, which they say represents their concept of change:

  • The bottom line symbolizes history, tradition, and peace.
  • The top line represents future, change, and strength.

And on the pocket it’s red and white, representing Japan’s flag. 

Other features to noteL the pockets are nice and deep, and lined with this really funky herringbone fabric.

tanuki jeans pocket lining

The back pockets are slightly flared and partly lined down the bottom as well.

The stitching is extremely tight and consistent — it’s one thing everyone universally agrees on with this brand — and the threads come in a surprising variety of colors. Below, you’ll see dark blue, light blue, yellow, orange, and red at various points in the jeans.

tanuki thread colors

The button fly are embosses with a really cool, stylized tanuki with the ni symbol on their other side, and the other rivets have “tanuki inc” and “universal” on either side of them.

tanuki buttons

Tanuki KHT Fit & Sizing

After 30 wears:

  • Waist: 34″
  • Rise: 12″ (front) 17″ (back)
  • Thigh: 24″
  • Knees: 18″
  • Cuff: 15″

 Now, these jeans have a really high rise and a relaxed tapered fit, which is true of most of my jeans. The jeans may look a little baggy on me, and there are two reasons for that:

  1. I’ve lost about 10 pounds since quarantine came to New York, and
  2. These jeans stretch like a mother.

They came with a 32″ waist, which is currently my true (non-vanity) size, but they’ve stretched out to 34 inches. You can see the other measurements above. 

Heed my advice: if you’re considering these jeans, you want to size down by two inches. I plan to give mine a nice hot wash to shrink them as much as I can.

[Compare with my thick, slubby Pure Blue Japan jeans]

tanuki jeans sitting again

Tanuki Jeans Price

I’ve seen them for $295 on Blue Owl, $285 on Tanuki’s own website, and $242 on Denimio, which has a lowest price guarantee. 

For under $250, given how much innovation and experimentation has gone into these jeans and given how dense and tight the stitching and construction is, I think it’s a fair price. It’s just worth keeping in mind that this is 13oz denim, so don’t expect the carpet-thick jeans you might be accustomed to when forking out $300+ for Japanese jeans.

[Grab the lowest price on these jeans at Denimio, get 10% off with the code STRIDEWISE if you make an account]

tanuki jeans walking

Tanuki Jeans Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Melds tradition and streetwear
  • Modern fits
  • Innovative color
  • Tightly constructed

Cons

  • Stretch a lot
  • Some don’t like the ultra “modern” appraoch
  • Frustratingly mysterious brand
  • Exclusive; some models hard to find

tanuki white sneakers

I read a review of this denim from Indigo Shrimp who said,

Tanuki’s release of the KDT jeans marks a point in our hobby, just before 2020, when Japanese denim transitions into its next phase – truly integrating with 21st century wardrobes.

In other words, Tanuki is a brand, and this is a jean, that is less heritage-y and workhorse-y and more a high end streetwear jean designed to be happily worn with white canvas sneakers. 

It’s trying to fuse the old and the new, or perhaps more accurately take the old into the new century, marrying the solid construction with newer dying methods, newer colors, modern fits, and multicolored stitching. Even the minimalist ni branding comes off as a feat of modern design, and all of this is in very stark contrast to the last jeans I reviewed from Full Count, which are extremely faithful recreations of vintage jeans.

In an age where people demand a lot of transparency from their brands, Tanuki’s mystique frustrates a lot of guys — it’s the chief complaint I read on reddit. One guy said it seems like a company designed by marketing executives. A more concrete disappointment that’s related to their mystique is their exclusivity: they’re hard to find at a lot of places, like Okayama Denim or Blue in Green, and many stockists don’t have the same products as others. You sometimes need to be a bit of a detective when looking for a Tanuki jean you like.

The mystique and exclusivity are the main downsides, and maybe you find that the modernity is antithetical to the spirit of heritage fashion. But if the idea of “raw denim for the new age” and “streetwear selvedge” appeals to you, Tanuki is carving out a very compelling niche that will definitely stand out in your wardrobe’s indigo sea.

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By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected]

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