Japan's fascination with Americana is a byproduct of the US occupation of the country after World War II. This manifested in a love of denim, patchwork patterns, preppy style, leather jackets, motorcycles, and more. But it could be said the Japanese fascination with Native American culture was pioneered solely by the late Goro Takahashi, whose history has become the stuff of legend.
His store in Tokyo's Harajuku district opened in 1972, selling leather, brass, and metal accessories. It wasn’t until 1979 that he started crafting silver jewelry teeming with indigenous motifs. This was the result of trips to South Dakota, where Takahashi became close with the Lakota tribe. He is said to be the first non-Lakota to take part in the tribe's Sun Dance and was given the name “Yellow Eagle.” The feathers he saw in visions led him to create the products he would eventually become recognized for.
Every time this story is retold, the listener can’t help but be captivated. Once the story reaches its end, what usually follows is the question, “Where can I get one?” And the answer is always the same: “You have to go to Japan.”
Sounds easy enough, right? But the leather and silver pieces sold at Goro's attract long lines. Some customers have waited up to seven hours just to get inside the store.
There is a mythical quality to the Goro's brand. That is in part down to supply and demand — there are items in the catalog that only a select few have had access to. People like designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, tattoo artist Dr. Woo, and musicians John Mayer and Eric Clapton.
To ensure the Goro’s name remains undiluted, the shopkeepers make limited runs of particular pieces per day. Another part of the experience is that they "read your energy," and if they feel something is off, they can respectfully deny you the opportunity to buy.
Since his passing in 2013, Takahashi’s craftsmanship has been much-imitated but never matched. Others have mimicked his feather pieces, spawning a market of counterfeits and imitators. The combination of the Goro's store's continued sales practices, the copycats, and a robust aftermarket for genuine items have all contributed to the Goro's legend and its synonymity with exclusivity.
My decade-long connection with Goro’s started 6,700 miles away from Japan. An old friend of mine, Vincent Tsang, was traveling with me to New York City for a project we were doing with Nike.
I remember noticing that Vincent was wearing a Goro’s ring on his index finger. It was in the shape of a feather. It looked solidly built, but with precise lines etched carefully across. I said it was an interesting piece and he told me it was handmade in Japan. It wasn’t until we connected with my friend Ariel at the Tribeca Grand Hotel that I got the whole Goro’s story.
When I introduced the pair, Ariel lit up with excitement as Vincent extended his arm for a handshake. Ariel noticed the ring and, before Vincent could say anything, Ariel unbuttoned his shirt to reveal his own Goro’s piece, a single, medium-sized feather with the same details as Vincent’s ring. When I asked to know more, they recounted the story of Goro Takahashi and his small shop in Harajuku.
I had my first Goro's experience when I traveled to Tokyo with Nick Wooster and Andrew Pollard for a PROJECT show. The idea of visiting the store hadn’t crossed my mind, but when I linked up with Nike's Jarrett Reynolds, who had just moved from Portland to Tokyo, it struck me: Jarrett was wearing Goro’s and his setup was insane. Around his neck was a gold and silver eagle with its wings outstretched, flanked by several feathers similar to Ariel’s.
When he confirmed the pieces were Goro’s, I immediately asked him to take me to the shop. Jarrett’s apprehensive reaction made me remember that getting into the store wasn’t going to be easy. I was told I had two options: wait in line or turn up with someone who had a connection to the brand. I urged Jarrett to call in favors to make it happen, but he resisted.
It wasn't until my final day in Tokyo that I took matters into my own hands and broke protocol, walking into the shop with no regard for the others waiting in line. The store was a lot smaller than I expected. The walls were lined with leather goods, eagle feather headdresses, and other indigenous paraphernalia.
In four steps I was at the counter, where a shopkeeper was waiting to serve me. I was simply happy to be there and careful not to offend by asking for too much. I settled for a small feather held by a leather strap with blue and white glass beads. I bowed in gratitude and walked back down the narrow stairs into the busy Harajuku street.
Later, Jarrett was in disbelief that I'd had the audacity to break the rules, but he was happy I now had a Goro’s piece of my own. He even gifted me the book The Legend of Harajuku Goro’s Vol. 1, which details Takahashi’s journey and the jewelry he created. On the 14-hour flight home, I flicked through the pages, fueling my fascination to the point that I now call the Goro's family my friends.