Rainwear is available around the world, as are people with a passion for different aspects of rainwear. Here I want to take a closer look at the rainwear community in Japan as I have come across intriguing pictures and stories about what happens on that side of the world. Please note that the combination of my lack of understanding of the Japanese culture and the language barrier make it extremely difficult to write in-depth about this subject. Luckily I got some help from some Japanese community members willing to explain different aspects to me, but it is very well possible I missed the mark completely on certain aspects. Please let me know if you got the feeling I misrepresented certain parts or in case you have some interesting insights or pictures to share.
The development of rainwear in Japan is relatively similar to Europe, with people using natural materials to stay protected from the rain or impregnate fabrics with water repellent substances to create crude forms of rainwear. The exact materials used obviously depend on the natural materials available locally, with Japan having a preference for grass, straw, fabrics, and thin paper sheets made waterproof with oils. Below an old Japanese raincoat dated 1790-1800, which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (picture source). The beautifully hand-crafted coat is made of a combination of tightly woven linen and silk, impregnated with organic glaze to make it waterproof. This is a method very similar to how rainwear was made in European countries in the past: tightly woven fabrics covered in linseed oil or animal fats to repel the rain.
Needless to say raincoats like this were extraordinary expensive back then and not available to ordinary people trying to stay dry. Farmers and laborers would be dependent on cheaper materials, like grass and straw to make raincoats from. While this sounds very old-fashioned and maybe only used by the poorest farmers, the use of grass raincoats was actually also quite widespread in urban areas even till the twentieth century. Below a picture of street sweepers in the city of Tokyo, circa 1930, with the person closest to the camera wearing a raincoat made out of grass. Also the person on the right is wearing a grass raincoat, while the other street sweepers have more modern looking western style raincoats on.
A more affordable, truly waterproof raincoat became available in Japan around the end of the 19th century. In 1843 it was John Hancock who patented the vulcanization of rubber, making natural rubber the material of choice for modern rainwear in the UK. Charles Macintosh capitalized on this and started producing rubberized raincoats in large quantities. Due to its geographical location it took some time for rubberized products to reach Japan in large quantities, but the usefulness of rubber for diving suits and rainwear quickly got the attention of local workers who set up shop to repair damaged rubber clothing and experiment with methods of creating vulcanized rubber themselves. The first complete rubber factories were opened in Japan near the end of the nineteenth century. For example the Meiji Rubber Factory opened in 1883 followed by the Tsuchiya Gomu Factory in 1886, both producing rubber products ranging from rubber shoes, rainwear, and waterproof cloth, to diving gear. With limited access to locally available raw rubber several Japanese rubber plantations were started in India, Singapore, and Malay. Below the raised logo of Mitsuuma rubber rainwear produced for the fishing industry, a small but beautiful detail on their rubber raingear.
The outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 turned rubber into a strategic material needed for military products and the production lines in the existing rubber factories were switched to support the war efforts. Demand for rubber increased dramatically even though the Russo-Japanese war was ended in 1905 with Japan defeating Russia. A new surge in demand was created the years after, when the automobile market in America started booming and rubber products experienced strong demand. Rubber products become more important domestically, something that was painfully pointed out at the outbreak of the Great War in Europe. While Japan had no part in the war, the import of rubber products from Germany were virtually stopped leading to problems all over Japan. The focus of the Japanese government, under advice of the military, was to secure access to raw materials and make Japan self-sufficient in the rubber industry.
When Japan entered the Second World War they set out to control the Pacific region and the production of raw materials. Possibly unexpectedly the production of rubber decreased sharply in Asia as workers and managers of rubber plantations fled to avoid the invading forces. For example Vietnam produced 60,000 tons of natural rubber a year up until the Japanese invaded the country in 1940 and production dropped to virtually zero. Below a small part of an American military handbook from 1943 (source) depicting the uniforms of the Japanese armed forces. The left picture shows a person wearing a complete rubber outfit as weather protection with a rubber raincoat and hip boots, as might be used in ports and beachheads. On the right a protective suit which includes a rubber gasmask to protects the wearer against gas and chemical attacks.
With Japan surrendering in 1945, the industrial complex was slowly being rebuilt focusing on the heavy industry first. The Japanese military was limited to defense forces alone and products previously made for the military now find their way to the civilian population. For example the previously shown rubber rainwear is now created for employees of the state railways and the fishing industry. Below a picture from an auction site of a black long raincoat create for the Japanese State Railways in 1969. The style is very similar to European rubber raincoats with, what looks, a cotton backing to give the material more strength.
Rainsuits in rubber are also widely used in the fishing industry. Unlike in Europe where rainwear in the fishing industry is often made in bright colors, the Japanese mostly create complete black rainwear with possibly only the lining in bright colors. Below a historical picture of Japanese fishermen catching yellowtail tuna at the Komekami fishing ground, date unknown (source – recently posted on twitter by Rubberremnant). Going by the reflection of the light coming from the black raingear they are wearing, it is all made from rubber.
Another remarkable difference with European made rubber rainwear is that while the Europeans often use a linen or cotton fabric to strengthen the rubber, the Japanese have both the inside and outside made out of rubber for the fishing industry. The possible reason for making also the lining from rubber is the ease of putting it on; you will more easily slip into the rainsuit with such a smooth material. Below a picture of a Japanese black rubber raingear showing some of the brightly colored rubber lining in the hood on the right. Picture by @Latexcatsuit.
After being the only truly waterproof workwear for over a decade, the production of rubber rainwear in Japan starts to decline near the end of the sixties and start of the seventies. On one hand the production of mass-produced rubber products like rubber boots is moved to more labor-abundant countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and China, while on the other hand modern fabrics starts to compete with the thick and heavy rubber rainwear. Below a print of Sendai Japan, showing a farm laborer planting rice in the rain, wearing a rubber raincoat combined with rubber boots. Source @Latexcatsuit.
For industrial use the introduction of PVC, which is often referred to as vinyl in Japan, takes over. Most fishing gear is produced from medium-weight PVC, in bright colors, at prices no rubber rainsuit can be produced. This is a trend very similar to what happened in the West, and even today most rainwear for the fishing industry is made out of PVC. Below a PVC rainsuit from the brand Marine Mate. Similar rainwear is easily available on Amazon Japan and Rakuten.
For non-commercial use thinner materials like nylon, thin PVC, and other plastics took over. Especially the nylon materials are interesting here, as the waterproofness of the fabric is limited. To guarantee the quality a thin layer of rubber was often added as backing. This is exactly the material that the Dutch company Agu discovered on a business trip to Japan, and which formed the basis for over a million rainsuits sold in The Netherlands alone in the seventies and eighties. Similar rainwear was available in Japan as well, produced by Japanese manufacturers. Below three pictures of a Japanese Reise-Rcoat in dark green, found on an auction site, which is almost identical to the Dutch Agu dark green rainwear.
Also another rubberized nylon rainsuit of the brand Kagemitsu (景光), perfectly matching the material, design, and color of the dark-red Agu rainwear (source auction site).
And one more picture of a Japanese rainsuit made out of rubberized nylon which resembles the Agu rainwear as well, only now the nylon has more of a dull finish (source).
With the developments in materials continuing the rubberized raincoats were soon outdated and replaced by rainwear that could be produced at lower costs or was breathable for more comfort of the wearer. Who still wants to purchase some vintage rubber rainwear now can best keep an eye on auction sites and must be willing to pay serious amounts of money for rubber items.
The rainwear community in Japan can maybe best be split into 2 separate communities, where there is a community revolving around the more modern Japanese rainwear produced from the seventies till today, and a community with a focus on the earlier rubber Japanese rainwear which was produced till maybe the late sixties. For as far as I can see the dynamics within these groups are different enough to discuss them separately.
There is no generally agreed on theory of the origins where a passion or fetish comes from. But there is regularly a common denominator with most people: they discovered their interests at a relatively young age, often even before developing any sexual feelings, and that experience is linked to multiple senses leaving such a strong impression they want to relive it at a later age.
Modern rainwear community
There are people who are interested in different types of specific rainwear, often based on a preference developed at an early age. The most obvious catalyser for this might have been one type of widely used rainwear: Japanese school rainwear made from rubberized nylon. School uniforms are ubiquitous in Japan with the majority of public and private junior and senior high schools using them. Part of the school uniform is rainwear: an often cream or blue colored long raincoat for girls and a rainsuit for boys.
This type of rainwear was introduced around the early seventies and made out of nylon as that was lightweight, easy to bring along, and affordable. Since nylon is by itself not fully waterproof, the lining of the rainwear was rubberized. Below a picture of the packaging of a vintage Kagemitsu raincoat for girls, as posted on an auction site, showing the stylish long raincoat with a reflective strip on the back for safety in traffic.
Different brands produced very similar raincoats, all with a rubber backing. It is not hard to imagine rainwear like this having made a lasting impression on many people, either in a positive or negative way, keeping in mind the overall smooth feel of rubber-backed clothing in combination with the distinct smell of the rubber. Below a picture of three women’s raincoats from different brands, all having the same design, same color, and the same rubber backing (picture from auction site).
For some these experiences might have stoked their interest in smooth and thin rainwear, while others would have mostly be interested in the feel and smell of the rubber and later leaning towards the rubber scene.
Similar experiences could have taken place with other types of commonly available rainwear, ranging from the sighting of thin PVC rainwear or the experience of other vinyls and plastics. Below a picture of a Japanese woman showing a thin plastic rainsuit in blue.
The modern rainwear community is maybe closest to the European rainwear communities. It is split between people enjoying their own specific types of rainwear and finding each other online to share pictures and experiences. With so many different types of gear available the community might feel relatively small, although there are often common interests linking the different groups together in some way. The best example of this might be in the availability of Japanese pornographic content showing rainwear; instead of purely focusing on a certain type of rainwear the net is often casted broader by involving other fetishes as well to increase sales.
It seems obvious that there are meetings taking place within this community, but my guess is these would be mostly private or small-scale and involve clear activities as opposed to just wearing the gear as a lifestyle.
Rubber rainwear community
The rubber rainwear community in Japan is different from the modern rainwear community in many ways. The first thing to notice is that the rubber rainwear community is not self-contained as it is part of the much larger rubber community. It has been this way for decades already. The main reason for this seems obvious: Japanese rubber rainwear is constructed with rubber on both the outside as well as on the inside of the gear. This makes it easily attractive for the rubber enthusiast, even in case he has nothing with rainwear specifically. Imagine putting on a complete heavy-rubber rainsuit as a rubber enthusiast and not having any special reaction to it. This is completely different from other regions in the world where rubber rainwear often has a different material attached to it making it either not interesting to wear for rubber enthusiasts, or not interesting to see for them. Below two pictures previously posted by @latexcatsuit showing members of the Rubberist club of Japan in 1993, both dressed in a Japanese made dark blue rainsuits and Japanese rubber wellington boots in the first picture and in waders in the second picture.
Where modern rainwear enthusiasts seem mostly focused on the rainwear itself, it is the rubber material that is prevailing for the rubber rainwear community. Rubber rainwear is merely one type of outfit that can be exchanged for a different style or fit on the next occasion. In most of the online profiles of community members showing their rubber rainwear outfits you will find pictures of other rubber outfits as well that have nothing to do with rainwear or the specific features of rubber rainwear. The members of the rubber rainwear community are mostly rubber enthusiast, and the rubber rainwear is just one of their many outfits. Below a picture from the Tokyo based rubber store “L-Base” (which you can follow on twitter). The rainboots on the top right of the picture indicate how intertwined rainwear is with the rubber scene.
The focus on the rubber material over the features of rainwear comes best to light by the way the rubber is presented. Similar to regular rubber outfits most community members chose to polish their rubber raingear with latex polish, changing the relatively dull rubber surface to shiny. While this can be seen as a way of presenting the material in its optimal form, it is not something one would traditionally see in the west when rubber rainwear is presented within the rainwear community. Part of the attractiveness is the feel of the rubber which changes completely with the glossy coating applied and how the possibly dull look of rainwear comes to live in the rain. Instead of adding a glossy coating out of a bottle, most western rainwear enthusiasts would opt to get outside when it rains or shower themselves to get the desired effect. Below an unpolished Japanese raincoat for sale by @latexcatsuit.
This is closely related to the next difference between the modern rainwear community and the rubber rainwear community. Where many members of the modern rainwear community seem to enjoy putting their gear to the test outdoors and use it for what it is intended for, there is a clear lack of pictures of rubber rainwear actually getting wet. From a practical point of view this can possibly be explained as an attempt to not attract unnecessary attention outdoors, but the complete lack of references to the waterproofness of the gear seems telling.
The group dynamics within the rubber rainwear group are actually the most fascinating to me, as the presented depiction of the scene makes me envious. With rubber rainwear being part of the Japanese rubber community a lot of activities, get-togethers, and promotions are introduced to an otherwise small group.
The first that stands out is the acceptance within the Japanese rubber community. Not just acceptance regarding gender and sexuality, but also a wide acceptance of different types of rubber gear and how people experience them. Besides the occasional rubber rainwear outfit, you might come across rubber diving suits, uniforms, gimp suits, people covered in rubber from head to toe, and people barely covering anything. Some people will experience the gear by itself while for others it is part of a bigger (role-) play involving ropes, dominance, and/or pain. And there is latex as fashion with a brand as Kurage creating the most artistic rubber outfits, giving people the opportunity to stand out, express themselves, and show off their eye-catching gear. Below a group picture from a “Department-H” gasmask party of December 5, 2021 showing the range of different rubber clothing used in the rubber scene (source). Clearly visible on the right is one person wearing a camouflage latex poncho with a matching rain hat, showing how rubber rainwear is fully integrated into the rubber scene.
Also not unimportant, the rubber community seem to attract a healthy mix of different age groups and different genders. Where I often get the idea that the European fetish scenes are mostly dominated by men, be it online or in real-life, the situation in Japan seems different with lots of women participating and making their mark. Also regarding the age groups of the participants the Japanese scene seems more attractive to me with a relatively larger percentage of younger people joining in. From a personal point of view I would be much more comfortable discussing and participating in real-life with people of similar age.
Finally I get the feeling that there is more of a lifestyle focus as opposed to quick sexual gratification. It seems many people just come to events to have a good night out and plan on returning home alone again. And I am absolutely aware I might be hopelessly naive here, but the screenshot below of the wader team of the Rubberist Club of Japan (rubberist.jp) sounds interesting with the goal of getting close to nature by wearing rubber, bird watching, taking photos, and having a barbecue on the riverside. It comes across much more as a social lifestyle event to meet like-minded people and just have a good time.