Welcome back to Indigoshrimp, and have I got something special for you today!

This is the first denim review of the year 2019 – the lightest weight jeans I’ve featured on the blog since 2008 – Oni Denim’s solution to the denim enthusiast’s dilemma of what to wear during the hotter summer months. I’m talking about Oni’s new headline fabric, the Kiraku denim (鬼楽).

I’ve been lucky enough to obtain an early sample of this pair of jeans via the good folks at Denimio. The timing was perfect too, since I was able to field test the Kiraku during the Australian heatwave that’s recently swept the continent. I’m hoping this early review might help with your purchase decision when the Kiraku drops at Denimio.

Weighing in at 12 oz, it would be natural to assume that this denim is relatively flat and uninteresting compared with heavy weight fabrics, but the Kiraku might surprise you! For the folks who are interested in the history of the Oni Denim brand, check out my earlier review of the Shin Secret Denim. Otherwise, let’s  have a look at the Kiraku denim.

Fit

The sample pair being reviewed here will be released as the ONI-982KIRAKU. Another two cuts will be available too. The 982 is a high relax tapered cut, and a relatively new addition to Oni’s lineup.

The photos of the fit were taken on days 1 & 2 after a quick, cold water soak to shrink up the denim a little.

In very broad terms, the 982 is a modern, lifter’s style cut with a relatively high waist. I think this is fairly evident in how this pair has fit my frame.

In the top block, there’s plenty of space for the pelvis and in the seat.

The thighs are generous, and can accommodate athletic legs.

From just above the knee, the jeans taper rather strongly, finishing with a narrow opening near the ankles.

The fit is very similar to Oni’s well known 622 cut, the major difference being the higher rise on the 982.

The rise is high enough that you won’t need to worry about any undergarments showing, regardless of how low you squat!

On my sample pair, the inseam is long enough for a double cuff after the initial soak.

For reference, my measurements are 185 cm and 93 kg, wearing size 36 in the 982 cut.

The fit of jeans is a very subjective matter of course, but based on my experience I reckon the 982 cut works well for fuller or more athletic builds.

The 982 will fit better for many Westerners compared with other Japanese cuts, which tend to squish the top block.

Fabric

The Kiraku is a 12 oz unsanforised, RHT denim, woven on a truly vintage shuttle loom using natural indigo rope dyed warp and beige dyed weft.

Oni’s aim here appears to be two-fold… One, to create an enthusiast level denim which is light enough for harsh summer days. Two, to find the lowest weight limit with which Oni could produce a Secret denim texture.

It is interesting to consider, too, that the kanji for Kiraku, 楽, translates as “comfort” or “ease”. This had been confusing for me initially, as I was more familiar with the Mandarin translation of “happy” or “joy”.

The weave tension is extremely low for this denim. The overall structure is fairly loose. The relaxation of the weave, combined with a 6 x 6 year structure (traditionally used on heavier denim), has resulted in a fabric which is variegated and irregular despite its relatively light weight.

The Kiraku would have been a challenging denim to weave – kudos to the mill!

The porous weave is evident on both wearing and observation. Similar to Oni’s previous extra-low tension 14 oz fabric, you can observe some light passing through the denim when you hold these jeans up towards the sun. The same effect with air can be felt when the jeans are worn – this denim breathes very well, in comparison to the usual 14 oz + denims that are common in this hobby.

The warp face, apart from being irregularly irregular due to slubbing, is also moderately neppy. The streaks of the slub are rather lengthy compared with other slub denims, giving the Kiraku a vertical flavor. This verticality, combined with the relative hairlessness of the warp face, further imparts a crispy, almost dry look to the Kiraku.

All things consider, the Kiraku is certainly much more intense than the usual 12 oz denim.

The textures on the warp and weft faces are rather different. The warp is rougher – bumpy, slightly dry, full of notches & ridges. The weft is smoother, more luxurious even, and gives comfort to the skin when worn. Running my fingers on the warp face, I’m reminded of my previous experiences with the fluffy & somewhat dry cottons from the Americas. On the weft side, I’m certain there has been liberal use of long staple cotton.

The colour of the denim is rather special too. I do not know the full details about the dye stuff being used (as in, the plant origin of the natural indigo), though my understanding is that this is a rope-dyed natural indigo denim. Certainly, I can confirm the rope dye method by examining loose yarn.

The natural indigo dye would explain the curious variation in shades of blue this denim displays under different lighting conditions. The rope dyed nature of the warp yarns should mean the denim fades faster and with more contrast than a traditional natural hank dye fabric. I would describe the blue of this denim to be clean, vivid, moderately dark and organic.

The weft is gently coloured too – a soft tinge of beige, perhaps cheese dyed, the colour penetrating through the yarn.

Details

The detailing of these jeans are not changed from Oni’s previous releases in the last one to two years. In other words, all the bells & whistles have been installed, the the arcs remain the same shape.

Oni’s patch design and the high grade deerskin utilized for the patch are some of the nicest in this hobby.

This particular leather ages extremely gracefully, though it can burn & shrivel in the dryer – for best results, always air dry your Oni Denim jeans.

The woven tag makes its trademark appearance on the inside of the waistband.

Having previous experience, I know this tag will age in its own way to match the evolution of the denim & indigo.

Fully customised buttons and external rivets feature.

These doughnut buttons on the five-button fly, in particular, have great texture. Certainly, an upgrade compared with the laurel wreath buttons on my very old pairs of Oni Denim jeans.

The punch-through rivets are customised Universal burr rivets.

The copper on these rivets will oxidize over time.

Of course, hidden Universal rivets are included too, just under the bar-tacking securing the back pockets.

Overall, the sewing is neat and streamlined.

Lemon and orange threads dominate, and the colours blend together smoothly.

The construct is not strict-reproduction based however, so don’t expect big, fat cotton threaded chain-stitching.

Regardless, the sewing is dense and fairly regular.

Important structural elements such as button holes, waist band and fly seams are expertly finished.

The five belt loops are raised in the center.

The attachments are neatly tacked.

The pocket cloth returns to the plain but sturdy twill fabric used prior to last year’s Aizumi denim release.

Not quite as monstrous as some Kurashiki sail cloth I’ve seen, but definitely more comfortable and less obtrusive against the thighs.

Finally, the selvedge ID pays homage to the Secret Denim, with a slightly different configuration yet featuring the same pink threads.

Thoughts

In reviewing this new Kiraku denim, I thought there were two considerations worth exploring which are in line with Oni Denim’s development goals for this new fabric. The first question for me would be, is the Kiraku a good answer for the dilemma of wearing Japanese denim in hot weather? The other consideration would be, how does the Kiraku compare with Oni’s recent headline denims, which include heavy-hitters such as Shin Secret, Aizumi, Kuroai, etc.?

Let’s talk about denim weight and weather.

Within the denim hobby it is common to see a focus on heavier fabrics, especially for folks who are just starting out. Many enthusiasts, if they delve deeper into the Americana / retro menswear branches of the hobby, find themselves gravitating back towards mid-weight denims between 14 to 16 oz. Regardless, outside of strict reproduction fabrics designed to imitate pre-1960’s denims, it is very rare to come across denims that are lighter than 13 oz which would be considered interesting or worthwhile.

Further to this context is the fact that everybody has different tolerances when it comes to clothing thickness and ambient temperature. Denimheads can exist on a spectrum – at one extremity you have guys who would wear 21 oz Iron Heart denim during a South East Asian summer, and on the other there are people who refuse to wear anything but shorts once the temperature climbs into the 30’s.

As I mentioned earlier, I tested the Kiraku during the recent Australian heatwave, the hottest day in my area being 46 degrees Celsius, and I could wear the Kiraku without issue. Against the skin, not only was the denim breathable, but also the weft face was comfortable & relatively smooth. At the same time, as a texture geek, the Kiraku adequately held my attention, and I was not bored with the denim at all – in fact, I was suitably impressed by this denim, and upon touching it I’m still surprised that this intensity of grain & texture could be achieved at such a low weight. The contrast between hand-feel of the warp & weft faces is worth examining too.

This deliberate engineering of the denim indicates to me that, in many ways, the Kiraku was designed with the more advanced enthusiast in mind – someone who expects a good balance between comfort and texture, someone for whom the fad of ultra-heavy denims have worn off over the years. To answer the first question then, I’d say that the Kiraku is a very well rounded solution to the perennial “which denim to wear during summer” dilemma.

On the other hand, the Kiraku could also be a good idea for beginners. Perhaps you might be anxious about the discomfort of heavy jeans, or maybe you simply do not wish to sacrifice comfort for the novelty of wearing cotton armor. The Kiraku, then, is a perfect introduction to the weaves and indigo hues that are available at the top end of this denim hobby. It is a shorter leap to make, after all, transitioning from 10 oz mall-brand jeans to this 12 oz denim, compared with a deep dive to the 20 oz Secret denim.

Lighter weight aside, is the Kiraku comparable to Oni’s heavier denims?

Oni wanted to see how low they could go with denim weight whilst still maintaining a Secret denim texture. To be completely realistic, of course, a 12 oz denim cannot be as detailed as a 20 oz denim – there’re just so much less thickness and cotton to work with – though I must say that I’ve never seen another light weight fabric which even begins to approach the complex hand-feel of the Kiraku. So, whilst the Kiraku is slightly flatter and less complex compared with the original Secret denim, it’s perhaps best to think of the Kiraku as the 12 oz manifestation of the Secret denim weave, rather than trying to compare apples with oranges.

The natural indigo dye is a welcome contrast to the recent greens and inks which have tinted Oni’s headline denims. You can’t go wrong with a soothing, organic blue. This shade of indigo is appealing and approachable, making the Kiraku a rather versatile denim that will easily match any T-shirt or sneakers on a hot summer day.

To answer the second question then, I’d say the Kiraku is best conceptualized as a new standard in light weight denim weave, its current manifestation being versatile & approachable. Therefore, the Kiraku definitely has a place among Oni’s enthusiast-grade fabrics.

Are there any downsides to this denim, you might ask? Well, to balance out this review, I should mention that a combination of low tension, loose weave and light weight could potentially impact on the durability of the Kiraku denim compared with heavier, denser denims. With regards to durability, I cannot draw any conclusions yet – only time will tell.

On a different note, this is my first experience with Oni’s 982 cut, and I must say I’m enjoying it immensely thus far.

I’ve noticed it is fairly similar to Tanuki’s HT cut, and again I will comment that the two brands share many similarities in their jeans. (If examined closely, you will notice the Kiraku denim has certain similarities with Tanuki’s Kaze denim too!) 

The 982 high relax tapered cut works well with my body shape, and proves to be a much improved “export” cut compared with Oni fits from previous years, as far as non-Asian markets are concerned. I should say this cut will probably not work well for slim people, as the thighs and seat will be too baggy if you don’t have some meat on your bones. For everyone else, the 982 will integrate nicely into modern Americana, casual-wear and street-wear wardrobes.

All in all, the Kiraku certainly sets a new standard for light denims. Apart from presenting the enthusiast with a neat balance of texture and comfort, the Kiraku denim is an awesome achievement from the perspective of denim engineering. The texture:weight proposition is ridiculously good, and the indigo hues from the natural dye is pretty spectacular in sunlight too! I very much look forward to seeing this particular weave being made with different indigo hues and sulfur dyes in the future.

The ONI-982KIRAKU can be considered to have great value, factoring in the ridiculous R & D effort over years that have been invested in its creation, and the use of natural indigo dye of course. This newest release from Oni Denim is an easy recommendation for both beginners & collectors, and if you’re specifically looking for a pair of summer jeans, the Kiraku will need to be one of the top picks.

Check them out first, and at the best pricing, with Denimio.  Early reviews are something I’ve been hoping to do on this blog for a while, and rare is the opportunity to organize this with a Japanese maker, so many thanks to the cool guys & girls at Denimio for getting me linked up.