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Before you head to Japan, have you stopped to think about what to pack in your stupidly big suitcase? Japan or ‘Nippon’ (日本), meaning, ‘sun-origin’ may very well be a land of the rising sun, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find Japanese people dressed like the cliche ‘western tourist abroad’; yes, it’s a thing, so much so that I wouldn’t be shocked to find it in a fancy dress store marked under, ‘fashion faux pas’; so, read below with the Clueless in Asia ‘What Not To Wear In Japan’ quick-read guide, so you can learn how to be ‘sartorially’ prepared!
Why Do I Need To Be Careful?
” the stereotypical western female abroad approach of, ‘tits and teeth’ “
It’s very simple. The Japanese are a conservative people living within a conservative society, detailing on respect, decency and modesty, essentially, it’s a ‘communal country’ whereby it is important to blend in, i.e, don’t stand out; hence why you’ll see many dark colours being favoured in places such as Tokyo. Tourists, specifically females, have a tendency to fall outside of this cultural ‘understanding’ with the stereotypical western female abroad approach of, ‘tits and teeth’ which is garish and slightly intimidating.
Japanese women. For female tourists it is important to understand that Japanese women typically dress rather sophisticated and are very conservative (this is the keyword), the delicate reveal of skin is either expressed elegantly or simply not at all; in fact, most Japanese women are not just conservative for the purposes of humility, but also to protect their skin from the sun. Sun protection stems from the East Asian attitude towards beauty and how white skin free of blemishes is ‘pure’ and ‘beautiful’, this is why you’ll see many Japanese women opting to carry an umbrella on a hot day and wear UV protection nylon sleeves on their arms.
Japanese men. It could be said that men in Japan are more conservative as you’ll seldom see a man in shorts, hardly ever in flipflops (crocs are more common) and never in a vest. Most men in Japan will be dressed almost identically in black suits or at least in formal clothing, of course, this is working attire, especially in Tokyo, after all, it is the hub for suits and offices. Teenagers, on the other hand, will, of course, be more casual, but they aren’t the standard you want to aim for.
RECAP: Their clothes are often of high quality, clean, appropriate, conservative and protect against the sun.
What Should I Wear?
“ they’re tolerant and forgiving of tourists, but don’t push your luck “
What do you expect us to wear! Shouts those that are guilty of such, and to you I say this: If you think to have bare skin on show to the sun will cool you down, then you’re probably one of those people that think opening a window on a hot day will somehow cool your house, or, turning the temperature to max will warm your home faster.
What should women wear? If you want to blend in and not look like a tourist (which has its perks), consider approaching what to pack with the mindset of, “I’m visiting nan“; opt for an attire that offers a sense of finesse and courtesy for her ageing eyes that quite frankly don’t care much for your fleshy body; so, even things like jeans are in fact fine as the emphasis here is on conservativeness, just avoid wearing lone-leggings. Remember, showing off your chest may not be an issue for you, but it is for Japan; they’re tolerant and forgiving of tourists, but don’t push your luck.
What about men? Of course, it is not at all necessary to wear something as formal as a suit when visiting Japan, instead, use this as a guideline to gauge what feels appropriate. Men should opt for a sleeved top and certainly don’t go out of your way to show off your tattoos as these are associated with the Japanese crime syndicate, the Yakuza; plus your ‘truly unique ink’ will prevent you from accessing most onsens; this applies to both women and men (you can learn about how tattoos are perceived in Japan, with, Being A Freak In Asia.).
What about feet? Wearing flipflops might be perfectly normal to you, but showing your bare feet will likely cause you some embarrassment as showing toes can ‘gross’ people out. The prefered choice of Japan is ‘Crocs’ as they cover your toes and still offer breathability in public, but unfortunately at the cost of looking like you’ve just woken midday from a hangover.
TIP: If in doubt, remember to keep it neat, conservative and high-quality. If you wear flipflops or sandals, consider bringing spare socks to put in your bag as in many establishments you’ll be required to remove your shoes; just make sure you don’t have holes in your socks! Watch here if you’d like to learn more.
Over the next few weeks, Clueless in Asia will be posting a few quick read ‘Survival Guide to Japan’ articles that will, well…help you survive your trip to Japan. This will include, what not to do, what not to wear and what not to say. If you’d like to learn about Japanese culture then occasionally stop by Clueless in Asia to check out new content. Alternatively, you can join the Clueless in Asia mailing list to receive the odd prompt.