Good evening everyone!
There’s so much I could say about assimilating into Japanese society, and the difficulties foreigners face as they try to break in– But as a young foreign woman, fashion and presentation are always at the forefront of issues for me. There’s so much that can be said about this vast subject, and I wanted to give the individual attention I could to each common myth or question. After trying and giving up so many times, I decided to make this a series.
Let’s jump start this series with the big, glaring, painfully obvious topic, size.
First, a disclaimer. I can only speak for myself, my and my own experiences shopping as a foreigner in Japan. Many people may have less luck than me, or more luck, depending on size, shape, etc. Every body is unique so all advice should be taken with a grain of salt!
Probably the most common questions I get from foreigners is “Will Japanese clothes fit me?”
If you aren’t familiar with Japanese sizing, most trendy stores geared at young women will simply have one size clothing titled (fittingly) “One Size” “OS” or in a lot of cases, just “M” for ‘medium’. Other Japanese stores may carry “Small” “Medium”, and “Large” sizes, but expect these to be significantly smaller than the sizes of the same name in North America.
For myself, I’m 172 cm and wear a shirt size US “M” and pants size US 6. What can i buy in Japan? Surprisingly, more than people assume! As a general rule, I never go for pants, shorts, and skirts that are tight on the hips at “OS” stores. No need to make myself feel bad that there’s no way any of those items will ever fit. I also avoid button-front shirts at “OS” stores because of my bust.
So, what can I wear at one size stores? I usually shop for…
- Skirts/ loose shorts
Luckily, these items make up most of my wardrobe (who likes wearing jeans anyway, especially in the summer… no thank you!).
Everything else, I get at Japanese stores with number or letter sizes like Uniqlo or GU. Also, don’t forget! Most popular chain stores from North America have locations in major Japanese cities and shopping centers, so you’ll be able to find familiar US sizes for things that may not fit at the “OS” stores no problem at all. For me, I do a lot of shopping at American Eagle, Zara, and Bershka. Be warned though, some stores like H&M and Forever 21 do size down for the Japanese market, which is why I avoid them like the plague– Who needs to feel crummy about themselves all day because things don’t fit like they do back home?
But what about other wardrobe staples; like underwear, bras, and shoes? This is where things get tricky! My number one advice for new expats in Japan is if you are above a US women’s size 8 in shoes or above, bring shoes from home. While finding larger shoes in Japan isn’t too incredibly difficult, the quality of trendy shoes in my experience has been so-so, to awful. Some shoes come in cm measurements, and some come in S, M, and L sizes. I’ve fit my feet into a few L size shoes here and there, but they’ve all been awful quality and really hurt my feet after a few wears. So just to be safe, bring plenty of nice quality shoes from home! For underwear, I stick to stores like Uniqlo and GU, they’re cheap, have a variety of sizes, and are usually comfier than some of the trendy lingerie stores.
Bras in Japan are some of my favorites, they’re so much cheaper (think 1500 yen for a cute, decent quality bra) and way cuter than any bras I’ve ever bought in America– but if you are a larger size, it can be very difficult to find something that fits well. Cup sizes are much smaller in Japan than in the US, and band sizes only go up to 75 cm in most stores. For example, if you are usually a US 32D, you will most likely wear a 75F here, anything larger in my experience might be tricky– Though I have seen sizes up to H in a few stores in Tokyo. If you don’t like padding, most lingerie stores will not be for you. Everything is really padded, really frilly, and really colorful. Some bras you can take the padding out, but most will have it built in, even in the larger sizes. Personally, I love bra shopping in Japan, but of course I recognize the privilege of being able to fit into them, and enjoying the overly feminine styling of them.
With all of that in mind, let’s talk about being a “bigger” person in Japan. In America, I’m tall, and I’ve always been tall. But being a tall, curvier-than-your-average-Japanese-woman American in Japan is a new kind of feeling that I’ve had to develop a very, very thick skin to deal with. As someone who has always struggled with body image and never feeling comfortable with their appearance, suddenly sticking out so much and being quite outside the norm is still taking a lot of getting used to.
People love to ask questions, and you have to remember people talk about physical appearance (in my experience) much more openly here than they do in America. In fact, the first thing my boyfriends mother said to me when I saw her at Narita airport was “Wow! You look much better now that you’ve lost weight!” Which shook me, honestly. Never in a million years would I say that to another woman (even if she did look great! In my experience, mentioning weight is always a no-no). But of course, she meant it as a compliment.
But people have said, and continue to say, things to my face that make me extremely uncomfortable. Not just about my height, but my foot size, my bust, and everything that is “out of the ordinary” in Japan. People close to me have asked me what size I wear in Japan, and when I tell them, they’ve asked to seen the tags of my clothing to double check. People have put their foot next to mine to see how massive it is compared to theirs, and commented extensively on my food choices (and given their unwanted opinion on what I should be eating). You have to grow a thick skin. If you are confident in yourself and what makes you different, these things you can easily laugh off and move to the next subject. People do not say these things to hurt you, and they never mean to be malicious– But for myself, as a sensitive person, I always interpret these comments as harsher than they intend. I’m still working on not letting these things bother me, and some days are incredibly difficult because of these comments and differences.
With all that out of the way, I’d say not to worry too much about sizing here in Japan. With strategic packing and bringing back ups of your favorite things that you may not be able to find duplicates of, you’ll have no trouble at all finding all kinds of cute, trendy things to wear. Even though I focused on a lot of the negativity I have experienced– I also experience no shortage of compliments, and have a great support system to talk to when things get to be too much!
I’ll end this with my shout out to you– You are beautiful no matter what impossibly tiny shorts you may or may not be able to fit into here! These sizes are not made for the “average” American body in mind, and you know what– That’s totally OK! No one expects you to be anything more than yourself, and even though some rude questions might throw you for a loop from time to time, just keep in mind that you’re a total babe– and have a great time in Japan!
That’s all for now!