Tasteful tips to Dress Like a Local
Congratulations, you’re planning a trip to Japan!
Japan is a unique country with customs, history and culture all on its own.
Chances are, if you’re coming from a Western country, you’ll stand out as a foreigner no matter what you wear.
But, if you pack well, you’ll blend in better and limit staring strangers.
Pack Light for Small Spaces
In the United States, everything is big. Strollers, food portions, and even grocery carts are triple the size they are in Japan.
People here live in small spaces. They pack into train cars and crowded streets and generally take up a small area.
Large luggage hinders travel. It’s cumbersome to wheel around, and it’s frowned upon and bothersome to commuters and locals.
Edit your wardrobe as much as possible. Not only will it make you feel lighter while taking public transportation, it’ll better fit into your tiny hotel room.
High Quality Pieces Pay Off
Capsule wardrobes are perfect for Japan where women and men generally wear subdued, neutral colored basics every day. It’s rare to see the Japanese in any color other than white, gray or black unless you’re in big city fashion districts.
A well thought out capsule wardrobe in neutral colors without prints or bright colors is perfect for this generally casual country.
For women wide leg pants, boxy, t-shirt style shirts or blouses and long pleated skirts are popular staples here.
Men have it even easier. A nice pair of jeans, shorts and t-shirts, or well ironed button down shirts and slacks will do the trick. Make sure they’re stylish and smart. Japanese men look like they’ve been starched and ironed l.
Plan for the Weather
Bring extra pieces depending on the season. Tokyo, for example can be surprisingly cold in the winter. Occasional, unexpected rain storms occur during every season.
A warm scarf will make a huge difference for your comfort level. They don’t take up much space in a backpack or purse and can make your day with the warmth it brings during an unexpected weather change. They can also be used to cover your shoulders and legs when entering a temple.
Shop for a new umbrella while you’re here. Japan has hundreds of pretty parasols in different shapes, styles and prints. They’re used during every season to block the rain or keep the sun off your head and shoulders.
Japan is a modern country, but there are still some holdovers from the past that continue to influence the current culture.
Generally they see cleavage, shoulders and the upper body as something that is too provocative and even unsightly. They believe that it is offensive for children and should be covered completely. If you’re a woman and would like to blend in, be prepared to wear t-shirt necklines while you are visiting.
Tank tops or sleeveless dresses are almost always worn with t-shirts underneath no matter how hot it is outside. Short sleeve t-shirts are often worn with separate, long sleeves pulled up to the t-shirt cuff. This is partly from the old days when tanned skin signified poverty.
A Little Leg Goes a Long Way
When going out to the bars, or out on the town in major cities the Japanese love legs. Short skirts are given the green light but cleavage is a great big no.
Leave Athleisure at Home
Along the line of modesty, you will never see a Japanese woman wearing leggings, or anything form fitting, unless they’re worn with a skirt or shorts over them.
Think classy and casual, the Japanese tend to look nice, put together and their outfits are thought out. Loose, boxy silhouettes are the go to shape with shorts or short skirts for a little sass.
Choose the Right Shoes
Comfortable shoes are important in Japan. You’ll be walking a lot.
Not only do you need a comfortable, casual pair, but they need to be easy to remove. Sneakers, oxfords and loafers are all popular choices for men and women.
In Japanese culture it is important to take off your shoes often.
You are expected to remove your shoes in homes, temples, some hotels and restaurants, indoor children’s play spaces and some museum exhibits.
For this reason it’s not uncommon to see people wearing socks with sandals. If you are not wearing socks bring a clean pair to change into when you take your shoes off. It’s not unheard of, but it is looked down upon to go barefoot in these spaces.
Tattoos are frowned upon in Japanese culture. There is a long history of their use by organzed crime. If you have tattoos try to cover them with sleeves, bandages or scarves especially in temples.
Jewelry in Japan is worn sparingly. Women wear delicate necklaces and small pieces. It’s not uncommon for adult women to have unpierced ears.
Handbags and backpacks are generally small and unobtrusive. You don’t need to worry about crime here, but you do need to think about those around you. Crowded transportation, busy streets and very tiny restaurants, often with seating for only five to ten people at a time, will all make navigation with a large bag difficult.
A foldable or rollable sun hat will come in handy in the summer months when shade can be hard to find in the cities. The tropical sun in Southern Japan or the islands can be intense.
COVID-19 and Masks
On paper, masks are no longer required. But, be prepared to wear them the entire visit.
Locals wear them continuously no matter the season and it’s polite for foreigners to follow suit.
There is a local news story with a photo of hundreds of Japanese people all going about their business, all wearing masks. Then smack in the middle of the photo is a large, blonde family none of whom are wearing masks.
Japanese culture is polite, they will not ask you to put one on, but they will take note. When COVID numbers start going up again foreigners tend to take the blame for this behavior.
Whether or not you believe that masks are useful, take into account that masks have been a part of Japanese culture long before the pandemic. It’s a good practice to respect local customs.
That being said…
The Japanese people are very kind. They love the opportunity to show their history and culture to others and they are forgiving and understanding of our inevitable missteps in their culture.
The above are tips and hints to make you feel more comfortable while in Japan. They are by no means hard and fast rules but a general guideline to help pack for a trip of a lifetime.
Have fun, don’t worry too much about cultural differences and have an amazing time.