If you find yourself wanting to blend into that Japanese crowd, and yet somehow never succeed.. If you are getting tired of all the giggling and whispers every time you pass by a group of high school girls… Maybe you need to take a closer look at yourself in the mirror to see if there’s something that makes you stand out like a sore thumb – other than being a gaijin, of course.
Here in Japan, you don’t have family telling you to your face, “You’re going out like that?” every time there is something embarrassing about your appearance. And the sad part is, no one here will tell you. Of course, individual opinions differ, and Japanese awareness of the diversity of cultures is growing by the day, so you need not change one bit and perhaps ought to just be yourself..
Nevertheless, it would be wise to be aware of how some of the more conservative minds think. Here is a list of six things that stand out, and that might give off a negative vibe in Japan.
Do you have stubble under your chin?
Some cultures are beard-friendly cultures, some are not. In Japan, even the slightest growth gives the impression that you woke up too late to shave in the morning. Japanese men shave every morning before work as part of their daily grooming. If you must have a beard, it is best to keep it trimmed and looking clean.
Are you wearing something with leopard or other animal print?
Once, a leopard-skin designed shirt of mine drew praises and comments of “Cool!” and “I want that shirt!” from foreigner friends in a gaijin-house. The same shirt drew different comments from the Japanese. It was “too loud”. Animal prints were just “chotto…dou kana” (Maybe not my thing…). Perhaps they were a bit conservative; leopard and other animal skin print do sometimes show up in Japanese trendy fashion, like when famous singer Ayumi Hamasaki regaled her album cover with herself in an all-body leopard outfit. And for a while after many high school girls incorporated leopard skin-like accessories and bags into their outfits. Some think, on the other hand, as a television talent seems to, that “It’s fashion that old ladies in Osaka or Piko-Taro fans love to wear.”
Do you have a low-cut, revealing top, or even a just barely revealing blouse?
Although some men might be delighted to see more cleavage, many women, most likely, will not… Some tops that seem modest enough on a Japanese woman suddenly look too revealing and tight on the chest of a woman with a different body type, so be careful even when shopping at Japanese stores. Like all the other items in this list, opinions and impressions may differ, but when you show up with that blouse that was comfortable and acceptable back home, in Japan the men are unabashedly staring, even those with their girlfriends at their side. Women will resent you for “desiring attention”, and the shy men will be annoyed that you are “trying to distract them”. But, I suppose if you can stand the stares and the glares, go ahead and put on that low-cut blouse.
Are you a woman who never likes to wear makeup?
Now, this is a much-argued subject in an era of women’s growing awareness of their right to make choices, but some Japanese, especially older men, think that women without makeup are lazy. Women are expected to wake up early and devote one hour of makeup time in front of the mirror… And yet putting on makeup on the train when you have no time is also considered “bad manners”, which is certainly unfair. I myself am of the opinion that, other than during work, well-brushed hair, a washed face, deodorant on the body, and clean teeth are my idea of a sufficient みだしなみ midashinami, or proper-enough appearance for women.
Are you always wearing the same style of jeans with a variety of shirts?
In my culture, everyone, be it man or woman, wears jeans and a variety of t-shirts and blouses pretty much every day. To some people in Japan, this, though not as bad as a scruffy beard or a woman without makeup, is a sign of a lazy personality and someone who cares not for their appearance.
Are you wearing a shirt with large anime characters or Japanese kanji on the front? Are you sure you really know what that Japanese means?
Think of how the bad English on Japanese t-shirts is annoying and laughable. No Japanese person would wear 一番 ichiban “Number one” on their shirt, but plenty of foreigners walk around with it and get their pictures uploaded on the internet for how silly they look. Even when you know the meaning of that Japanese print, and the translation just perfectly fits your mood, you might not be getting the effect you intended.
One of the biggest shocks for me as a foreigner was finding out how not all Japanese watch anime, and that it is still, with the exception of the 30s to 40s generation, considered a childish hobby. However more and more people are accepting that a large number of tourists come to Japan for the anime, so you will get a better reaction to your anime shirt now than you may have 20 years ago.
There are plenty of other frowned-upon characteristics than those included in the list above, and the number and subtlety of these may be much greater depending on your prefecture/town of residence. The best thing if you really and truly are paranoid about your appearance – just ask a Japanese friend what he or she thinks of your appearance, and cross your fingers for an honest answer. Common sense also goes a long way here.
Best of Luck~
Tricia / PHILIPPINES