Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Things to Love/Hate about Living in Japan #1

Wow, I really dropped the ball on posting this on Saturday. Oh well. I did it to surprise you, like when you forget about someone's birthday and give them one of those belated cards and pretend like you did it on purpose.

Before I start this post, I just want to make it known that I love Japan! But just as when you get to know a person, especially a person that you love, you start to see their flaws. This is just my perspective as an outsider trying to understand a totally foreign culture. I'm just getting to know this country and all its crazy quirks. It's fun and frustrating. I have lots of "things to love" to write about in the future.

The first thing to hate about living in Japan is FASHION. Many people will argue with me. People will call me crazy. But if you had to walk 30 minutes to work everyday past modern-day Japanese youth, you'd go crazy, too. This is supposed to be the land of gothic lolita, of Harajuku and people who look like video game characters. And it is, in many ways. This is the land of cute, and there are some snazzy dressers that will make you feel like roadkill in comparison to them.
But just as NYC is a far cry from Statesboro, GA, the fashion trends of Tokyo don't always trickle down to the more rural areas of Japan, like our humble Nagano Ken.
It's as if no one in this country has a helpful older sister to teach them that brown and black do not in fact match, and that a cohesive outfit does not consist of four or five articles of clothing picked at random from a store.

I feel like I'm either in a weird anime or a romantic comedy from the 90s whenever I wait for a train.

Apparently everything has been done before, so it's no surprise when trends are recycled. But why every trend? Why stirrup pants? Why this?

The dresses look cute until you try them on and feel like you're pregnant with quintuplets.


Yes. Weird straw hats. Shorts with tights. Maybe I'm out just out of the fashion loop, but I don't remember anyone sporting this look the last time I was in the States. Everyone does it here. Women. Children. Teenagers. Sometimes even men rock out leggings with their shorts. Is it UV protection, modesty, or just very misguided ideas about what articles of clothing go together?

I don't want to be a fashion fascist. I think that fashion should be a way to express yourself, to show what you value, in a way. Maybe you value comfort and warmth over bright and flashy colors. Maybe you're the opposite. But what I see many people in Japan doing--moreso than people in America--is take outfits directly from mannequins, even if the outfit is ugly. Fugly even. In fact, the majority of outfits I see here, that would be considered outlandish in the US, are just variations of one outfit on display at a store. Taken from a master mold.

Zack and I think that a big part of this phenomenon is the uniform culture of Japan. This is a land of homogenization, of nails that stick up getting hammered down. All junior high school students have to wear uniforms, and many high schools and elementary schools have them, too. Many offices force their employees to wear flight attendant-esque uniforms. Even most little kids seem to wear similar outfits.

I guess one of my biggest qualms with the couture of Japan is that it doesn't fit. It doesn't fit our times (1992 called. They want their ugly hats back)--

--and it doesn't fit actual people. I thought I was coming to my home land, the land of the short people, the land of pants that would fit me. I was so wrong. Apparently, my feet are too small and my ass is too big to find proper-fitting attire in Asia. The quest continues. Many fashionable shoes (i.e. pumps and flats that I love) come in sizes S, M, and L, not incremental sizes. So I wear a size S and most stores start carrying shoes at size M. I notice a lot of young women sliding around in their cute-colored pumps, choosing fashion over proper-fitting shoes. I'm not that desperate yet.

The clothes are either maternity-shirt baggy or superhero-tight. No real in between. It makes all women big and floppy up top and super skinny down below. Even different body shapes are molded to look the same.

Sorry if you like the 90s grunge look. I used to like it, too. But really, when you see it every day in real life, it isn't as cute as when Bridget Fonda wears it. Especially when paired with weird Spartan sandal high heels.

Just because something can be classified as retro does not mean it should be resurrected. Lots of bad things are retro: DDT, for example. We don't want to start wearing that, now do we? And just because something is considered fashionable enough to be on a mannequin or model doesn't mean that it should be worn. By anyone. You should just wear clothes that make you happy and make you feel good about yourself. That's the only rule that anyone should follow. It just never occurred to me that looking like other people could make anyone happy.


Maybe I'm just really homesick for diversity, the hallmark of American style. Sure, America has tons of people just copying the pages of magazines, but there are just as many people finding their own way. I don't want to generalize all Japanese people, because there are plenty of non-conformists in this strange country, but I have to say that the pressure to conform is the biggest hurdle to fashion that Japan has right now. That, and their insistence on wearing black tights with everything. Even in the summer.

(Note: Sorry that the photos aren't actual photos of Japanese people. All the pictures are fairly accurate examples of Japanese fashion as I see it. I think that many Japanese outfits are not as cute as the ones pictured above though. It's hard to inconspicuously photograph people. But I will try to get some actual evidence of this disturbing 90s grunge/fugly trend).

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