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What to wear in Japan (as a tourist)

Don't know what to wear in Japan during your next vacation? Here are four fashion trends to follow in 2024!

By Syd McCrayPublished about a month ago 6 min read
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Photo by Alan W: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-walking-on-the-street-during-night-time-5845254/

When 97% of a country’s population consists of natural-born citizens, outsiders stick out like sore thumbs. Pair that with a cultural mindset of “community before individuality” and travelers don’t stand a chance of blending in.

This is the experience for tourists in Japan: outside of Tokyo’s international melting pot, the rest of the country has had little to no experience with foreigners. This makes visitors the prime target for gawking stares.

Western tourists quickly notice that Japanese fashion differs from their home country’s trends in numerous ways. No matter what they have packed in their suitcase, they never quite feel like they’re wearing the “perfect” outfit while walking the streets. They’re clueless on what to wear in Japan.

I moved to Japan from America with two suitcases full of clothing. Over the course of two years, I’ve recycled over half of my wardrobe. I’ve spent countless hours watching how Japanese men and women dress on weekdays, weeknights, and weekends. If you’re looking for tips on what to wear in Japan and avoid excess attention, I’ve got you.

DISCLAIMER: I do not and have never lived in Tokyo, Osaka, or any other major Japanese city. The prefecture I call home would be considered inaka, or “countryside.” All of my opinions and perspectives come from someone who doesn’t keep up with city trends. Keep that in mind while reading, thanks!

Baggy Clothing

Photo by Toàn Văn: https://www.pexels.com/photo/boys-on-a-railway-station-20818092/

The year 2020 brought two things with it: 1) the Covid-19 pandemic, and 2) the death of skinny jeans. Even though Americans are relatively new to artfully creating oversized looks, the Japanese have been doing it for decades. Jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, dresses, etc. are meant to balloon around the body.

During the hot summers, they wear long, billowing dresses and trousers to provide air circulation. The cold winter months are combated with giant parkas and layered pants. There isn’t a stitch of clothing that hugs the skin or outlines the figure.

The biggest difference between “American baggy” and “Japanese baggy” is the American tendency to combat the bagginess with a tight characteristic. Examples would include oversized jackets over biker shorts, or boyfriend jeans complimenting a tiny crop top.

If you want to know what to wear in Japan, throw out the tight clothing immediately. Think of yourself as a clothes hanger, designed to let articles hang off of you. Focus on accentuating the outfit, not the body beneath it. Not only will you be more comfortable in billowy, breathable fabrics, but you’ll possess an aura of “relaxed and cool.”

Cover All Over

Photo by Agustin Villalba: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-an-umbrella-walking-on-the-street-in-a-japanese-city-17243719/

Japan is notorious for having miserable, brutal summers. Through the months of June to September, you’re battling high temperatures combined with stifling humidity. Given the extreme circumstances, you would think that Japanese people would embrace more-revealing clothing. Nope.

During the summer, people in Japan seem to layer as much as possible to keep the sun from touching their skin. Every convenience store sells armbands, sun visors, and UV-protection umbrellas meant to cover up. At the very least, Japanese people aren’t leaving the house without a hat and long pants.

In America, we’re quick to throw on our tank tops and shorts to get a head start on our tans. Traveling in Japan includes a lot of walking in the sweaty outdoors, so it only makes sense to wear the least amount of clothing possible.

Outside of major cities, showing too much skin is considered taboo. Japanese people are notorious for protecting their skin from wrinkles and tanning (the beauty standard surrounding white skin is a topic for another day). Japan is also a traditionally conservative country. By covering yourself, you’re seen as “more respectful” and “avoiding unwanted attention.”

Wondering what to wear in Japan during your vacation? Ditch the tank top for a flowy, lightweight blouse that covers the shoulders. Leave the shorts at home and put on a pair of breathable pants or flowing skirt. The extra fabric will do wonders at helping you blend in with the crowd.

Dress Up, Not Down

Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-sitting-at-table-in-cafe-7401894/

There is a high regard for “dressing the part” in most Japanese occupations. Starting from elementary school, uniforms are strictly mandated and identically styled. This level of scrutiny carries on into the workforce, where most Japanese jobs have a strict dress code.

Even when an employee clocks out for the day and can change into whatever they want, their office style influences their personal clothing choices. Jeans are the most casual article you will see in a supermarket, restaurant, post office, or any other establishment. Usually, you’re surrounded by adults in pressed collared shirts, pristine blouses, and unwrinkled skirts. No matter where they are, the Japanese are dressed to impress.

Most tourists wouldn’t want to be dressing for their vacation like they’re stepping into a job interview. A trip to Japan is meant to be the experience of a lifetime. Walking around all day in slacks and collared shirts would certainly kill the mood.

If you want to blend in while maintaining comfort, I would recommend clothing made from a light-weight fabric that doesn’t wrinkle easily. For women, wearing long skirts and dresses elevates any outfit. The most casual look you could wear would be a baggy T-shirt with straight-leg jeans and white sneakers. It might seem basic and boring, but lots of Japanese teenagers and young adults will be wearing the same thing. The ultimate disguise for blending in.

Above all, no matter the circumstance, DO NOT wear sweatpants or pajama pants. This look may pass in America when running errands at Walmart, but in Japan, you’ll look lazy and unkept.

Monochrome

Photo by Michael Dupuis: https://www.pexels.com/photo/couple-walking-on-street-under-umbrella-during-night-time-4068222/

When you walk through a crowd in Japan, it’s going to feel like strolling through a silent film from the 20th century; every person you see is wearing a shade of black, white, gray, or beige. If you’re lucky, you might see a dark shade of navy blue or maroon.

All of the bright colors of the rainbow are reserved for elementary-aged children (when they aren’t in a school uniform.) As the kids get older, the flashy designs on their clothing fade into pastels and muted styles. By the time they’re in high school, the only splash of color they have in their wardrobe are their blue jeans.

As Americans, we value individuality. Everyone is encouraged to find their own personal style; every cut, silhouette, color, pattern, and aesthetic should be designed to get you to stand out from a crowd. If you wear this flashy clothing in Japan, you’ll stand out as a foreigner even more.

If you don’t know what to wear in Japan and your goal is to fade into the background, avoid bright colors as much as possible. Stick to basic, unpatterned fabrics that won’t catch the eye. Wear simple, minimalistic jewelry that won’t blind the next person you talk to. Take your clothing back to the basic shades and stay there.

Final Thoughts

Photo by Nikolina: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-standing-by-wall-with-projection-of-japanese-alphabet-11638356/

Even if you follow all of my advice and dress exactly like a typical Japanese local, remember one thing: they’re going to stare. No matter what you do or what you wear in Japan, people will look at you.

Unless you appear as a native-born Japanese citizen, they’re going to know that you’re a foreigner. Some people will glance over and never look again. Some people (usually kids or older folks) won’t take their eyes off of you. It’s a simple fact that you won’t ever be able to avoid.

This leaves you with two options: go big or stay small. If you want to embrace your “foreignness” and be proud of the tourist that you are, more power to you. There’s no shame in being a unique individual who wants to make the most of their trip.

However, if you’re intent on minimizing the glances and want to fade into the background, you’ll need to leave your American fashion staples at home. If it isn’t baggy, beige, or blanketing, don’t wear it in Japan.

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About the Creator

Syd McCray

Aspiring copywriter. Just here for the writing practice :)

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