Rules of propriety…

Coming from the US, which is by and large an “anything goes” culture where people usually do and say and wear whatever they want, it has been an interesting experience integrating ourselves into Japanese society. Not wanting to be one of “those” Americans who seem to think that the rest of the world should conform to our standards, we have been very carefully observing the world around us. Certainly, in a sea of Japanese people, we can’t help but appear conspicuous, but we don’t want to be too “gaijin” either. Some observations:

  •  Women in Japan (aside from teenagers, or in areas with a popular nightlife, i.e. Shibuya) dress very modestly. We will see what happens in the warmer weather, but I haven’t seen any tank tops or camis, or low-cut and revealing clothing. Most women wear skirts or dresses for work — dark stockings for the winter. Skirt length is modest. I have seen leggings — and I own some myself — but they are worn under skirts or very long shirts. No tights, leggings, or even yoga-type pants without having something else to cover your backside. Which leads to the next…
  • Running attire for women… and even for most men… is tights, with shorts over the tights. I am sorry, but I really hate having to do this. But I do it. I feel a bit “naked” and conspicuous without the shorts. And, like I said… even most men do this. In warmer weather, most women still wear tights or capri-length pants with shorts over them.
  • Tattoos. Japanese people do not approve of tattoos. At least none that are showing. If you have a tattoo, you are required to cover it at most gyms. Apparently, tattoos are a part of Japanese gang culture. I think that the rules are easing, and more Japanese are getting tattoos, so I think this will eventually change. They are a fairly tolerant people, and probably wouldn’t ostracize a foreigner for having a tattoo, but still… gaijin.
  • Piercings. This almost goes without saying that the more outlandish piercings we see in the US  — tongue piercings, eyebrows, navels, etc. as well as earlobe gauging and such — are not considered appropriate. But I have also noticed that very few women wear earrings or have pierced ears at all. Jewelry is very modest here as well. I do think that this is another area that is changing, though. At least with the younger Japanese.
  • And… sunglasses. This is our third trip to Japan, but we have never noticed this before. Japanese people rarely wear sunglasses. I have seen cyclists and runners wearing sunglasses, but very few people walking the streets are ever wearing sunglasses. I googled it…  and the explanation (again) was that sunglasses are associated with Japanese gang culture. Also… another explanation was that their dark eyes have more pigmentation and, therefore, they can tolerate the bright sunlight better than me with my light blue Scandinavian eyes. Oh well… I still wear my sunglasses.

I don’t really want to dwell on the differences between “us” and “them”…  I don’t want anyone to think that these are major issues that we have encountered living here. Again…  the people we have met here have been nothing but gracious and friendly and accepting of us. I only mention these things because we really want to make an effort to respect their culture, and fit in as much as possible while we are here. These are just meant to be some interesting cultural observations. “When in Rome… “

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My husband and I were both born and raised in Kansas, but for the past 20+ years we have been living in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, with our children grown and out of the house, we have the opportunity to spend two years living in Tokyo. My husband will be working with the Japanese counterpart to his American company. UPDATE 2023... After 4-1/2 years in Tokyo, we returned to Atlanta. Now we are heading to London for a three year job assignment!

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