My self-esteem took a huge hit when I got to Tokyo. Before living in Tokyo, I thought I dressed chic. I love fashion, especially suit coats, heels, and skirts. My parents sent me news clippings or articles about the dangers of high heels; friends would regularly ask me to help them pick an outfit or do their make-up for dates, important events, or conferences.
Everything changed when I got to Tokyo.
It wasn’t my first time in Japan; I spent three months in the Osaka region back in the summer of 2011 and spent a year up in Hokkaido between 2006 and 2007. However, Tokyo has its own style – a style that puts mine to shame.
Specifically, Japanese women look incredibly presentable, all the time.
Why I don’t understand it:
I walk a lot in Tokyo. Like, all the time. Everywhere. When I’m not walking, I’m usually standing on a train. Or waiting in line. And do you know what makes waiting in line even worse? Hurting feet.
I don’t wear heels when I go into main Tokyo, because after a couple hours, I start to feel miserable. I can enjoy the city so much more when my feet aren’t trapped in time-bomb-ish heels. One minute I’m fine, and then BOOM, I’m walking on small knives.
That’s where my priorities are – comfort over fashion. And that’s how I know I will never belong in Tokyo: I don’t dress up to the standard.
I hit my all-time low a couple weeks ago, when I went out shopping in Shibuya with two of my Japanese friends from ICU (the Japanese university I am studying abroad at). Shibuya is one of the nicer, chic areas of Tokyo, so we dressed up a bit. We were all wearing heels; after a couple hours, my feet hurt so I pulled us over to a café for a break and a cup of coffee.
We chatted for a bit, but when I stood up to go to the bathroom, I realized my feet hurt. Embarrassed, I told them since my feet were still hurting, I was going to head back to campus after we took Purikura (Japanese photo booth). My other two friends let out a sign of relief; their feet had been hurting too, but neither wanted to be the first to say it.
One of them, a new freshman at ICU, told us (rather proudly) she had been periodically disappearing into the bathroom to put Band-Aids on her blistering feet. She was wearing white, lacy socks with her heels, so I couldn’t see the Band-Aids… but I felt a bit ashamed.
I would never sacrifice my own personal comfort for something as silly as heels. Once we separated and I got on a train back home, I pulled out a pair of black Fast-Flats (foldable shoes) my dad gave me, and shoved my older heels into one of my shopping bags. I could have changed shoes in front of my friends and continued shopping… but I felt embarrassed. Like somehow I wasn’t good enough – like switching from heels to foldable flats was a sign of weakness.
I’ve seen this Japanese friend since then. She’s still wearing the same shoes. They still give her blisters, but she said in a couple months, he feet would “get used to it.”
It moments like that where I don’t feel adequate. Tokyo makes me feel like if I’m not sacrificing anything for fashion, I’m not living correctly. Of course, there are plenty of Japanese women who don’t subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” approach to beauty… but I think the overwhelming majority do.
Why I kind of DO understand it:
I love high heels because they make me feel sexy and powerful. I love the way heels look on me and I love the way that other women look in heels. I love the way high heels change my walk, the way they make my legs look, that extra height boost they give me, and the physical appearance of the heels. A great pair of high heels can change everything.
My fiancé doesn’t understand why I have trouble picking out outfits in the morning. I guess most boyfriends don’t understand how girls view fashion.
He always says: “I already love you; you don’t have to impress me.”
“Girls don’t dress nicely to impress guys; they dress nicely to impress other girls.”
“That doesn’t even make sense…”
“Yes it does. Ok, how about this? Does it match?”
I understand wanting to look nice. The right pair of high heels can make anyone look awesome.
I will never understand the “no pain, no gain” approach to beauty. A society should never teach its children that without physical pain or discomfort, they are not beautiful.
In the end, I have to thank Tokyo, because it taught me that my own comfort is worth more than what anyone else says.
My first exposure to sexism in Japan was this book written from the perspective of an American woman who worked in a Japanese company. Needless to say, she didn’t like her job very much and found the entire encounter very sexist: The Accidental Office Lady: An American Woman in Corporate Japan
For other “Things I don’t Understand About Japan” posts, check out:
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Melon Soda
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: The Obsession with Crocs
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Job Hunting Suits
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Lucky Bags (Fuku bukuro) 福袋
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Structure of College Classes
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Why are there Cats everywhere?
- Things I don’t Understand About Japan: The structure of College Classes
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