It’s 2021 and you would think, it’d be easier to find more size-inclusive clothing in a city as big as Tokyo. It’s the fashion capital of Asia and yet, if you’re bigger than 50 kg, you’ll be very limited in the amount of clothing available to you. For myself I’m 5’6, and about 160lbs pretty normal body weight as far as American women go. My muscles are pretty big though and I carry most of my weight in my hips, meaning that bottoms are next to impossible to find. As Japan comes into the spotlight, many fashion retailers are tackling the reality of competing on an international market meaning that the infamous Japanese “free-size” top will no longer make the cut. Let’s look at why clothes in Japan are so small, and how you can find plus-size clothes in the big city.
Why are Clothes in Japan so Small?
The simple reason is that Japanese people are small, particularly Japanese women. The weight of the average Japanese woman is around 55-60kg, and the average height is about 160cm. As a person who worked in several Japanese high schools, I can say there was a diverse range of bodies among my students but for the most part, the girls were relatively slim with very little muscle mass.
The more complicated reason is fatphobia. Despite Japanese women being naturally small, diet culture is still pervasive in Japan. Turn on YouTube and you’re bound to get an acutely disguised advertisement of a woman proclaiming how weight loss pills changed her life. Even pregnant women are encouraged to keep their weight down despite the harmful risks associated with low birth weight. Unfortunately, the weight standards of Japanese society are also reflected in the type of clothing available. Providing smaller clothes exclusively signals to shoppers who their target audience is. Ultimately it isn’t good but hopeful as Japan’s retail comes into the global limelight more local brands will begin to incorporate bigger sizes into their designs.
Guide to Finding Plus-Size Clothes
By American standards, I wouldn’t be considered plus-size, but by Japanese standards, I’m pretty big. I think I’m usually the largest size local stores carry. And while that’s a little discouraging for the big people out there that doesn’t mean there aren’t at least a few choices available here. Here are a few tips I use when trying to source bigger sizes while in Japan.
Start with International Brands
The easiest place to start to look for plus-size clothing are internationally branded stores like H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara. Since they’re already on a global market those stores are much more inclined to carry a more diverse range of sizes for customers. The physical stores are still limited in what they carry, but they often offer larger sizes of clothes online.
Visit Department Stores
Japanese department stores can look a little intimidating at first but once you’ve learned how to navigate through one they’re not so bad. There are a few Japanese brands that are popular among locals that carry a large range of sizes such as Nissen, Eur3, and Punyus. The only issue with Japanese retailers is that they often don’t accommodate large waists or legs so be sure to try them on before buying.
Try Online Retailers
Of course, when all else fails, online stores will likely be your saving grace. Although we hate fast fashion over here, sometimes it can’t be helped when you need to find some sturdy shoes or a well-fitting suit for an interview. Stores like ASOS, SHEIN, and Amazon carry a diverse range of sizes at affordable prices.
Thrifting culture in Japan has taken off since oversize clothes have come into fashion. The prices can be a little expensive considering that thrifting is synonymous with high fashion in Japan but there are some stores like Kinji which are likely to carry bigger sizes.
Being a big person in Japan can’t be easy. Along with facing discrimination at work or school, you’ll likely face it in the retail environment as well. Don’t let the slender bodies of the world discourage you from living your best life though. As Japan becomes more diverse that’s more likely to be reflected in the clothing offered to us as well. In the meantime just do some digging and if all else fails there’s always SHEIN.