Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tourists in Japan: What to Wear

Pack the Right Clothes
Horrible Tourists!
Westerners are very casual, in mannerisms, and dress. It is the tendency for most Americans to wear tennis shoes, jeans, and t-shirts. Please do not wear this outfit in Japan unless you are climbing a mountain. American tourists are easily spotted in any country, and while Americans view themselves as dressing for comfort and practicality, they are doing this at the cost of disrespecting the culture they are visiting.  I would equate this to going to someone’s house and unbuttoning your pants for comfort, it’s awkward, rude, and way too casual. Do bring your tennis shoes, but know that they will only be used for hiking, garden viewing, or other outdoors activities.

Here are my good and bad choices for clothes in Japan


Jeans, Cargo Pants, Anything with holes, or anything “distressed”
Dress shoes
Fashion shoes (if you like to make a statement with your shoes, you’ll be right at home in Japan, this can include bold stylized tennis shoes)
Anything with holes
Anything you shouldn’t wear socks with (it is rude not to wear socks  if you are entering someone’s home, or place of business where they request you remove your shoes)
Colorful shirts with a black or grey pair of pants are best, plaids, stripes, and solid colors are all great
Don’t wear all black, or  all white. This is surprisingly  important.
Button up is best
They do not need to have long sleeves.
You do not need to look professional (that would also be weird) you just need to look like you care
Sweaters, and sweater vests are pretty popular
Band shirts, t-shirts, Anything too big
Watches (anything goes as long as there is no Velcro)
Rings (as long as they are not huge)
Buddhist beads
Be really, really careful if you want to wear jewelry my sweeping recommendation is don’t.   People here, men and women, don’t really wear Jewelry.
Carrying your stuff
A murse, or satchel of almost any type is fine
Don’t stuff your pockets-find any other way to carry your stuff,

That being said, if you are fashionable, then keep doing what you are doing, Japan will love you. Japanese men look very fashionable and will groomed (and often somewhat flamboyant). The most important things are, no holes in anything, Wear something colored (ie something other then just black and white), everything should look like it fits, and look like you care.


Almost anything goes
Flats are probably your best choice, because you can wear socks with them.
Wear socks whenever possible (nylons sometimes count) You’ll end up taking off your shoes a lot in Japan, and it’s really rude to go barefoot, in fact if you are wearing shoes that you can’t wear socks with, I would recommend packing a pair in your purse for the day.
Tennis shoes, flip flops, crocs, masculine sandals
Slacks or anything really fashionable that is not on the bad list
You can wear jeans that are not blue or black (ie very bold colors)
Jeans, Jeggings, Cargo Pants, anything that you could work out in (ie Sweat Pants)
Cotton leggings
Go as short as you want

Jean Skirts
Never wear pants of any sort under a skirt, (ie non sheer tights)
Something colorful
Spagetti Straps! (This is probably the most important tip, Spagetti Straps are considered underwear here)
Don’t wear a t-shirt with just pants, 
The most popular is pastels, but almost anything goes
All black, and all white.
Be careful if you are wearing a lot of really bright colors, don’t make an outfit too loud
Purses, hats, delicate jewelry
Big statement piece jewelry is not a good idea in Japan. I would highly recommend leaving your big Jewelry at home
Have fun! Highly patterned tights are really popular in Japan
Don’t wear anything that looks like pants, cotton leggings are usually a bad idea.
Make up
A very natural look is most popular, If you are going to wear something that is very bold make sure that it stays extremely tidy
It is fine to not wear makeup just make sure you don’t look like it was because you just rolled out of bed

A comfy and practical tourism outfit!
Doll up a little more then you are use to, especially if you are in a big city. Japanese do not dress nearly as casual, and an overly casual look will look like you don’t care. The most important things are nothing with holes, no tennis shoes, no cotton leggings, and make sure not to wear all black/all white/all black and white.

A shot in a train station.

Again, you may not care how you look, but that is not acceptable in Japan. You will be treated much more kindly, and be invited to experience so much more if you look like you care. Japanese do not yet have enough experience with foreigners to differentiate their experiences with a particular person from how an entire culture acts. Your kindness/rudeness/apathy will make much more of an impression then you will ever realize. 

*Please note: Ben and my experience was in a small town. People were very conservative! I consulted some of teachers I worked with when putting together this list, and these rules are what they told me for tourists coming to Japan. If you are planning on sticking to larger cities, and more trafficked areas, you should be fine wearing the outfit you would wear in any big city. 


  1. Oh my, I'm going to have to buy some new clothes before I come visit. Fun! See you soon.
    Love, Mom.

  2. Very good information. Thank you. Can I ask why it is you should not wear all white/all black? These are two of my favorite looks. I'm guessing the all black has to do with mourning. Also why is statement jewelry not advised?

    1. I have been told All black and All white are associated with death. All black is traditional at funerals. All white seems to be a carry over from the chinese custom of wearing all white during mourning periods (sorry I am veering into the land of hearsay). People also have told me that if they see someone wearing all of one color (even if it is an all white pants suit), it makes them seem sketchy, that might be the reason for the all white.
      Japanese women wear very delicate jewelry, or none at all. If you wear statement jewelry, people might think you are cocky, or obnoxious.
      I hope that cleared some stuff up for you.
      If you enjoy putting effort into your looks, you'll do fine here! Don't worry too much :)

  3. Thank you for the great tips. We actually lived in Japan for awhile. I do think you are being a little harsh on the tourists above, as by the looks of their luggage, they just arrived from their long and grueling flight from the states, so they are dressed for comfort at the time. Hopefully, they will arrive at their hotel and dress appropriately.

  4. I am a pretty fashionable person, but I was planning to wear checkered Vans with my tights and dresses. I normally do that on trips because I can pull it off and because I am prone to arch problems. Do you think that's too much like a tennis shoe?

    1. I think if you pull together outfits from the shoes you should be fine. I would reccomend some flats if you're planning on going to any malls, or anything (many department stores have great travel flats with arch support).
      Have fun!

    2. umm what about jordans, nikes, etc would those count as good or bad ?

  5. Hi. Thanks for the info! Just to check with you, I'm travelling to Tokyo in the first two weeks of June. I read it's between their Spring and rainy season. I'm travelling with two kids ( 9-10) and prefer to wear pants. Can I get away with dark navy straight-bootleg cut jeans with more colourful/pretty tops? I'm thinking its more practical coz i'll be travelling with kids. Also, how cold is it at this time? Like would cardigans be good enough or do I need warmer jackets?
    Would really appreciate your advice. Thanks!

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for reading. June can still be pretty rainy, so make sure you bring an extra pair of shoes.
      I think straight bootleg jeans should be fine with pretty tops, just be careful when and where you wear tennis shoes.
      It's pretty warm in June, so cardigans should be fine (especially if you are in the Kanto Region).
      Have fun on your trip!

  6. OMG! I AM SUCH A FASHIONISTA! I LOVE JAPAN! My dad is taking me to japan anything for kids? I AM 11 FOR HARAJUKU SAKE! i have an idea what to wear but i need a little push. please give me an idea of what to wear.
    i am eleven we are going for 3 months (june-august)
    and please dont give me anything ugly ^-^

  7. your on a different road im in the milky way you want me down on earth but i am up in space your so d*** hard to please we got to kill the switch your from the 70's but im a 90'S CHIC.

  8. I think this is not totally true. I have been in Tokyo and I have seen japanese women and men wearing tennis shoes, jeans, sunglasses and all black,especially at the train station. I agree that you should be respectful to people, but does have nothing to do with tennis shoes or jeans. You should be more open minded. I saw many japanese women wearing shoes that were big on size and looks very strange. I think every country has it own characteristics and just because you are a tourist doesn't mean you have to dress like the people in the country you are visiting.

  9. I'm going to Japan this summer, and so far, it looks like I'm going to have to buy an entirely new wardrobe, unless you think I can get away with some straight, clean cargoes and blue skinny jeans (with boots or heels).

  10. I have to say that this list is way, way too strict. My friends, my wife everyone I know who is Japanese breaks each and everyone one of your "rules". No jeans on women? This is the country where women and men will spend $500 on a desirable pair of Levis. If you're not going to meet anyone for business you can dress as casual as you want. That said exposed mid-riffs and low cut tops on women are rare and might get you some undesired attention.

  11. Uh, where are you getting this from? I was looking online for some good cool biz suits and this page popped up. Just where something comfortable with some decent slack or jeans and you are fine.I live in Saitama and ppl wear shorts and cargos all the time.Yea if Ur in shinjuku or ginza dress up otherwise wear what you normally wear

  12. Really good, it will be difficult to survive on a backpacktrip to Japan in the summer, it seems! I have some stuff to buy, haha! Question; It says Accessories; Bad; Hats. Am I blind or are you wearing one in the picture of a "practical and comfy tourism outfit", or are there some errors? It would be nice to wear hat/sunglasses on Okinawa in summertime :)

  13. An American giving tips on what to wear in Japan?!

    As a Japanese would say, ...."interesting"....

  14. This sounds very, very strict. Can't imagine the japanese people to be this narrow-minded when it comes to foreingers. I don't have any experience myself (which is why I ended up on this page in the first place)but the other sources I have found basically says you're ok as long as you're whole and clean and don't wear too low-cut tops.
    As an optician, I would speak against recommending people not to wear sunglasses. Sunglasses are important to protect your eyes and surrounding skin from disease, and should be worn by everyone outside, preferably all year around.

  15. Why are cotton leggings a bad thing? If you pair them with a dress or skirt, arn't they considered fashionable if they're just plain black?

  16. I've been to Japan many times and I can confirm this list is BS.

    Has anyone heard of UNIQLO? You know, that BIG JAPANESE BRAND everyone in Japan wears? They sell all sorts of thick jegging jeans material that I have seen PLENTY of Japanese wearing.

    In regards to the sand shoes - that is totally fine for a tourist, I have seen plenty of Japanese wearing sandshoes and a variety of other shoes we would call casual.

    It is true that basically everyone in Japan is well dressed, you too can fit in if you want by not wearing revealing clothes - Japanese general fashion is modest and neat. Think no low cuts, no mid drifts, no super short skirts, no shorts etc.

  17. Ok, I found this blog totally ridiculous! So Japanese people, even young ones, do not dress funky at all?!! Please! And miniskirts are good but black jeans bad? Oh and I have blue eyes and cannot be outside without sunglasses so I guess I will have to damage my eyes to not offend when I am over there?

  18. This is a very funny list. I lived in Japan and now have a very fashionable Japanese friend visiting me in NY. Today, she had on a skirt with thick black leggings/jeggings on under it. These leggings had many holes/rips in them for the purpose of looking cute. She also was wearing high top black reebok sneakers. This is an outfit she would wear in Tokyo.

    1. To you and Anonymous (April 11), I too think this is a little over the top. This sounds like someone wants to make everything right. Just check out japanesestreets . com , a site by a dutch photographer living in Tokyo about street style. While most of the people there are going to extremes with their outfits sometimes, there are simple, well put together outfits which sport some or all of the above. As in every western country there is a difference between business outfit and free time... I am so going to wear sunglasses, as I'm short sighted and need protection from too broad sunlight and I love sunglasses. I have a large collection and can't decide which one to take. My limit is three pieces. Yet.

  19. This is kind of ridiculous. As a foreigner currently in Japan, there are no issues with males wearing shorts, hats, or sunglasses. There is a lot of other weird bits in this article - perhaps it needs an update or a cleanup, as it's pretty high up the list on Google when researching what to wear in Japan.

    Anyone travelling to Japan (specifically, areas of Tokyo): Don't pay too much attention to this article. Fashion has changed a lot since it was written.

  20. Who the h*ll are you? Anna Wintour? Your list is ridiculous! Just goes to show, just because anyone can blog, doesn't mean they should.

  21. Interesting... I've been in Japan 18 years and haven't experienced any problems wearing cargo shorts, jeans, etc... The Japanese all around me pretty much wear 'em too. Jewelry as well - stone bead bracelets and necklaces are crazy popular with the Japanese.

    The point about wearing all black is correct - but even then you'd probably be ok.

    If you don't mind, I'd like to introduce my startup - launching November 1st, 2014. It's a service to help English speakers enjoy Japan without having to learn the difficult Japanese language first.

    It will be a growing collection of short guides about focused, specific, common, everyday situations you'd find yourself in - while living in, or visiting, Japan.

    It's called 'Situational Japanese' and can be found here:

    Thank you!

  22. are you retarded? pants under skirts or dresses is pretty common in japan when I was last there, at least in fukuoka.

  23. I think this post would be terrible for anyone to read before going to Japan for the first time. I have been twice and as a woman, I have dressed in Jeans, Hoods, Tennis Shoes and T-shirts. If all I am doing is "disrespecting" the fashion culture, I am fine with that. To anyone looking to this post for sound advice, look elsewhere. Wear whatever you want as long as you follow basic rules like taking shoes off when you're supposed to. Don't be disrespectful to the country's beliefs, but don't worry about offending someone's eyes because they don't like what you're wearing. Especially if you're a tourist. You'll stick out even if you are fashionable, trust me.

  24. This is ridiculous and gives Japanese people a very narrow-minded image. At least in Tokyo, people dress however they want and it's ok to be trendy or not mainstream. There are guys who do 女装 (basically they dress in women's clothes sometimes but they're just normal straight dudes) and people don't judge them. I honestly don't know where all these rules are coming from.

  25. if you're going to Tokyo or any of the big cities, you wear what you wear in NYC. Go look at some Tokyo fashion blogs. Black with accents of other colors is fine. Jeans are fine, although maybe not ripped unless you're young. The only thing I'd stay away from, as already mentioned by other commenters, is tank tops & bare midriff tops. This blog is ridiculously old fashioned & conservative (and I myself am 60 years old!).

  26. I am a pretty fashionable person, but I was planning to wear checkered Vans with my tights and dresses. I normally do that on trips because I can pull it off and because I am prone to arch problems. Do you think that's too much like a tennis shoe?
    casual dresses for women

  27. Haha, who on earth would ask an American how to dress in Japan in the year 2016?
    ...interesting, indeed! ;)

    Google and see what people actually wear.

    Instead could you kindly tell obese Americans (35% of the population) not to wear hotpants in their own country..

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. This whole article is bull. I live here in Tokyo. You just sound like a snob trying to write about something.

  30. I'm part Japanese and have lived in Sapporo, Kyoto, Okayama, and Okinawa, and have traveled to every other corner for work and research. This list makes no sense to me. Blue and black jeans are incredibly popular in Japan. I see anywhere from children to grandmas in them. During lunch today, one of my coworkers was wearing black jeans and a blouse, and another was in dark blue jeans with a flannel. Jean skirts are trendy too. Pants under dresses and skirts are common, and I see men with band tees and hats all the time. Also, unless you are of Japanese heritage, it's impossible to really blend in, and no one is going to expect you to dress exactly the same as them. Furthermore, there is a wide range of fashion in each individual as well as each place in Japan. While it's safer to show less skin, I don't know any Japanese people who will be personally insulted if you wear cargo pants and sneakers. (Also, for women, going "as short as you want" is not necessarily respectful. Just as going to a church in short shorts is not the best idea, it's generally frowned upon to go to a shrine or temple in the same thing. I live in Okinawa now, and I never see women in anything shorter than knee length, unless they're Japanese tourists from the mainland. Yes, even Japanese tourists stick out really badly when they go to other parts of Japan.) Be yourself, use common sense, look up some pictures from the place in Japan you're going as reference, and you'll be fine.

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  37. I grow up in Japan - I visit Japan quite often and I am in my 60's. Most of what she says here is no longer true. You will stand out no matter what you do and Japanese people know you are not native and they don't hold you in the same standard as natives (that is true for most of the countries that I visited.) You can wear pretty much anything but know that you won't get respect wearing low cut neckline and very short pants/dress. They like neat, clean and conservative clothing. Please don't take shoes off and put your dirty foot up for public to see on train! No need to wear socks all the time - ladies wear sandals without socks but just be clean! Easy off/on shoes with clean socks to put it on when you visit temples. Black and white are fine - no one cares! Tennis and jeans are also fine - don't worry about it! Younger generation are not much different - even elder people start to wear what they want now. Be comfortable, clean, neat and respectful - that is all.

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  39. I just got back from 2 weeks in Japan (Tokyo for 9 days and Kyoto for the rest)
    Some of this is true (nothing below the clavicle, no mid-driffs and no exposed shoulders) and minimal jewelry although they are very into tiny multiple rings and bracelets right now
    But somethings listed are not accurate
    EVERYONE was wearing all black and jeans were very popular. Most people exclusively wore neutrals white, taupe, grey and black and that's it, no color.
    And it's very common to wear leggings underneath skirts and long tunics
    They do wear hosiery with everything (bare feet was rare)
    And they wear makeup for sure, most women I saw wore a wash of electric colored eyeshadows underneath their eyes with dark thick liner and lots of glitter, even for 60+ yr old women
    And heels!! Everyone we saw wore nylons and heels
    Hats, UV umbrellas, sunglasses and any spf protection sleeves etc are common
    And VERY feminine, think anything lace, ruffled and dainty
    Most women we saw weren't wearing pants unless it was jeans on a weekend, most in mid length tutus/pleated frilly skirts
    Think 1950s housewife and that was the look

    Either way I definitely agree that the only people wearing sneakers and shorts were tourists so we were glad to dress smart especially in nice areas like Ginza where everyone was in tuxes and gowns at night!

  40. Honestly - no one really gives a shit. If you misbehave, paternalism kicks in and you will be treated like a child. Again, you really don't have to care. A lot of Japanese struggle with the repressive institutions of Japanese society and you are of higher value, if you help the progressive forces instead of, like the poster, allying with your ideas of conservative Japan.

  41. I know this is an old post, but it’s out there and I feel it needs to be addressed.

    The family in the photo is not wearing anything inappropriate for Japan. The only thing that I see that could deem them as “Horrible Tourists” is that they are not standing in line to board the train. Sure the young man in flip flops is under dressed, but he is certainly not “disrespecting the culture they are visiting”. Now he shouldn’t wear that to work or a temple/shrine, that would be inappropriate.

    I’m only going to focus on the “Men” section because I am an American male that has lived in Japan for a little more than 13 years. I’ve worked at 3 Universities and a major Japanese steel company. I’m going to address this as non-work clothes since you are scolding tourists for their clothing choices.

    First, Jeans are 100% fine to wear as casual attire. Shorts and cargo pants are also fine, although the cargo pants are no longer as fashionable as they were in the early 2000’s. If you’re on vacation and you go during the summer months, wear shorts. It’s HOT! Like Bayou hot. Sweating from every pore hot. Japanese people aren’t that sensitive.

    Second, Japanese men wear sneakers. Maybe not as much as American men, but it’s not “RUDE” to wear sneakers. The photo posted, “A shot in a train station” - which was taken in one of the most popular and fashionable areas of Tokyo - shows at least 3 men wearing sneakers. Sure, they’re not neon green, but that’s a fashion choice not a shot at Japanese culture. I mean look at Onitsuka Tiger sneakers, they are made in Japan, for Japan, by a Japanese company (ASICS) and they have REALLY FLASHY colors.

    Now let’s look at shirts. Sure, button ups are great. All I wear are Oxfords and Polos, but not because I don’t want to “insult” my Japanese friends. They wear t-shirts all the time, outside of work of course.

    I don’t understand the accessories portion of this table. If you wear so much jewelry that it is obnoxious, your going to look ridiculous no matter where you are in the world. I don’t think you’ll be insulting anyone though.

    Carrying your stuff in a backpack is totally acceptable. It used to be that only Akihabura nerds, known as Otaku, used backpacks. Now they have become more common and many Japanese men use them, although the man bag is much more popular. As for carrying a bunch of stuff in your pockets, why would anyone care about that?

    Now I REALLY don’t recommend flip flops because you will be taking them off at restaurants, onsens and Ryokans and nobody wants your sweaty feet in their communal slippers. That’s just gross whether you’re Japanese or not.

    If you are traveling to Japan on holiday and you are concerned about what to wear, my advice is don’t dress like a slob. Dressing like a slob is not insulting to just the Japanese, it’s insulting to everyone around you. Wearing a well kept t-shirt, jeans and a pair of nice sneakers is not dressing like a slob. Wearing sweet pants, a food stained t-shirt and a pair of flip flops is.

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  44. This posted seems very out of date if it was ever accurate in the first place. I do note at the end of the article it mentions this information was based for a small conservative town in Japan, it would have been better to place that information at the start instead of making a comment about the so call "horrible tourists" who have come to experience Japan and its culture after what might have been a long flight, only to be labelled so crassly by a rather snobby sounding individual.

    The advice given in the comments is much more useful and accurate so anyone wanting information would be better off reading those.

    In my experience of Japan in Tokyo and Kyoto as a woman, dress comfortably but modestly so do not have cleavage on display or exposed midriffs. In my visits there I also noticed Japanese women tend to cover their shoulders and not wear sleeveless tops. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shorts and jeans or frankly most things on the DO NOT WEAR list. Japanese people do wear sneakers, in fact you will notice Japanese couples sometimes will wear completely matching outfits which include matching sneakers!

    As long as you wear clean clothes, do not look like you just crawled out of bed, and are respectful and polite to people it will be fine.

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