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Foreigners in Japan: Body Image and Confidence

In late 2021 a survey of foreigners living in Japan was conducted to gather input about individuals' body image, confidence, and opinions on Japanese culture in regards to health and beauty. The survey received over 100 responses from a wide range of foreign participants currently residing in Japan.

Demographics, survey of foreigners living in Japan, body image, 2022

The majority of participants identified as female, originally from North America (the U.S.A or Canada), were aged from 20 to 29, and have lived in Japan for 3 to 5 years.

General Questions about Body Image and Health:

Participants were asked to answer general questions about their body image on a scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree).

49% of people reported that they felt confident in their appearances, body shape or size prior to living in Japan. After moving to and living in Japan for a year or more, only 22% reported that they felt confident about their appearance.

"I never felt 'fat' in the US. However, comments, clothing sizes, and beauty ads have made me more self-conscious." -20's female from U.S.A., living in Japan for 5-10 years

8% of foreign respondents answered "strongly agree" in regards to feeling confident about their appearances in Japan. Of that 8%, the majority reported that, in comparison to Japanese people, they appeared to have an average weight.

Compare this with the respondents who strongly disagreed with feeling confident with their appearances, body shape, and size in Japan; of those respondents, 95% of them reported that they were slightly or extremely overweight compared to Japanese people.

This data suggests a link between a person feeling confident with their appearance, body shape & size, and their weight in relation to the local population.

If a foreign participant reported being slightly or extremely overweight compared to Japanese people, they were more likely to report not feeling confident about their appearance in Japan.

Decrease in confidence among foreign women after moving to Japan.

Foreign female participants reported a significant decrease in confidence in their appearance since moving to Japan.

Separating the data on confidence regarding appearance, females saw the most drastic decrease in confidence regarding their appearances, body shape and size.


Prior to living in Japan: 26% were not confident and 54% were confident. (20% neutral)

Living in Japan: 51% are not confident and only 23% are. (26% neutral)

From the comments received, foreign females often compared their physical traits (that are common in their home countries) to the physical traits of Japanese people. Traits such as having a large chest, being muscular, being tall, skin color/texture/natural freckles, having thick thighs, or large hips/buttocks were mentioned as a source of anxiety. Even among female participants who reported having an average or slightly below average weight compared to Japanese people, comments were made frequently about how their body shape or size negatively impacted them (shopping, being stared at, feelings of not fitting in, feeling hyper-sexualized).

Foreign Males reported a slight increase in confidence about their appearances since moving to Japan.


Prior to living in Japan: 42% were not confident and 28% were confident. (28% neutral)

Living in Japan: 42% are not confident and 35% are. (21% neutral)

No (0%) non-binary participants reported feeling confident about their appearances, body shape or size living in Japan.


Prior to living in Japan: 25% were not confident and 25% were confident. (50% neutral)

Living in Japan: 50% are not confident. (50% neutral)

There were no significant changes in data patterns when groups were separated by age group, length of time living in Japan or country of origin.

66% of foreigners report that they worry more about their appearance in Japan compared to their home country.

"I now shave my arm hair and feel quite self-conscious about it when it grows back. I feel some pressure to laser most of my body hair off."

-20's female from the U.K, living in Japan for 3-5 years

"I'm more self-conscious about [my] weight, as it gets pointed out a lot more from strangers."

-20's male from the U.K, living in Japan for 3-5 years

36% of of foreigners reported that they've engaged in potentially harmful eating habits since moving to Japan.

A Rise in Disordered Eating Habits

Since moving to and living in Japan, 36% of participants reported that they had engaged in potentially harmful eating habits with the intention of losing weight (purposely skipping meals, reducing portions/calories lower than the recommended amount, cutting out food groups, etc.)

25% reported that they had similar eating habits or issues with disordered eating habits prior to moving to Japan.

"Seeing [Japanese youth] refusing to eat milk & bread in order to become 'skinny', when they’re already thin, is very uncomfortable. I feel like [Japanese] schools don’t teach students about body image & eating disorders." -20's Non-binary from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 3-5 years

"My body type used to be considered 'normal' back in my home country and it never really bothered me. Moving to Japan has brought back some ugly thoughts that I thought I finally had gotten rid of." -30's female from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 5-10 years

"I started to skip meals and engaged in behaviors that can be described as eating disorders." -20's female from Italy, living in Japan for 3-5 years

24% of participants feel that their physical and mental health has improved in Japan. "I have been able to turn around my eating habits from very unhealthy eating to healthy eating", says one participant, "I would not say that it is Japan or its culture that did this for me, but living in Japan certainly made it easier". Others reported that they've been able to invest more time and effort into their health.

A staggering 97% of foreign participants feel that overweight people are viewed negatively in Japan. 55% worry that they will be judged negatively based on their weight.

54% of foreigners reported that they were unable to find or purchase clothing in their size from clothing stores in Japan.

When it came to fashion, clothing options and ease of shopping, 54% of participants reported that were unable to find any clothing in their size at most or all Japanese clothing shops (excluding online). 60% are unsatisfied with the domestic clothing options that are available to them in Japan.

The most cited reasons for being able to purchase clothing in Japan were body size, chest size, height, and hip and thigh measurements.

"I cannot buy bras, underwear, or most pants in Japan. Shirts fit oddly and many T-shirts I have to buy in the men’s section."-30's female from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 5-10 years

"I haven't been able to buy any clothes or shoes since living here, it's miserable."-20's female from Canada, living in Japan for 3-5 years

72% of participants felt that their clothing and fashion choices were an important way to express their personality. 86% believed that people often judge others based on their fashion and clothing choices.

"Everyone has to be super skinny and pale with light makeup and beige clothes. If you dress outside of this you’re weird and undesirable."-20's female from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 1-3 years

"Women's clothing is either very tight or very, very loose. I feel like it’s acceptable only for the ultra-thin to wear very tight clothes. If someone curvy wears tight clothes, it's considered too sexual for Japan."-20's female from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 3-5 years

The overall opinions on Japanese Media (in regards to body image and beauty standards)

The majority of participants that consumed Japanese media (T.V, movies, anime/manga, print etc.) had a negative impression of the media's representation of beauty standards and the possible effects it has on the public.

"I feel that many actors and actresses are skinnier than the average Japanese person, which may cause some negative thoughts about body image for some people. I am more upset about how larger people are portrayed in Japanese media", says one participant. "[Overweight people] are often made out to be a joke or shown only caring about eating food. A person's weight does not make their personality, but that is often how overweight people are depicted."

While those who reported being under or average weight tended to make more general statements about beauty standards in the media (such as promoting weight loss or white, clear skin), those who were above average weight (compared to Japanese people) were more likely to point out the trend of only casting overweight people (or overweight characters in the case of manga and anime) in comedic roles.

"Being overweight [in Japan] is okay if you’re a comedian, it seems."

"I feel that most overweight people in Japanese media are the butt of the joke, or are 'allowed' to be overweight because they have some other schtick. I think that there are really unhealthy eating habits shown. Also, there are many shows/anime/etc where the main character is overweight and seen as gloomy and unattractive, but once they lose weight, they instantly become desirable in the eyes of Japanese society."

"Fat people are always a joke. Especially fat women. " -20's female from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 5-10 years

This comment mentions the 'makeover' trope that is common in fictional works in Japan, especially movies, dramas, anime and manga. A character that is overweight is often seen wearing sweatpants, having curly or frizzy hair, glasses, freckles, etc. and depicted as unkempt, lazy, and unlikeable. Common in anime and manga, this character is often drawn with a slightly upturned nose, to resemble a pig. In many cases, the character desires something that only becomes obtainable to them once they undergo a makeover - weight loss, straight hair, contacts and clear, pale skin. Repeated 100s of times throughout Japanese media for decades, this is just one trope that helped "lock-in" and define what's considered beautiful and desirable in Japan.

"I feel that Japanese media accepts only a narrow vision of what women 'should' look like. Women are expected to be skinny while having large breasts (but not too large as that would be obscene) and perfectly symmetrical faces. The pressure to match all of these standards is exhausting." -20's female from the U.K, living in Japan for 5-10 years

"Japanese media has one ideal and actively discourages any deviation from it." -30's male from the U.S.A, living in Japan for 5-10 years

Responses to questions about body image and confidence showed a correlation between weight and confidence in Japan among all genders. Females reported the most drastic decrease in confidence once they had lived in Japan for a year or more.

Dangerous eating habits with the intention of weight loss increased (among all genders) after moving to Japan.

Since this was not a controlled study over time, the conclusion that living in Japan, Japanese culture, or consuming Japanese media has a negative influence on one's mental health and self-image can't be made.

However, we can take away that, whether it's cultural differences, differences in beauty standards, lifestyle changes, or social attitudes towards health and beauty, many foreigners struggle with the physical and mental aspects of (not) meeting Japanese beauty standards.


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