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Is Japan Plus Size Friendly?

One of the worries people have when they're planning a move to Japan is how well they're going to fit in with the locals. In terms of body size and weight, Japan is infamous for being a relatively slim society- which leaves one to wonder, "Is Japan Plus Size friendly?"

Obesity & Japan

Japan is a country that prioritizes social harmony as well as the concept of collectivism. You’ve heard that all before. Your personal life choices should take into consideration the people around you. We should be considerate of those around us and the society we live in. Somewhere along the way though, being fat was categorized as being inconsiderate.

It’s not always an indicator of health, but it’s known that obesity can lead to the development of health issues. People point to the health factor when they’re making their arguments against obesity. But chances are they aren't particularly concerned about your individual health. Rather, they're concerned about the cost your health issues may potentially have on the healthcare system (and therefore society). Appearances aside, this is where one of major criticisms of obesity stem from in Japan.

Being health conscious has gradually shifted from promoting individual health for a healthy society, to glorifying thinness as the pseudo symbol for a good and healthy citizen.

The beauty and diet industry in Japan has no qualms using body-shaming tactics to make you feel insecure in order to sell their products. The use of negative marketing campaigns over the decades combined with the efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles has cemented that slim=healthy=good/beautiful.

So, where does that leave plus size people?

There’s no nice way to say it: Japan has a big problem with prejudices against plus size people.

Between media, business and public opinion, obese people in Japan face a slew of stereotypes, judgements and social pressure.

The silver lining on this dark cloud is that the constant, harsh criticism of people's appearances is starting to be questioned. Plus size clothing options are slowly becoming readily available and the appearance of articles and models that encourage body diversity and acceptance are making their way into the mainstream.

In the Japanese retail industry, "Plus Size" (プラスサイズ ) is being used as the equivalent of "Big Size" (大きいサイズ ).

If we're strictly talking about what's considered Plus Size in the Japanese retail industry, then the Japanese size "2L" is where most Plus Sized lines start. For reference, a Japanese 2L is the near equivalent to a size 10/12, or Medium/Large in US sizes.

Since it's is such new term in Japan, it's still being defined and its uses still varies.

Can you buy Plus Size clothing in Japan?

Yes, but your options are limited. Think US Plus Size clothing in the 1980s; it’s a newer market with a small market size in comparison to the majority sizes. Not many businesses are willing to risk investing in the plus size beauty industry. And the ones that do are hit and miss. Some get in hoping to corner a niche market, producing bland, unflattering clothing, while others take the time to understand their target market.

Clothing brands and dedicated shops for Plus Size clothing are hard to come by, with the majority of niche brands being online only. Some better-known brands, such as H&M and Uniqlo have plus sizes, but you won't find them in-store.

The average shop in Japan carries up to US Medium/Large (size 8 to 10), but your options dwindle if you wear a size larger than that.

Popular Plus Size brands in Japan, such as Punyus only carry up to a 4L in most items. That's about a US 1-2XL for reference.

Can I (literally) fit in?

We've all been there: Trying a new restaurant with a group of friends when you realize that those chairs look awfully small. Not fitting somewhere in Japan does happen, but not as frequently as you’d imagine. Most public spaces in Japan are reasonably plus size friendly, with a few things to consider.

Restaurants and Bars: Most large establishments have very accommodating seating, although booths can be snug. Some smaller restaurants and izakayas may only have (small, backless) stools for seating. Floor seating at restaurants is something to be aware of if you have issues sitting on the floor without back support for long periods of time.

Stadiums and Theatres: Stadium seating is notorious for being small. TBH if you’re thicc or over a US XL, it might be uncomfortable. Movie theatre seating is more spacious than sports stadiums, but theatre chair arms aren’t often adjustable (ie: you can’t move the arms up, so there’s no wiggle room).

Public Transit: Trains and busses have sturdy, open seating. If you’re boarding a busy train or bus during rush hour there’s a good chance that it’ll be standing room only. Be ready to stand for long commutes if you live in a populous area.

Public washrooms: Depending on where you are you’re going to be presented with 3 options. A super sturdy high tech toilet, normal sitting toilet or the dreaded floor toilet. Most public washrooms in newer facilities like malls will have the fancy toilets that you see all over the internet. The only thing to be aware of is some of these toilets have the bidet setting buttons on the side of the toilet seat. If you’re thicc you might have a little difficulty getting to those buttons, or find yourself accidentally pressing a button and getting a surprise tush shower.

Standard sitting toilets are just that. Plain ol’ toilets.

Floor toilets are pretty common in schools, train stations, parks… everywhere. Sometimes you’ll get the option to do your business on a sitting toilet, but sometimes there really aren’t any other options. If you’re unable to squat over a hole without bracing yourself on something, this can be a problem. It’s also a problem if your unable to use TP while you’re in this squating position. Practice squating and staying balanced if you're the kind of person that spends a lot of time in parks or plan to visit rural towns (with older buildings).

Home: Most Japanese apartments and homes have a toilet room that’s separate from the bathing area. And by room, we should say toilet closet. These spaces are the size of the average public stall, or smaller.

Baths are short and deep. While newer baths are wider, some baths can be quite narrow.

I'm self-conscious. Will people tease me about my weight?

Japan has a bad rep for being less than kind to overweight people. It's a harsh reality that some people are just not used to: People in Japan often talk about diets, obesity, and appearances. Making passing remarks or "lightly" teasing someone about their weight isn't taboo. Overweight TV personalities often make self-deprecating jokes about their appearance and are the butt of food and weight-related comedy. Japanese media sets a tone: Their appearance is a joke and it's okay to poke fun.

People may not point and laugh, but be aware and work on your mental fortitude for statements like: "Oh, have you gained weight?"

"Don't you think you're eating too much?" "You must love snacks/hamburgers/pizza etc" "Wow, you're fat." "People are fat because they can't work hard"

Unsurprisingly, Japan has one of the highest rates of eating disorders in Asia, and people (including children) often feel pressured to diet. The social pressure to fit in can be overwhelming.

Having your weight be the topic of conversation or jokes can be jarring if you're not prepared for it. In a society that really values the ability to read the air, the topic of weight seems to get a pass. Physical health and healthy lifestyles are a normal part of Japanese people's lives since childhood. They're brought up with the idea that obesity is dangerous (and in many regards, it is). So meeting a foreigner who 1) looks so starkly different from everyone they know and 2) "seems to be okay with being overweight" can be baffling for people. Growing up in a culture that has normalized fat-shaming language, they may just not be aware that you're extremely uncomfortable with the topic.

Japan isn't what we'd call Plus Size Friendly. Rather, like other things that are 'outside the norm', some people dislike anything different, or just ignore it if it doesn't concern them.

Living plus size in Japan can be challenging, especially if you come from a culture with more body diversity. Poor treatment doesn’t usually come in the way of direct harassment, rather it comes out in Microaggressions and social pressure. Social attitudes shouldn’t be a deterrent to living in Japan, and there's hope for change in the future; the social movement against harsh beauty standards is gaining popularity, slowly but surely. You can find great friends, good places to hang out, work and live; your weight shouldn’t dictate your life.


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