One of the most difficult parts of preparing to come to Japan is figuring out what to pack! This can be especially difficult for those of us who are more outgoing with our fashion choices. Japan is often viewed as a very conservative culture, and in many ways, that is true. There are many outfits which would be considered work-appropriate in the US and other western countries that would not go over well here. However, this doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon your personal style.
It is important for us to try and fit into our workplaces, but it is also important for us to be ourselves and feel comfortable. The question is how to show off your unique fashion sense while still being office-appropriate. To help you with your planning, we talked to a bunch of current and former ALTs to get their perspective on “the clothing issue.”
1. Stick to what you like
“Don’t go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Being comfortable at work for me has a lot to do with dressing as I usually do, just a slightly more professional version.” – Jess, departing ALT
While a key rule for Japanese workwear is modesty, there’s no reason you can’t continue to rock your normal style. Just try to avoid clothes that are too figure-flattering or that expose too much skin. Higher necklines to avoid visible cleavage, loose-fitting tops/bottoms to avoid showing curves, and keeping the shoulders and knees covered are general guidelines. There’s no need to stifle yourself.
“I had never had a full-time job before JET, so I had to buy basically a brand new work wardrobe before coming. I tried very hard to keep all of my choices on the conservative side, and even limited what I brought for casual clothes because I was worried what the Japanese would think. But when I finally got here, I hated almost everything I’d brought, and by now I’ve wound up replacing almost my entire wardrobe.” – Cassie, 5th year ALT
This goes for casual wear as well! Many Japanese are also fairly conservative in their casual dress, and yes, you should plan to have some conservative casual clothing on hand for various situations (casual work outings, visiting shrines and temples, etc.). However, it is also important not to make the mistake of bringing only work-appropriate clothes and no “fun” clothes. Culture-shock and homesickness can hit suddenly, and even something as simple as not having your favorite band shirt or summer dress can get you down. It’s best to stick with the things you like from the beginning, to save yourself some trouble (and possibly money!) down the road.
2. Don’t be afraid to be yourself
It’s better to just show off your personal style (in a professional manner, of course) in the beginning than to suddenly change your style a few months after settling in. Should you want to make a style change after arriving, it’s best to do it in baby steps. Choose things similar to your previous style to ease your school into the change. Most ALTs who have been successful with alternative styles have followed this guideline.
3. Prepare for a variety of situations
“Honestly I wear black sweatpants (technically room pants from Uniqlo) a lot because I do a lot of playing in the dirt during recess and it’s not worth ruining/ripping nice/more fitted clothes if you are being attacked by second graders on a regular basis.” – Anna, 2nd year ALT
From day-to-day activities to school events, there are a variety of situations you need to be prepared for. At school, there are various events which will require you to wear athletic clothes as well. If you are a municipal ALT, definitely be prepared for running around on the playground with the kids. If you’re a prefectural ALT, be prepared for sports day and the yearly ensoku, or all-school field trip—usually a day of hiking or playing outdoor games with the students. Athletic shorts or pants and loose athletic shirts are preferred to yoga pants and other styles.
Another note on casual wear: Miyazaki is a haven for outdoorsy folks who love hiking, kayaking, swimming, surfing, and many other activities! If you’re outdoors-inclined, you’d be smart to bring your own preferred pair of hiking shoes and whatever clothes are most comfortable for your outdoor adventures.
4. Anticipate weather extremes
“I brought too much sleeveless stuff, so I always have to wear cardigans on top, which can get too hot.” – Meagan, departing ALT
Summertime is hot. But even more so, it is humid. The less layers you can wear while still being work-appropriate, the better. You don’t want to wear extra layers in these times if you don’t have to. It’s better to just go for the single-layer shirt with sleeves.
On the other hand, in winter it can get pretty cold. Be sure to have enough layers and sweaters as well. Having thin layers that you can pile on without feeling too bulky will be your best bet. You can find these types of clothing at Uniqlo stores once you get here, as well.
5. Don’t stress too much about suits
“I think I brought three blazers and slacks and I can count the number of times I wore them in two years on one hand.” – Jess, departing ALT
Suits are usually only worn for ceremonies, graduations, PTA days, open school lessons, and staff pictures. Male teachers often wear suits throughout the winter, so guys may want to bring an extra jacket or two to rotate throughout the week, but they aren’t required to wear suits in most cases. Female teachers tend to only wear their suit jackets for the occasions listed above, though it can also be a useful extra layer in winter, so girls can get away with bringing only one.
6. Ditch the Jeans
Blue-jeans are unacceptable for all school levels, though if the denim is dyed black, grey, navy, or khaki, you can usually get away with it (not all offices are as lenient as each other). But in summer, denim is probably too heavy to wear anyways, so you’d be better off sticking with khakis, chinos, or other light dress pants which you can also layer leggings or heattech under in the winter. Guys cannot wear shorts to school unless it’s a sports day, but girls can get away with capris in the summer. Those with longer legs may have a difficult time finding appropriate pants and skirts once in Japan, so we recommend you bring enough from home to last you.
7. Skip the socks, stock the underwear
It sounds silly, yes, but the average Japanese frame is quite different from westerners. Even if you are an average size, the cut and fit of Japanese underwear may not be to your liking. If you are a larger than average size, you may have difficulty finding underwear in your size at all.
Because taking your shoes off before entering a room is very common in Japan, it is best to be prepared with socks for every occasion. That said, Daiso sells a variety of socks, so you can get them here easily and save your luggage space for something else. But if you have a preferred type or brand, you may want to stock up on them before coming, as your socks will be getting a lot of wear.
8. Big Shoes are Hard to Find
If you have larger feet, it can be very difficult to find shoes in your size here, particularly if they are wide. Whether your feet are large or small, be sure to bring at least one pair of dress shoes, one pair of athletic shoes, and one pair of casual shoes. Teachers change into “indoor shoes” at school, but usually these are just slip-on sandals, crocs, etc., which can be found easily here, but if you’re unsure we recommend bringing a pair of those along as well. If you’ll be walking or biking to work, we suggest having a good pair of waterproof shoes for the rainy season, as well.
9. Give due consideration to your choices
If you’re not sure about something, set it aside and see how much space is in your luggage once you’ve got the essentials. If you’ve got the space, bring it along! If not, you can always have it shipped separately. Which brings us to our last point of advice…
10. Separate and ship
You’ll need all of your summer clothes right away, but it doesn’t start getting cold until late October. So, aside from a light jacket or sweater just in case, you definitely have time to ship the bulk of your winter stuff separately, saving space for other things you would rather have with you right away!
For a more comprehensive guide, check out our articles in the Workwear section to see in-depth descriptions and pictures of the work fashions sported in Miyazaki Prefecture throughout the year! We hope this helps you with your packing, and we can’t wait to see you next month!