Shopping adventures! (Or the lack thereof)

Today I waltzed into my nearest AEON Mall and bought myself a new shirt and pair of pants without a second thought.

A lot of you are going, “Yeah, and?” Let me break down why this is a big deal for me.

I’m pretty average in size, at least for an American white woman. I generally grab medium-sized stuff off the rack back home, so I never really need to worry about things fitting- just fitting correctly. In Japan, though? When I first got here it was a miracle if anything fit at all. 

If you go into your average boutique in the shopping arcades, you can expect to find sizes ranging from small (S) to extra large (LL). Here’s the thing, though- sizing here is different from the States, and as a general rule you’re going to have to go up at least one size in order to fit. So if you’re a medium, you better start with a large. 

(This doesn’t necessarily apply to foreign brands like H&M or Gap, which tends to show the US and European sizes on their tags.)

But what do you do if you have a butt, or something else that gives you shape? Better go up a second size. Only now, we’re getting close to being sized out of the average shop.

The first few times I shopped in Japan I was very dispirited about the whole thing. Nothing fit, or rather, it might fit- but in a way that looked gorgeous on a Japanese woman and horrible on me. I refused to even consider buying pants here at first- I would only buy them from home when I went back to visit.

But in the past year or so, things have changed.

While there are still plenty of limitations on what I can buy here (many self-imposed; drapey clothes look lovely on the locals but baggy and frumpy on me), I’ve found myself figuring out how and where to get the clothes I need. For example, if you need clothes with a bit more wiggle room, AEON Malls tend to offer plus-size sections. There are catalogs and online shops that offer bigger sizes even if you can’t find them in the stores. H&M has proven to be a godsend, housing not only clothes that fit but ones with colors beyond wine red or soft pink. Zara sometimes offers things at a reasonable price, but I personally don’t shop there as it isn’t my style.

If all else fails, women can take a peek into the men’s section for things they are struggling to find in their size, but the shape of the garment may not be what you need.

If you live in a foreign country now, how goes shopping for clothes? Does everything-or nothing– fit you correctly? What about shoes, which is a whole other can of worms? 

Let’s NOT talk: private time in public transport

Who hates crowded public transport? Yeah, me too. It’s hot, sticky, and full of weird people. (To over-generalize.) As a resident of Kyoto City, there is no need for me to own a car- and several reasons for me NOT to, the least of which being how prohibitively expensive it is. I suppose that’s universal. Right along with how everyone in the world puts up with the woes of public transport with the same long-suffering.

But how we express that is surprisingly different.

Here’s the scene: Washington DC, cherry blossom season. The Metro is packed with tourists and poor locals who just want to get to work already. A train gets delayed, because of course it does. We all pile into the next one that trundles along. Many of us immediately have regrets because we’re brushing shoulders with our neighbors…At best.

Cue the woman next to me turning and laughing. “Can you believe how busy it is?”

“You’d think they’d plan for busy days,” a man concurs nearby.

“The Metro is hopeless, it’s a wonder it’s running at all,” bemoans a man in a suit- I imagine he’s a local.

Seems pretty typical, yeah? Standing around criticizing the situation, commiserating on everything from the people with loads of luggage to the unusually warm weather.

Let’s visit a similar scene in another part of the world.

I’m in Tokyo and I just boarded the train at Higashi Ikebukuro, an area with a massive shopping complex called Sunshine City. (Cool place, by the way.) The trains are coming every two minutes but that does nothing to alleviate the press of people on all sides as I try not to elbow anyone. I fail- there is absolutely no way to move without bumping into five people and having them, in turn, bumping you about with their umbrellas and briefcases.

But here, there is an almost oppressive silence.

The seated woman I’m standing in front of stares determinedly at her cell phone screen. The man next to her is attempting to read the paper, jostling several people every time he wants to go to the next page. Many are dozing, including a businessman next to me who has looped his arm through the hand grip so he won’t fall down.

How I think of this is: when you’re in a western country and feel your space being invaded upon, you push out, regaining some of it (mentally) by reminding everyone of your presence. Don’t shove me, I’m here talking to you. If you make eye contact with me you’ll feel more inclined to give me another inch of space.

But when you’re in a situation like I was in Tokyo, rather than assertively claiming space, you draw yourself in. Don’t acknowledge the person inches from your face; think about your last vacation instead. Feel someone’s umbrella tapping against your leg? Perhaps you nudge it once or twice, but if it fails to move, you play on your smartphone to get your mind off of the annoyance. You only have to deal with it until you can get off the train, after all.

How do you react when you’re in a public space that’s unusually crowded- do you push out, or draw yourself in?