“Mia, make sure you pack appropriate clothes for Japan. None of those shorts or tank tops you always wear!”
My Japanese mother always admonishes me in this way for the clothes that I wear on my yearly visits to Tokyo. I do not necessarily blame her for these comments—outside of my home, there exists a much broader issue of slut-shaming women for their clothing in Japan.
Among the waves of trendy modernness in Japan still lies an extremely conservative mindset
when it comes to how women dress. As much as I want to fight my mother, tell her that I am
dressing for myself and myself only, I too easily give up. Even if she lets me, it is not worth the uncomfortable stares and comments from the old men that I walk passed on a daily basis. For them, my jean shorts and V-neck shirts signal that I am being promiscuous, an unrealistic anime character, an object—all meant to please the male gaze.
Japanese people often warn young girls that they will get sexually assaulted for wearing
“revealing” or “provocative” clothing. Yet, in the U.S., more people are in consensus that
wearing a crop top instead of a turtleneck shirt does not place the blame on the victim. There has even been a “Free the Nipple'' movement, which has garnered support from celebrities such as Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. When I am back home, I often go braless in the summer out of comfort, but also to support this idea of treating male and female nipples equally. In France, there was a trend on Twitter, #jekiffemondécolleté, meaning “I love my cleavage.” Women posted close-up photos of their low-cut shirts to normalize showing their cleavage.
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Unfortunately, I can already see the controversy that would erupt if these movements developed in Japan. If I wear a deep neck shirt in Japan, I am expected to wear a camisole underneath. I have even seen advertisements for “Breast Covers,” shorter camisole-like bra tops to replace camisoles during the hot summers. The society’s top priority is clearly covering up, with comfort or avoiding heat strokes for women being a mere afterthought.
I desperately wish that I could have the same bold, feminist mindset that I carry with me in the U.S., but the culture of Japan pulls me away from that direction. If I yell back, it would attract more attention, and on top of that I would be told “You’re not even Japanese.” I stay quiet and ignore because that is the Japanese way, but I cannot help but feel that I am only adding to the problem by staying silent.
Watching fashion trends in Japan since I was little, however, I do see some change. More off the shoulder tops, backless shirts, sheer material, and mini skirts have started making appearances at my favorite stores and on the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku. Of course, I am only seeing the more progressive city fashion of Tokyo and “freeing the nipple” in Japan still has a long way to go. But the younger generations are gradually becoming more open. Some people may still prefer a more conservative look (I love this too!), but for others to have unlimited choices to truly express themselves through fashion would be a big step for Japan.
In the meantime, I swipe my sweat away as I step outside into the August heat with my shoulders and chest covered. But this time, I opt for a more daring look—a small slit in my maxi skirt.
Graphic by Ayumi White