Laura Pollacco (Kanagawa)
We are aware of how Japanese fashion is presented in Western countries. The street style of Tokyo is famous for its subcultures and strong characters. However, these fashions aren’t really the norm for most Japanese people, especially not in the work environment. Japan has a strong work ethic culture, and the way you dress is supposed to emphasise that, to be professional and smart. It can sometimes be a little restrictive, though, for those who like to express themselves through the way they dress, all the more so when we come from countries which are a little more relaxed when it comes to work clothing.
Understandably, we should aim to make sure that we are dressed suitably for our work environment – we have come to this country to work, so we have to respect that. However, it is also important that we feel like ourselves, that we can in some way express our own sense of style and stand out a little bit. As foreigners, we do sometimes have more flexibility, boundaries we can push that our Japanese counterparts may feel they cannot. After all, part of our work is to share culture, and style is just as important a part of that as anything else. Every JET will have different workplace rules to follow. It is how you make the best of your situation that matters.
In this article, my fellow JETs and I share a few images of the ways we do just that, our small statements that showcase our own sense of style and personality, bending the rules but not breaking them.
Sophie Lunn (Tokyo)
At my Japanese private school, I work with only female students and a majority of female staff. However, I’ve noticed that many of my colleagues don’t like to stand out or wear colors outside the regular neutral colour scheme, and many have said to me, “Oh, I love colour/texture/pattern but I couldn’t! It wouldn’t suit me.”
Personally, I find this a little saddening; I believe everyone should wear things that reflect their personality and soul to their heart’s content.
I like to challenge this system by switching up my makeup depending on my mood; wearing bold colours, patterns, or textures in my clothes; and experimenting with different hairstyles. I, too, like a neutral palette, but I always find it fun to wear something outside of the Japanese norm.
Kita Yorke (Toyama)
Since arriving in Japan, I’ve never conformed to the white shirt/black pants style. Partly because I don’t have a white shirt and partly because I grew up using bright colours and vibrant patterns, dressing up in colours and patterns just makes me feel happy and comfortable. I’ve definitely toned down my style in Japan. My outfits have a lot fewer patterns, and when they do have patterns, I usually make sure they are darker shades. If I’m opting to wear bright colours, I’ll use the colour blocking method and stick to two or three solid colours. For example, I might wear black pants, a yellow camisole, and a green jacket.
Sara Shaafi (Recent Tottori JET Alumnus)
I like to incorporate dark colours (a deep royal blue headscarf with a midnight blue maxi) to give a more rounded, sophisticated look at work. It’s hard to stay modest and cool at the same time in the heat of Japan, but an airy outfit like this has saved my life. When I began wearing this outfit after winter, everyone at work commented on how they loved this look, including students. Some of the cheeky ones told me it reminded them of Dementors out of Harry Potter!
Laura Pollacco (Kanagawa)
I love playing around with my style — the way I present myself is very important to me. I hate blending in, so I find Japanese workwear to be a tad constricting and stifling. Everyone in my office pretty much wears white, black, grey, and a few shades of blue. I try to wear brighter and bolder colours, different textures such as satin and wool, different shapes of clothing such as wide legged trousers, and oversized shirts with waistcoats. I enjoy looking professional, but I don’t believe it has to be restricted to a set outfit or look.
Expressing yourself is so important, and I try to impress that upon my students, whether it’s in their classes or their free time. For me, dressing the way I do is a small part of that. It is a visual reminder to have confidence and to test boundaries.
Nina Taylor (Tokyo)
When it comes to work wear, I don’t really stray from the norm too much. Thankfully my schools are pretty laid back. I have short hair, though, and like to jazz it up a bit with a head scarf — they are really easy to come by, especially in Japan. It’s a nice way to add a bit of pattern to an otherwise plain outfit.