Shopping for Plus-Size Clothes in Japan

Shopping for Plus-Size Clothes in Japan

I was pretty reluctant to move to Japan. I was being given a great opportunity for someone just out of college, but I was also being asked to leave behind my family, friends, and (most importantly) my one-month old puppy. I had never balanced a checkbook before, didn’t know how to sign up for a cell-phone plan, and didn’t figure out the trash collection system in Japan for weeks! But the biggest challenge was shopping for clothes. Anxious that I wouldn’t be able to find plus-size clothes in Japan if and when I needed them, I packed enough to fill three large suitcases. Nearly every item of clothing I owned came with me to Japan. Unfortunately, I didn’t own a suit jacket, and I didn’t find out I would need one until I landed.

Japan has a reputation for strict workplace culture. The interview process is even worse, with everyone in uniform black suits and white dress shirts. It is the bane of many young Japanese peoples’ lives. Luckily, I didn’t have to interview for my job. I was moving to my hometown’s sister city and had already met my employers. I asked about what I would need to wear to work. Any color is fine, they said.

I took that to mean no suit necessary. And for the most part, I was right. Since I’ve been working here I’ve rarely seen women around me don a full suit. At most, they might pull on a blazer for important meetings. But as I found out, I would have an important meeting on my first day.

I needed a suit jacket and fast, so the first place I went was Shinjuku, in Tokyo. I browsed over a dozen stores full of beautiful clothes that I couldn’t fit an arm into. I asked some employees if they stocked larger sizes. Sometimes they ducked into the back of their stores and I wondered if they were really looking for something in my size or just pretending to.

One kindly woman drew me a map to a store that would have what I was looking for. Specializing in suits for plus-size shoppers, Sakazen stands among hundreds of popular clothing stores in Shinjuku, with another location in the city of Sendai. The clerk there took my measurements and directed me towards not just one suit jacket, but an entire corner full of workwear in my size!

I needed a suit jacket and fast, so the first place I went was Shinjuku, in Tokyo. I browsed over a dozen stores full of beautiful clothes that I couldn’t fit an arm into.

My first day at work was a breeze. If anything, I was a bit overdressed. Eventually I settled on a daily arrangement of nice blouses and skirts paired with simple sneakers. Sneakers as professional work attire for women have been a point of contention in workplaces throughout Japan, and much of the world, recently. The #kutoo movement (ku being one half of the Japanese word for shoe, kutsu, and “too” being a reference to the revolutionary #metoo movement) has urged for the normalization of sneakers in place of high heels in Japan. Fortunately, my workplace has never had any issue with women wearing what they find comfortable. 

Some of my coworkers even change into slippers after walking to work. I also walk to work from my apartment. An apartment that, in a stroke of good luck, happens to be just a skip and a hop away from one of my favorite clothing stores in the country, Shimamura. Shimamura is a treasure trove of women and men’s plus-size fashion.

The selection changes regularly, including the extensive discount section. But while it’s known for its low prices and wide range of sizes, Shimamura’s clothing is also made of good material and fashionable designs. The store is littered with Disney characters, popular anime, and other unique prints. There’s more than enough to choose from.

In a country celebrated as a leader in fashion, Alinoma, Shimamura, and places like them offer plus-size shoppers the gift of inclusion. These are the places to buy plus-size clothes in Japan.

Shimamura is not the only store in the country with a plus-size selection. Uniqlo is another notable example, and there’s always the chance that local boutiques and handmade-clothing stores will carry larger sizes. Fairs featuring handmade clothing are common in the Japanese countryside, and with a little digging larger items often appear from the rubble. But there is a better option, especially for those looking for clothes on the further end of the plus size category: Alinoma, an online shopping mall catering to plus-size women.

Alinoma references the phrase arinomama, which loosely translates to “come as you are,” a message far too scarcely heard in the global fashion industry. In a country celebrated as a leader in fashion, Alinoma, Shimamura, and places like them offer plus-size shoppers the gift of inclusion. And we’re all the better for it. The change has definitely been a huge part of my life in Japan. Though I still miss my puppy, I never worry about clothes.

About Shannen Donovan

AvatarShannen was born and raised just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Today she works as a CIR in Fukushima, Japan, where her friends and neighbors continue to give her fresh vegetables from their gardens, to her utter bewilderment. Her goal is to visit every prefecture in Japan.

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