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Summer is fast approaching! Warm weather, cool drinks, and what else? Shorts? No! Well, at least not if you’re a sophisticated and respectable fellow out and about in Japan. Shorts over there just aren’t viewed the same way they are here in America. If you live in Europe or some other fashionable place, the rules might be different, but for an American visiting Japan, the view on shorts can seem a bit strange.

Why Men Can’t Wear Shorts in Japan

no-shortsIn Japan, shorts are not really viewed as cultured or sophisticated wear for adult males. Unless you’re at the beach or lounging around the house or pool, people might be a bit surprised to see you sporting an excessive amount of calf.

On the whole, Japan is viewed as a pretty fashionable place, especially the high brow city areas and shopping districts. You might be able to get away with wearing shorts out in the country, but around the cities and classy areas, pretty much every respectable dude is going to be wearing pants. If you wear shorts in these areas, you might get noticed for it.

It’s not like anyone is going to call you out on it though. But if you want to “blend in” and not draw any more attention to yourself than you normally would for being a foreigner (if you are one) then wearing pants would be the way to go.

When it’s Okay to Wear Shorts

girl-shorts

Image sources: 1, 2, 3

However, if you’re a woman, very young, or very old, then the no-shorts “rule” doesn’t really apply to you. Kids and old people can basically get away with anything, but that’s a pretty universal rule I feel. Women can wear shorts whenever they like, but it is a bit unusual for girls to show too much skin. That’s not to say their shorts aren’t short, they just tend to wear tights underneath them. Whenever I saw a girl with a whole lot of bare leg showing, it was definitely out of the ordinary.

I think this might be changing though. As I’m not over there currently, it’s a bit hard for me to tell, but I feel like fashion is moving towards bare leg showing being more of an okay thing for girls. Maybe someone living over there currently can help me out with this in the comments. It might also depend on the area of Japan as well.

guy-shorts

Image sources: 1, 2, 3

And the shorts that young men do wear tend to be of the longer variety. It’s also not unusual for men to cuff their pants up into manpris, but this seems to be more acceptable than traditional shorts. Japanese fashion is always changing, so some of this can be a bit hard to keep up with.

Also, it’s okay for adult males to wear shorts around the house, at leisure time, or at the pool or beach. That makes sense. And like I said before, it’s not like anyone outside your friends and family is going to bug you about wearing shorts out and about in the world, but they’ll definitely notice. Unless you’re going to a place with a dress code, the most you’ll get is a confused look. And then they’ll notice you’re a foreigner and go, “Ohhh, I see.”

It’s Okay, You’re a Foreigner

gaijin-shorts

From my personal experience, nobody really expects much from you when you’re a foreigner in Japan, especially if you’re a tourist. They’re always really surprised when you know how to speak Japanese, sit in seiza, use chopsticks, and all those other things that don’t really seem like a big deal to us students of Japan. Therefore, if you’re a foreigner in Japan wearing shorts everywhere you go, the Japanese will just brush it off because you’re a gaijin and you don’t know any better.

Now I’m not trying to say that you need to conform to every Japanese societal custom and everything when you’re over there, I’m just trying to inform you on what sort of fashion differences you might encounter. If you want to wear shorts over there, go right ahead! But if someone acts funny around you when you wear shorts out to Ginza for shopping or you get an odd look from a granny on the train home or something, now you’ll know why.

And all this is just my personal experience and observations. When I went over there in the spring, it got pretty warm, especially when we were all walking around so much. I wore pants every day, and a lot of my male American friends wore shorts. Nobody gave them any crap for it, but I did get told a lot that I was “very Japanese” with how I dressed.

That being said, I’m interested in what you guys have to say. Do you have any experience with the shorts/no-shorts issue in Japan? Did your experiences differ from my own? Share your stories down in the comments!

  • dennmart

    Interesting – I never really realized this about men in Japan. Now I’m sure it’s going to be something I can’t un-see – Next time I’m in Japan I know I’m going to focus too much on what men are wearing :(

    Regarding women wearing shorts and showing some leg, my girlfriend (who lives in Osaka) tends to wear shorts that are pretty short without wearing tights. However, she does tend to wear knee-high boots whenever she does wear shorts like that, so the leg isn’t really fully on display. I rarely saw any women with shorts and nothing to cover the rest of the leg in the Kansai region.

  • John

    Yeah, I was in the Kansai region as well and that’s what I noticed too.

  • simplyshiny

    I’m not that big of a fan of shorts. I think they look weird…especially above the knee shorts…knees are gross. Jean shorts are gross too.

  • http://www.survivingnjapan.com/ Ashley

    Girls, young kids up to maybe college age, wear short shorts regularly without tights underneath, but you usually only see it when the weather is warm enough. Short skirts without tights are also common in warm/hot months. However, I wouldn’t say it’s as common to see women over 30 wearing shorts, unless at a water park or the beach or something. I felt like I saw them more often wearing knee-length or longer skirts. There are some exceptions, of course.

    That said, my husband, an American, wore shorts regularly all summer long and on warm Spring/Fall days (not at work, though) and never got any attention over it. I think it’s relatively common for young men to wear casual shorts, but you won’t see guys wearing them downtown often (businessmen, etc.). At summer festivals some young guys wear the jinbei with bottoms that are knee-length shorts.

    This is mostly from my experience living/traveling around Chubu/Kanto.

  • Komodovaran

    So… what’s their take on socks in sandals?

  • dy~

    aww man but I have magnificent calf and leg muscles to show off – perfectly sculpted with years of practice… lol

  • http://twitter.com/KillingJar_89 Gianmarco Russo

    Here in Italy we have quite the same customs when it comes to shorts! :D

  • Jamie oldfield

    I wore jean shorts in Japan a lot as for me it was too hot to wear trousers. I have lots of tattoos on my legs so I assumed that’s why the natives were staring at me. Now I think otherwise lol

  • Shampie

    And what about the short skirts of school girls? Or are they just in anime so short? xD

  • http://twitter.com/roulingas Rolo Aravena Scheid

    when i was in Japan the last year, I was invited to a kendou junior’s championship, and my sensei told me that i should wear trousers instead of shorts. At that moment, i thought it was an advice about formal stuff, but now i understand it better! I will consider it in the future, thank you ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/cheenou.moua Cheenou Richard Moua

    I went to Japan last summer and found myself wearing pants for most of the duration of the trip. The only point when I distinctly recall wearing shorts was when I went hiking up a mountain in Fukushima Prefecture; all other times such as school visits, hotel stays, and sightseeing were all days with full length pants.

  • Justin

    I live in yokohama Japan right next to Kanagawa university. I’ve gotta say more people wear long pants over shorts than in america, but a lot of the college students that I hang out with an am around all the time do wear shorts.

  • Meowf

    “but it is a bit unusual for girls to show too much skin”
    I think it’s considered fine for girls to show so much skin that you can even see their underwear (at least with the school girls in the big cities). But this only applies to legs. Wear anything that shows off a bit of chest (even if you’re not showing cleavage) and everyone will think you’re scandalous
    (Although I must admit wearing a dress that shows cleavage does get you a lot of help from salarymen when you ride trains, etc :P )

  • alexandre j seguin

    Damn :( I love wearing shorts… I can’t wear jeans in the summer here in Canada…

  • syrup16g

    Pretty much everything Ashley said.

    I’ve lived in Nagoya for two years and have seen both plenty of younger men and women baring their legs fully and partially in all seasons. Men, especially sports-type guys wear shorts all the time, non-sports guys wear still wear pants with the legs rolled up showing the bottom part of the calves/shins. I think the biggest difference is a tendency to have the shorts cover the knee. Even festival jinbei end over the knee and have the bottom of the calves/shins visible.

    For women, especially those who want to show off their (long) legs, they wear shorts/skirts that basically end a few cm below their crotch. (Ref: http://shupure-net.shueisha.co.jp/bikini/bikini01/photo/simizu_yuko_clothes.jpg ). Some will have leggings or tights up to their knees (i.e. revealing 絶対領域 zettai ryouiki http://blog-imgs-22.fc2.com/h/a/r/haruhith/sho-topanntu__003.jpg ), others in full tights, and others none at all.

    Confirmation bias much?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=511987068 Eggers Christopher

    My general rule of thumb was: if you’re a man, never let them see your knees.

  • John

    Yeah, I got that impression when I was in Europe back in 2006, haha.

  • Jesse Cadd

    That’s funny, I was just having this conversation with my wife as summer is coming up and it’s miserable enough as it is without compounding this with pants. Anyway, I have to wear casual work pants most days, but I think I’ll wear shorts to bike to work in the morning and change when I get there. It is very nice to be obviously gaijin and be able to get away with shorts if I want to though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1438943897 Stephen Knight

    A lot of men in Japan will wear shorts around the neighborhood, doing chores, stuff like that, but not so much on the town (except in younger districts of Tokyo, maybe). Here in Tokyo, at least, part of it has to do with a general urban formality–and a sense that wearing shorts and being fashionable just don’t go together–but part of it is also that a lot of Japanese men, while smooth from the waist up, tend to have very hairy legs, which is considered kind of unsophisticated or even a little gross (there are even hair-removal salons offering full-body hair removal for men–well, except for the head). So they forgo comfort to avoid turning women off, I think. I only ever wear shorts around the house or to make a quick trip to the nearest convenience store–it never occurred to me to wear them elsewhere–and I’m originally from Hawaii!

  • Being546

    I notice in anime and manga younger boys, middle school age and lower, tend to wear short trousers that go above the knees with their normal uniform. I’m not sure how accurate this its and maybe its just an art thing but it would be awesome if someone knew if that was true or not.

  • ZXNova

    I hate shorts anyway, so whoop whoop.

  • John

    Haha, I totally forgot about the leg hair thing. That’s definitely an interesting point.

  • John S.

    I knew, prior to reading this article, that American and Britons had the same view in the 1950’s. Wearing shorts were part of school uniforms (especially in Britain) and thus viewed as very immature. I’m not sure when this view shifted probably in the 60’s and 70’s with the counter culture movement.

    It’s odd how something as trivial as shorts really gives insight to a culture. Like in America it is still unacceptable to wear shorts in business settings, but in South Africa it is acceptable.

    Good article.

  • TsukiToTaiou

    But… I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.morris.186 Steven Morris

    Yes, it’s fine for girls/women to show their bare legs in the summer (and probably seen as less inappropriate than in the past).

    I think Japan is all about the whens and the wheres. There are dress codes/uniforms for every occasion. Looking at the bigger picture will help give a better understanding of Japanese fashion.

    RE: Leg hair

    I’ve noticed that there have been advertisements for shavers designed for men’s body hair removal (targeting the legs). I wonder why?

  • http://profiles.google.com/jan.moren Jan Moren

    Yes, with shorts you do give off an impression of being immature or child-like. More so if the shorts are accompanied by a t-shirt (with no shirt) and athletic shoes. If you in addition are a western male of the very well-built persuasion you rather come off as a giant toddler. If you’re just on holiday it doesn’t matter at all of course, but if you’re here for business or social reasons it’s really a good idea to follow local custom.

    If you still like to be casual, Uniqlo (and, I guess, other stores) sell thin linen and cotton pants cut and coloured as jeans. They look and feel just like regular jeans, but they’re light, airy and cool even in summer. In fact, they’re probably cooler than shorts, since they give your legs some much needed shade.

  • Ann Mehrman

    Since Japanese boys wear shorts all year long for school uniforms, even in the cold winter, I can see why they would not be something they would want to wear in public as adults.

  • soulreleaser

    I see what you did there

  • Xaromir

    Wearing very thin and wide-legged pants, is great in summer, it’s basically like wearing nothing at all, but make sure they aren’t see-through. As an added bonus: When wearing pants, you don’t get stung as much on your legs, by the various winged, bloodsucking insects of the flying varieties.

  • http://twitter.com/miezeljotschek miezeljotschek

    Well in South Africa your business partners would just die from the heat, before they can sign any contract, if they wore black pants and suits. They would be practically cooked alive! O.o

  • Flora

    “Women can wear shorts whenever they like, but it is a bit unusual for girls to show too much skin.”

    I’ve actually heard the exact opposite. A lot of the people I know who live in Japan complain constantly of women essentially running around in all weather Daisy Dukes, with no other covering. And I have seen pictures of J-women (particularly in Tokyo) running through the snow in booty-shorts.

    I remember hearing someone say skin in Japan is fine, so long as it’s below the waist; but going shirtless or showing cleavage isn’t considered proper.

  • ijiwaru

    Long shorts, short-pants, ankle-shorts- they’re incredibly popular with the guys during summer! At least here In Tokyo. My impression is that there’s nothing wrong with shorts, people just prefer the longer style.

  • adam toepfer

    the shorts for the men pictured are the little khaki shorts that old men wear anyway.

    I’ve never worn shorts like SINCE I was a kid. I wear long dickie shorts that go about 2-4″ past my knees. All of my shorts extend WAY past my knees. And I wear that with funny t-shirts or some button up. But then its my style and I’ve been doing it for years. Japan isn’t going to change it. If they don’t like it too bad.

  • http://twitter.com/milkjamjuice ザ・プレミアム・ツメタ~イ・レン

    They’re everywhere,

  • http://twitter.com/milkjamjuice ザ・プレミアム・ツメタ~イ・レン

    Having seen this daily in Tokyo I would have to agree.

  • Knicky

    It was probably a combination of both though tattoos are gaining a small amount of acceptance these days…

  • shuirin

    don’t the girls just wear tights because they don’t want a tan?! I asked my friends last summer why they always where long sleeves and lot’s of layers – the don’t want a tan and the can take of the layers one after another when it get’s too hot.

  • adam toepfer

    Went to a concert last night in Shinsaibashi, Osaka to see Biz Markie. In the heart of Amemura. And before the concert I mentioned this article to my friend who went with me. Now he is from Australia I’m from America. We have a terribly different taste in clothing, but we both agree that shorts exist as a fashion in Japan.

    Now considering the number of fashion feax paux that happen in Japan on a minute by minute basis, and the fact that all the floral print tight pants in the world world some how gathered to one country, and are worn with anything by women of varying ages, I don’t see where anyone can get off judging someone for shorts.

    But thats besides the point. We started to look around and see if anyone was wearing shorts. I started to wear my dickie shorts as I normally would to an event like this but the high temperature in Nara was 15 and low was 5. in Osaka it was like 18/5. So it was going to be quite cold when we got out of the concert and I knew we would be wandering around Namba late in the wee hours.

    So pants it was. But I still managed to count out about 20+ pairs of shorts in varying lengths and styles (inc. cargo) at the venue of probably 500+ people. I don’t want to exaggerate. Obviously after 9PM I couldn’t be bothered to count because I was smashed into the throng of people and I couldn’t see anyones lower half anyway. And there might have been more than 600 people there and probably a lot more than 20 pairs of shorts. When I counted 20 there were probably only about 300 people in the venue.

    Now I would just like to say that I find this article to be rather narrow and “short” sighted. I posted on it earlier but thought I should do so again after my research last night.

  • kaushik

    what about 3/4ths or bermudas or whatever you call that ???

  • Yuume

    I laughed out loud, literally, at the floral pants comment. I thought I was the only one who thought that, they seem so in right now.

    Anyway, it is possible that those people wearing shorts at the concert were not Japanese, and that shorts are a normal custom for them. A concert for Biz Markie isn’t exactly as formal as other occasions in Japan. I just think that it’s more of a when and where rule for Japan.

    I don’t really think the article is narrow or short sighted, but I only say that because John asked other people for their input so he could be more informed, as he is not constantly in Japan and he was just writing from his experience. And really, if you look at the fashion evolution in Japan, shorts are kind of a new thing. By that I mean they are more common now than they have been before (obviously people have been wearing shorts for a long time!). It’s more acceptable by the younger generation to wear shorts pretty much wherever, not so much by the older (kind of like when I go to church and there’s kids wearing jeans and a nice shirt, all the older people gripe about it being unacceptable).

  • Blerrr

    I don’t entirely agree with this article. I have been living in Japan for the last 2 years and here are my observations:
    First, Japanese girls of all ages tend to show a lot of bare leg, even in Winter.
    Second, adult males do wear shorts, however, what someone wears seems to be dictated by what season it is rather than what the temperature is. For example, if it is Spring, but still cold so you wear a heavy jacket or coat, Japanese people tend to comment and say something like “oh you look like you are dressed for Winter”, Towards late Spring it is very warm but I notice that most people are still wearing several layers and in some cases even scarfs…because it isn’t officially Summer yet.

    I agree shorts are less common in general, but I see plenty of respectable looking Japanese men wearing them in Summer. Another point is that Japanese people do tend to dress a lot better and put a lot more effort into their appearance than many other nations, I can spot fellow gaijin from a mile off solely based on what they are wearing.

  • hellinger

    Women only got the rights to expose only after decades of fighting hard against stigma against women exposing.Do the men really want to,instead of opposing such stigma,invite it upon themselves and surrender their rights to dress freer and more comfortably?Shorts were made for men,it makes no sense saying a woman,who already has tons of miniskirt choices,has more rights to shortpants than a man does.
    http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/menattire

  • http://twitter.com/jeimuzu00 ruomyeS semaJ

    what a stupid article. its completely false. maybe you should go outside next time you come to japan.

  • pipokun

    i see your point. but there are different circles where it’s accepted and actually create stylish shorts. streetwear, skate brands, etc….

  • Lee Hericks

    I live in Shibuya, work in Otemachi, shorts are everywhere. I’ve been on the lookout after this article. Even guys in their 40s where shorts when out shopping/relaxing. It’s not everyone, but I’d say it’s slowly changing.

  • harkaran 619

    a most famous dialogue from pokémon games red and blue

  • Bubba

    Real men wear very short jorts with very high-heeled, pointy toe cowboy boots.

  • Joseph Rizzo

    You win the internet.

  • Wendy

    Shorts without tights (for women of course) is a rare sight. As the heat and humidity is here, it’s full short season. I saw a lady who I’m assuming is Japanese, and she had not tights on. It didn’t really seem too unusual to me until I noticed the silent, judging stares. Also, as far as being gaijin and not expected to know better, I’ve come across many Japanese who expect your demeanor to be Japanese. Think of the baka gaijin segment. Certain things, I definitely think it’s simple regional etiquette anyone can look up. There are so many subtle etiquette things common in Japan that if you do it without thinking, you will be unfriended, especially when you’re learning Japanese for the first time. For instance, I said ganbatte to a few elderly ladies hiking up the mountain while I was going down. I got a strange look and “arigato?” in return. Turns out because of the significant age difference, kudasai was necessary, so my attempt to even try reaching out was rejected, and I may have the baka gaijin stamp on me for all eternity. Shorts is just the tip of it all!

  • Mr. Smith

    Simply put, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Above the knee shorts are quite fashionable for men here and have been for some time. Ginza, Shibuya, Shinjuku, it doesn’t matter.

  • Pindy

    I’m in Japan now (July 2013) and I can tell you that the moratorium on shorts-wearing seems to have been officially lifted in Tokyo. I arrived having thought that I’d have no shorts-wearing opportunities, but I would say that every 8th Japanese man I’ve seen, between ages 17-45 are wearing shorts, and not the Man-Pris Japan so common in Japan, but the knee-bearing kind. Everywhere I go, as well, there are shorts on display in stores for sale, with men trying them on regularly. A quick pop in to UNIQLO has an entire wall of the things. Dickies, ever popular in Japan, are also selling massive amounts of them. I think if you’re still worried about this, you’re concerned about being laughed at by the Harajuku set.

  • Kimberly

    Considering Japan has special split toe socks(tabi)designed specifically for wearing with sandals(geta, waraji, zori, et cetera)… I think they thoroughly embrace the concept.