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Japanese fashion vs. American imitation: Spot the difference

One of the first things you notice when you enter a new land is the local fashion. When I arrived in Tokyo, this was undoubtedly the case. And I learned a hard lesson: don’t mistake Japanese fashion imitation for the real thing.

Having spent around four months in the city, I gained a sense of true Japanese street fashion. One part of this is realizing some of the shirts I had there weren’t as popular as I had hoped…

Writing on shirts

The fasted way I learned my shirt wasn’t true Japanese fashion was that it was in Chinese.

Written Japanese is divided into three alphabets. Kanji, (which used in Chinese as well) represent symbols and makes up most written Japanese. Hiragana is used for individual sounds. Katakana is the same but used exclusively for foreign words.

One of my teachers told me the front and back of my shirt were in Chinese but my sleeves had katakana. Ironically, it had been marketed as a Japanese text shirt.

This goes for the reverse as well. You will often see people there with shirts that have random English phrases or words on them. It’s probably the same phenomenon of people getting tattoos in languages they don’t speak and getting “take-out” written on themselves.

Taste for high end

While most other aspects of Japan are affordable compared to America, the clothes are not. Most people like to dress as nicely as they can, and like to shop at designer stores.


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Outside of exercise, you will seldom see anyone in shorts. Jeans, as well, are quite uncommon to see on the streets. Khakis and button-ups are the norm.

Even thrift stores are usually not so cheap there. You will find Gucci and Jordans in these stores as well but priced at the Internet standard rate.

Skate fashion

The Japanese fashion we adopted for America comes from Japanese skate culture. Skate culture is strong in Japan, yet skating is illegal on the streets. This is where the baggy t-shirts and long sleeves with text on the sleeves come in. Joggers are their skater pants.

When it comes to shoes, you will see brands not widely available in America, yet are affordable. At least some are affordable.

In Japan, this style of dress is seen as trendy, but troublesome. Skating has a rebellious reputation, to begin with, and in Japan the troublemaker connotation is two-fold.

Harajuku is the hub for all things fashion in Japan. You will find street fashion and high-end supply there, often together.

Japanese fashion imitation – Careful what you wear

If you go to Japan and you’re tempted to wear something with Japanese on it, try to find out what it says first. Just like there are odd phrases in English on shirts there, you can easily wear something reprehensible.

For example, I have a shirt parodying the Nintendo 64 logo, saying instead Hentai 69. Hentai is a term for anime and manga porn and was too funny not to buy. However, it literally translates in Japanese to “pervert.”

I only found this out when wearing it to school got some people to laugh and others to look at me weird. It was then when my friend Teru told me the meaning.

Though not many speak fluent English, most can read it. Be careful with what you wear, friends.