Andy in Tokyo

Is Japan Expensive? Part 3: Clothing

Jun 26th 2008
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Part three of our “Is Japan Expensive?” series looks at clothing. For most newcomers to Japan who don’t speak the lingo the most likely line of employment will be as an English teacher or assistant, usually with one of the big “Eikaiwas” like Aeon, or through the government-sponsored JET programme. When you leave your home country you’ll have to fit all your worldly belongings in one large suitcase, and of course things can - and do - go missing. There is also the Japanese summer to contend with: 36 degree heat and 100% humidity will leave your once pristine shirts with horrible yellow stains around the armpit area, and thanks to the uselessness of most washing machines here (cold water only!) you’ll find them impossible to completely remove.

Basically, you’re going to need some new clothes.
For this week’s comparisons I’ve chosen either identical items of clothing or similar clothing from similar shops. I’ve only picked three items because, to be honest with you, the list could have gone on forever!

Jeans: Diesel Larkee

Polo shirt: M size, white

  • UK price: £12.00 - from Marks & Spencer
  • JP price: £6.06 (¥1,290) - from Uniqlo

Work Shirt: M size, white with stripes

  • UK price: £25.00 - from Topman
  • JP price: £23.67 (¥5,040) - from The Suit Company

As you can see, all items are cheaper when purchased in Japan. The Diesel jeans might be something of an exception, as Diesel stores in Japan seem to sell jeans for a significantly higher price than rakuten.com does (¥30,000 plus). Is this the same for the UK as well?

The polo shirt from Uniqlo is likely to be of a lower quality than its Marks & Spencer counterpart (probably a cotton/nylon mix), hence the much lower price. I highly recommend Uniqlo for basics (vests, underwear, etc) because it’s so cheap. They also have a spiffing t-shirt campaign running at the moment called UT, which has an equally spiffing website (take a look!). There are some limited-edition Metal Gear Solid 4 tees for sale at the moment (see here).

For work clothes, such as shirts and suits, Japan - or at least its main cities - provide an incredible range of shops to choose from. The Suit Company sells affordable clothing for 20-somethings who don’t wish to break the bank. One of the best features of The Suit Company is the variety of shirt sizes they offer, especially in sleeve length: compared with the average Japanese customer I have very long arms - very much like a shaved orang-utan - which has resulted in one or two disastrous purchases in the past.

In conclusion, if you’re of average height, and are not overweight, you will probably have little trouble buying clothes in Japan. Big feet can be a problem, however. Shoe shops usually stock sizes up to 28cm, which is a UK size 9. They do have sizes bigger than this, so you don’t have to wander around barefoot or anything, it’s just that your choice of shoes/trainers will be a bit more limited.

For shoes and trainers, ABC Mart is a good place to start, and if you’re a real trainer fanatic I strongly recommend exploring the streets of Shibuya (throw the map away - exploring is more interesting without one!).

Next week we’ll be looking at the biggest expense of them all: housing and rent.

(Prices calculated using 26th June’s exchange rate: #1 = 212.94)

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