Although clothes may seem like a huge source of stress when deciding what to bring to Japan, don’t stress too much. Standards of dress, while a little more conservative, don’t differ greatly from Western schools and workplaces. If you are worried about what to wear to work, remember this: your Japanese coworkers bought their work clothes in Japan and you can, too.
What do I wear to work?
Every workplace is different, so often it’s best if you dress conservatively during the first few days paying attention to what other teachers are wearing and then adjusting accordingly. Some of the rules might sound silly, but take heed – there is nothing worse than a lecture from your sixty-year old principal about proper dress!
- Generally, things like excessive jewelry, piercings, visible tattoos, low cut shirts, bare shoulders, sandals, and the like are not considered work appropriate.
- If you are worried about your piercing holes closing, nude plugs or earrings/piercings that blend with your hair or skin color are highly recommended. That being said, the range of what is appropriate varies from BOE to BOE and even school to school. Your predecessor will also be able to give you a rundown of what level of formality is needed each of your schools.
- You will need a pair of shoes/slippers for wearing while you are at school. So if you have a bigger shoe size than 28cm/US10 (26.5cm/US10.5 for women) you might want to bring along a pair of clean indoor shoes and slippers.
- Your lifestyle will change quite a bit after your arrival, so weight fluctuations are to be expected. Buying new clothes in Japan isn’t as stressful as it may seem at first. You can also shop online.
Some things to keep in mind
Saga has four seasons and then some. You will arrive in late summer, so consider prioritizing hot-weather clothes (and don’t forget about professional attire). You can supplement your wardrobe as needed once you arrive, or prepare shipments of winter clothes to be sent when the weather starts to cool down. If you’re under 6ft (about 183cm) you should be able to find clothes in Japan, though it may take a few extra trips to the fitting room.
You will take your shoes off very often so have some nice socks without holes or an insidious odor!
Depending on your placement you may be working at many different types of schools, so it’s best to be flexible in your attire. Aside from formal work clothing, schools often have some sort of ‘sports day’ and occasional long cleaning periods (40-80min). You should consider bringing some type of sports gear: basketball shorts and a sports shirt for summer, and jogging pants and sweater for winter, for example. During cleaning many teachers will change into their sports clothing to clean with the students. During sports day, you may be told that it is okay to come to school in sport gear.
Have a suit on hand. You will need it during Tokyo Orientation, when you first arrive in Saga and meet your supervisor(s) and others at your contracting organization, and on your first day at school. You will also need it for entrance, opening, closing, and graduation ceremonies.
During summer, most schools in Saga follow ‘Cool Biz’, whereby dress standards become more relaxed and both men and women are free to wear short-sleeved shirts and no ties (this does not mean sleeveless tops). In most cases, shorts and sandals are not acceptable at high schools and junior high schools even during ‘Cool Biz’ season. However, elementary schools and special needs schools may have different guidelines, so please ask.
Outside of the summer season, most men are expected to wear a long-sleeve shirt (and often tie), although this may vary between schools – especially between elementary school, junior high school, and senior high school, with the latter generally being more formal. Again look around at what other teachers are wearing and follow suit.
Outside of school you’re free to wear whatever you like, although do remember that Japan is a fairly conservative country so keep in mind what will be culturally appropriate in Japan. For example, sleeveless or revealing tops for women and super short shorts for men might be considered inappropriate, especially in the more inaka areas. If you have some special but potentially ‘sensitive’ clothes you want to bring, maybe save them for a night out on the town in Fukuoka, where the same rules do not really apply.
Japanese sizes are usually smaller than Western sizes and items such as trousers and shoes may be difficult to find if you are tall or have larger feet. The good news is many clothing stores offer free tailoring. In general, if your shoe size is larger than 28cm, you will have trouble finding shoes. If you are 180cm (about 5`11”) or shorter you shouldn’t have a problem finding pants, although shirts tend to be an issue if you’re taller than 175cm as either the torso or the sleeves may be too short.
If you’re on the bustier or larger size it would be wise to bring clothes from home, especially bras and underwear. The same goes for other items like coats and sweaters. Big and Tall sections in Japan are expensive and have very limited options.
For a wider selection of sizes and styles, consider going to Fukuoka City or using the internet. Fukuoka is accessible from anywhere in Saga, and has pretty much anything you could need clothes-wise. Websites like ASOS offer free world wide delivery (including to the depths of Saga Prefecture’s inaka) of items of any value from casual and formal clothing, footwear, and accessories, in a range of sizes which can be helpful if you’re struggling with sizes or time to go shopping.
The number one rule for deciding what to wear to work is to use common sense. Some schools don’t allow make-up or jewelry and require that women always wear stockings when in skirts, while others may be more relaxed. Dress codes also vary between the different school levels – elementary school ALTs might wear a tracksuit to work every day while senior high school ALTs need to look professional.
The best thing you can do is observe what other women are wearing, and dress accordingly. If you do not usually wear stockings with skirts, ask another teacher if that is okay. Do not be afraid to ask questions!
There are only two absolute “no-no’s” that cross into every level of Japanese education. Firstly, never wear shirts that will “bunch up.” When you wear a shirt, you should be able to stretch your arms above you then reach down and touch your toes without the shirt bunching up and showing even a hint of your lower back.
Secondly, do not wear shirts that are too low cut. If the collar of the shirt can be pulled or slide enough to show your bra strap, it is not appropriate. The small of your back and bra straps are strictly taboo. In the same vein, although it is perfectly acceptable in most western countries to wear ‘thong’ style or similar underwear, they are not very widely used or sold in Japan. So it might be advisable to bring a few pairs of work appropriate underwear to avoid accidental overexposure.