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Japanese Dress Code Guide
When travelling to Japan, one is presented with a limited number of business-related clothes that can fit in a suitcase. This guide is setup to maximize your efficiency when planning on what to wear for business meetings in Japan.
Traditional Business Attire
In Japan, the business environment is not one that promotes individualism. Business in Japan is setup in a very traditional hierarchical system where conservative principles are adopted. This typically means that when dressing for business in Japan, one should plan accordingly. Dark colors, such as black, dark gray, and dark blue suits are the norm for men and women alike. Showy and/or gaudy colors are not appropriate in a corporate environment. The Japanese mafia, or Yakuza in Japanese, is often associated with glitzy suits and loud wardrobes. This is why clothing of this nature can have a distinctly negative connotation when conducting business in Japan.
Learn from the Japanese Idiom
There is a popular idiom in Japanese culture that states, "A nail that sticks out is one that will often get hit with a hammer." This perfectly exemplifies individualism in a Japanese business setting. In the West, we find clothing as a means of expression and uniqueness. However, that same uniqueness can be seen as a negative for Japanese business attire. Thus, whenever possible, err on the side of caution and wear conservative clothing.
Clean, Sharp and Well-Tailored
Although it’s best to use muted colors in your business wardrobe for Japan, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to put any thought into your style. The Japanese care deeply about a clean and sophisticated look in the business world. Since many business people in Japan wear the same colors, well-tailored clothing helps to bring a responsible and professional feel to your clothing. When the Japanese often wear the same styles and colors in business suits, those who are sloppy in appearance will be quick to stand out in Japan. Therefore, make sure to wear top quality suits that fit, with high quality materials. Being forced to wear darker colors in Japanese is not an excuse to give up and not pay attention to your style. In fact, it’s even more important.
Not Gender Specific
The guideline for wearing conservative dark suits in Japan applies to both men and women. However, for women especially, make a note to not wear clothing too revealing. Plunging necklines and excessively tall high-heeled shoes can detract from business professionalism in Japan. Fashion accessories, namely jewelry, should be kept to a minimum and not become a focal point of any wardrobe for a Japanese business setting. Although Japanese society in general has a wide variety of clothing styles and colors, for business, play it conservative.
Don't Forget the Shoes
Probably one of the most difficult choices when selecting what to bring in Japan in which shoes to include. With limited space in any suitcase, you’ll want to refine your choices to shoes suitable for the Japanese business environment. This means flats for women, and dark shoes for men. Another option to consider is that unlike in the West, in Japan you will likely be presented with scenarios where you’ll need to remove your shoes quite often. Therefore, plan accordingly and wear shoes (and socks) that are both professional in a business location, and can be easily slipped on/off for ease and comfort.
In the West, many businesses have a lackadaisical attitude toward casual wear in the workplace, or they have events like “Casual Fridays” to break up the rigid nature of drab clothing in the office. This is not true for Japan. In Japan, you are not likely to encounter any sort of Casual Fridays inside a Japanese company. Dress accordingly, knowing that you will never offend the Japanese with a clean, dark suit and traditional footwear. However, you can offend your hosts or damage a first impression if you dress too casually in the workplace. As they say, you never get another chance to make a first impression, so be sure to dress appropriately.