Here is the great thing about being in Japan: I know for absolutely certain that I am not in New Zealand anymore.
This would be my greatest fear, should my overseas exploits lead me more West-wards: that the likes of London, Sydney, and Vancouver (I have no idea whether these places are West of New Zealand, this is beside the point) would all be more striking for their similarities to, rather than differences from, the Land of the Long White Something. Japan does not make me fear this. In fact, finding ANY point of convergence presents something of a challenge - so far, I can only state definitively that they drive on the same side of the road and also have Pringles.
One fabulous ramification of this vast cultural gap is the difference in fashion. In New Zealand, it is only natural that common trends should tend towards the New Zealand body shape, which ultimately makes a necessity of covering up the bad bits and exploiting the good. As a nation tending towards a gentle beer belly, our tendency therefore is to make much of the decolletage - opaque tights and a low neck will get you all the places you want to go (Estab, and then Burger King). As a quintessential example of this body shape, my wardrobe is thick with tights and rife with boob tubes - the neck and shoulders are where my superpowers lie, while I must allow my legs to be my kryptonite (thanks for the thighs, Ma). Not so in Japan! Oh no!
Breasts here are like drugs. Nobody has them. And if you have them, you keep them hidden away, otherwise everyone will want a go. One of my first days in Japan, wearing a top that in New Zealand would be considered positively demure, suitable for office work, a close-up photo of my breasts was taken by a portly old man on the subway. I was too surprised to permit the feminist to rise within me. Sometimes I think of him, a little nostalgically, sitting up in bed clutching cellphone, staring at the faint shadow of real-life White-Girl-Cleavage on the tiny screen. And I could hardly blame him - my modest C cup is an anomaly, even on the midnight subway returning from the red-light district. The above-the-waist fashions here therefore tend toward the collar and tie. Even the proliferation of the maxi-dress here in the un-seasonally hot summer did not allow for the spaghetti-strap to make a comeback - they all wear t-shirts underneath. No, what the Japanese work is the leg. And, woah, do they work it.
You have not seen legs until you've been on a crowded 7am subway with 500 15 year old girls. I am aware of the perverted nature of this subject, and that this should be authored by a hairy 50-plus in a wife-beater with his hands down his pants. But my fellow JET's even have a name for it: "Junior High Thigh". Their school skirts are rolled so as to be crotch-skimming, and the legs thusly revealed are long, pale and thin with barely a hint of either muscle or cellulite. This is just how they're made. And looking from these pins, to mine own, safely concealed beneath the ubiquitous 80-denier black stockings, I do begrudge my breasts, so I do. The most dangerous part of this blatant attractiveness is the inherent innocence. The 14 year-old school girl will sit with legs widespread on the bus, on the subway, beneath the desk at school, with never a hint of the knowledge that the 25 year old English teacher standing before her is trying with all his (or her, I'm not above it, though I am shielded from it by the fact that a. I teach at a Senior High School, at which stage they have learnt to be appropriately scared of the power of their bodies and b. Kaisei has no uniform) might to resist the hitherto dormant paedophllic inclination that is stirring. You have to feel sorry for the teacher trying to explain the meaning of the word "fancy" while Junior High fannies air themselves easily before him. The most striking point is their seeming carelessness - though they must stand before mirrors in the morning, carefully rolling their skirts to display the lower butt-cheek to best advantage, their poses once so attired are artless. There is no cocking of the knee, no careful drape of a crossed leg - they are still schoolgirls, and they giggle and huddle and squat exactly as one would expect. It is no wonder they are the subject of countless pornographic books, disguised as comics - no surprise that the brothels one passes in Susukino are adorned with false blondes in miniscule approximations of school uniform: in a country where false modesty and ignorance are considered worthy attributes, the giggling adolescent in navy socks is a symbol of the most perfect, corruptable, purity.
This post has, as they seem always wont to do, wandered off topic somewhat. But I think that nonetheless my digression has summarized the inclination of Japanese fashion aptly: it is all about a subtly sexualized rendition of the inner child, made manifest in long socks, short skirts, high necks, tartan and bows. Big hair is also the go; the best have manfully gone through the painful bleach process to achieve the gingery/honey blonde which is the best Britney that Asian hair can manage. Make-up focuses on the EYES, capitalized to show the desire that they be AS BIG AS POSSIBLE. Huge, spidery lashes, white powder at the inner corners, a constant Bambi-bashfulness. Cheeks glow with blush - the Japanese value their pallor, shrinking from the day beneath frilled sunbrellas, and so the pinker the cheek, the paler the rest of the face by comparison. In passing, do you know why so many Japanese will put their hands to their faces (in the peace sign, of course) in photographs? Because they think it makes their faces look smaller. I have no idea, but feel it is an important cultural point. High heels seem an essential element of any outfit, and it is not uncommon to see a young Japanese woman, impeccably dressed in the shortest of skirts, riding a bike in leopard-print six-inch stilletto's whilst both texting and smoking.
I am in awe.
In short (skirts), I am no Japanese girl. That said, as I go out tonight (it being a public holiday tomorrow, thank you Equinox Day), I will be wearing an outfit purchased in Japan - a short creme dress with a ruffly hem, a long black vest with similar ruffles, and red lipstick to top it off. And - because I am from New Zealand, and therefore the reluctant owner of a fine pair of "Mince Pie Thighs" - black tights.