Sometimes on a hot summer day in Japan, you’ll look around and see most people wearing long pants, especially the men. What is the explanation behind this? Can you wear shorts in Japan?
It is completely OK to wear shorts in Japan. While it may be a bit uncommon among Japanese men, especially on work days, shorts are not off-limits by any means. And they are very common among tourists in the summer.
Below, I’ll dig into the details of the “conservative” Japanese dress code, and I’ll answer questions like whether it’s okay to wear shorts at temples, and even if it’s okay for foreigners to wear kimonos!
Is It Rude to Wear Shorts in Japan?
No, it’s not rude to wear shorts in Japan. That’s the “short” answer (ha ha). But let’s provide some more context here.
Although it’s not rude to wear shorts in Japan, you may stand out a bit. Depending where you go, you may also stand out for other casual clothes like sweatpants, loose tank tops, and so on.
You may notice that Japan is relatively fashionable, especially in Tokyo. A lot of people wear classy clothes and put effort into looking good. So some basketball shorts may look sloppy or out of place in that context.
But it’s not rude or anything. It just stands out a bit. And as I will emphasize multiple times in this post, you will stand out anyway as a foreigner. So don’t worry about it.
A few more things to consider:
- If you’re in Japan for business, obviously that changes things. You’ll want to look professional for a business meeting.
- It’s possible that upscale restaurants may have dress codes that don’t allow shorts. But that’s no different than any other country. So just use common sense.
Can You Wear Shorts to Japanese Temples?
Wearing shorts at Japanese temples is completely fine. Temples and shrines typically have no formal dress codes. As long as you’re not blatantly disrespectful, your clothes will not be an issue.
You’ll even see Japanese people sometimes wearing shorts at temples. So it’s not a “clueless tourist” thing to do.
One issue to consider, however: Many temples are in forest areas. So depending on the season, you may want to wear long pants just to avoid mosquito bites and such. Or you can take some bug spray.
What Months Are Warm Enough for Shorts in Japan?
The hottest months in Japan are July and August, so that is when you’ll really want to wear shorts. But overall, Japan has similar summer months as most other countries in the northern hemisphere.
For Tokyo, there is often good weather for shorts for much of April to October. The average daily highs for those months are at least 19° C (66° F) or higher.
In some areas like Hokkaido, it’s colder. In Sapporo, for example, the summer is not as long, with shorts weather maybe only extending between May and September.
Japan’s “Conservative” Dress Code
Japan’s dress code is “conservative” in some ways, but not really when it comes to showing your legs. In fact, you will often see women and girls walking around with very short skirts.
The traditional Japanese dress code is more conservative when it comes to tattoos and a woman’s shoulders. They should both be covered, traditionally speaking.
In fact, when it comes to tops for women, I’ve heard that Japanese culture considers “cleavage” to be higher than other countries. So you may not see as many “low-cut tops.”
Other aspects of Japan’s “conservative” dress code apply to work clothes and school uniforms. On a weekday, most men will be dressed in conservative business clothes, for example.
There has also been some controversy over schools in Japan restricting hair color and forcing girls to dye their hair black.
That said, the traditional dress code isn’t strictly enforced everywhere. It’s not a legal matter. You’ll see plenty of people breaking these norms, especially in big cities like Tokyo.
Also, keep in mind: As a foreigner in Japan, you especially will not be judged by traditional Japanese dress codes. It’s fine if you stick out from the Japanese crowd. You’ll already stick out anyway if you’re not Asian.
2 More Dress Code Questions for Foreigners in Japan
Here are two more dress code questions that seem to come up from the same people who ask about wearing shorts in Japan.
1. What Colors Should I Wear in Japan?
You can find some blurbs on the Internet that will advise you not to wear the color black in Japan. They say that black is associated with funerals and death in Japan.
However, if you ask any Japanese person, they will tell you that’s not really true. Wearing black is fine. Black or dark blue suits are the standard for Japanese businessmen.
There are others who may tell you the opposite—that bright or bold colors are bad to wear in Japan. They might say that everyone dresses in neutral colors in Japan.
But that is also not the whole truth. Just refer to the often-colorful Harajuku style.
It’s fine to wear red, pink, orange, yellow, or whatever other bright colors you want in Japan. Don’t worry about it.
2. Is It OK for Foreigners to Wear Kimono or Yukata?
It is generally OK and encouraged for foreigners to wear kimono or yukata if done respectfully. There has been some controversy in America over whether the use of kimono by white people is cultural appropriation. However, most Japanese people in Japan do not share this concern.
You may have heard about a widely publicized protest at the Boston Museum of Fine Art in 2015 over their “Kimono Wednesdays” events.
The protesters did not necessarily claim that all use of kimono by white people is cultural appropriation. Their complaints addressed various details of the event, such as the messaging, the artists included, and more.
However, the controversy did publicly spark a debate over how foreigners should interact with cultural clothing items like kimonos.
As far as I can tell, the Boston protest said more about evolving views of social justice in America than what Japanese people in Japan feel about the issue.
An art scholar who was asked how Japanese people saw the Boston protest said, “As far as I knew, they were very puzzled.”
Apparently, many Japanese appreciated “Kimono Wednesdays” as a potential boon to the declining kimono industry. (source)
Ironically then, it seems that wearing a kimono as a non-Japanese person is actually safer to do in Japan than in the West. Because the most likely people to be offended would be leftists or activists in America.
Kimono vs Yukata: If you’re not familiar, yukata are similar to kimono—but kimono are typically more formal, thicker, and more expensive. Yukata are mainly worn casually by women in the summer, while kimono are for both men and women.