Every so often, I look in my wardrobe and my spirits sink. Ragged collars and faded knees inform me that it is time for that most depressing of tasks – clothes shopping in Japan.
As a tall fellow, this is never a pleasant experience. It is depressing to try on a jacket marked as 4L or some other such sign of vastness and discover that it is still too small. T-shirts stretch most unattractively over my mid-life man-breasts and are often short enough that if I raise my arms by even the smallest amount, I reveal some body flesh. That’s attractive in the case a slender lady, but not so much when the skin on show is the belly-sag or back-fat of a man long past his prime.
Shirts are worse. Trying on any kind of long-sleeved shirt sends me home with a paranoia that I have extensive simian arms. I look at Japanese people and they don’t seem to have arms that are way too short for their bodies, so why must the sleeves on even the largest of shirts stop somewhere between my elbows and my wrists? Surely I’m not that freaky. I don’t even attempt to buy shoes and all of my socks acquire stretch-borne holes within a couple of weeks.
Many men’s journey into middle-age sees them shopping at Gap and Uniqlo, if only because they are not sure what looks okay anymore. At stores like those you get a fairly risk-free option; you won’t look too square or too much of an ojisan but are not going to be laughed at for trying to be too hip either. Nice safe shopping for the sartorially insecure. My journey into middle-age, however, has seen me shopping anywhere that has something that fits. That’s pretty much all I require these days, and yet it is still no easy matter. I walk into shops, seek out the biggest clothes available and, more often than not, find myself staring in a fitting-room mirror wondering who that fat chap in a cycling top is.
For some reason, I can buy trousers without too much trouble. Clothes designers here seem to cater for long legs and thick waists, but not the chests and neck sizes that comfortably accompany such shapes. I have Gap slacks in all the safe colours a middle-aged man could want. Unfortunately, though, I often have to pair them with garish shirts that would languish eternally in rooms for unsold stock were it not for the fact that, to a long-armed chap in Japan, style considerations in a shirt are very much secondary. Size is king.