Summer in Tokyo and Japan’s Obsession with Avoiding the Sun

We’ve almost hit the halfway mark of July. Slowly but surely, Tokyo is getting hotter and more humid. Add to this mix the rain from the oncoming typhoon and you’ve got this sticky mess that makes you just want to stay indoors all day and watch old movies on TV.

The crazy thing that I’ve noticed here in Japan though, is that many, many women go to great lengths to avoid getting tan during these summer months.

Now, I understand that being fair-skinned is considered attractive in Japan. But when it’s hot out, nothing’s gonna stop me from wearing my favorite shorts and a tank top.

Meanwhile, you’ll see women wearing arm guards (sort of like leg warmers, but for arms), long-sleeved shirts, and leggings under shorts (this is also because people don’t like to show their bare skin). They also carry parasols everywhere. Sometimes, you’ll see women with parasols on cloudy days. I’m pretty sure that these women will have much nicer skin than me in years to come, when I’m a wrinkly old mess of a grandma. But I can’t even imagine being so covered up when it’s scorching and humid outside.

Although I’m definitely not the only Japanese woman who doesn’t mind getting tan, it’s hard to walk through the streets of Tokyo without noticing how covered up everyone else is. I’ve been living in Japan for so long that I’m starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. But…yeah. You won’t catch me in arm guards any time soon.

Still, I wonder. Is this something that’s seen in other countries too?

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  1. Yes! It is! I believe in other Asian countries. I’ve seen it a handful of times during visits to San Diego. It’s always so shocking isn’t it. I guess I just embrace my already tanned body. :P

    But on the same not isn’t it odd how they are so worried about getting tan but in the States at least we are so into being tan.

    It would be a death wish to try to cover up like that in Arizona! Oh my gosh! With the monsoons here it’s been so humid…but humid with still 110 degree weather. We are so happy after the rain we all go outside because 93 feels “cool”. Most people in the desert here wear as little as possible when it’s that hot.

    Oh Japan! Haha I went to Tokyo Disney and in the summer when I was a teenager and couldn’t believe how many women were walking around with arm covers. Atsuii daiyo!

    • Okay, so it’s not just here that people do that?! It’s unbelievable… And yes, I agree how it’s so interesting that people here avoid the sun like crazy while people in the States are so into being tan.

      And 93 degrees feels “cool”?? Oh gosh, I don’t even want to imagine what a “hot” day for you feels like!

  2. I just love the fashiony/lifestyle photos that frame this post. We get such a sense of who you are! I am just shocked by the arm guards, hand guards on those riding bikes, and the parasols. Like, “it’s okay; it’s like okay. It’s just the sun, for maybe a few minutes while you walk to your train.” But like you said, they will all probably have MUCH nicer skin in the coming years. When I first moved here, I was shocked by the whitening creams. I wanted bronzers, not to be whiter! Fun post, Miwa!

    • Really? Thanks so much! I never really knew what people thought when I posted my random collages. And yes, the whitening creams… Now that I think about it, I actually don’t know anyone who uses bronzer here!

  3. Hi Miwa Theresa, It’s not that widespread but when I’m in Singapore I do see ladies trying to hide under their parasols once in a while. When I was a teenager and lived in South East Asia, I remember I had a tteacher (of Chinese origin) that proudly told us one day that she had come back to do a blood test at the doctors and that they told her she was so white she might be anemic. She was ever so happy with this remark…. Cheers!

        • Isn’t it interesting how people’s perception of beauty differs in each country? There’s no right or wrong–that’s what makes the world so interesting–but I don’t think I can wear long-sleeved shirts in sweltering weather for the sake of beauty!

  4. This is such an interesting take on the sun protection. I live in Vegas and I wish my city sold half of the sun protection fear you find in Japan. If I could get away with using a parasol without looking pretentious, I would. I am not striving for fair skin just less sun damage. I didn’t realize it stemmed from an obsession with fair skin. I thought it was being more health conscious.

    • Well, I’m sure it also has to do with being health conscious. But being fair skinned is definitely something that people here are after, I think. I’m always just amazed at how people can endure covering themselves up so much when it’s so hot and humid here… I make sure to use sunscreen but I think I’d faint if I was all bundled up!

  5. Hallo, Miwa! I came over for a visit as soon as I heard about your blog! I’m afraid I’m going to continue stalking you. Hope that’s OK! :)

    You know I hate parasols and love sunlight, and I’m forever reassuring my female students that our bodies actually NEED vitamin D. Sigh. Best explanation I’ve heard so far is that a white skin used to be associated with wealth and aristocracy, and that it’s somehow morphed into a belief that white skin = beautiful + feminine + ladylike.

    PS: Older women DO have nicer skin in Japan. Heck, older MEN have nicer skin than I do, but … I’m very proud of my sunspots and brown arms and increasingly obvious wristwatch tan line. You can take the girl out of the savanna, but you can’t take the savanna out of the girl. :)

    • Hi, Ru! Thanks for coming over! Blogger friends are so nice! You make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside ;)

      I never heard about white skin being associated with wealth and aristocracy, but it sounds plausible! I guess I always sort of assumed that the whole white skin = beautiful thing had to do with how women are obsessed with looking like “gaijin” or “hafu” as opposed to Asian. But I suppose that would only make sense for Japanese women in this day and age, not the past. And if women have always associated white skin with being beautiful, it’s definitely not because they want to look like a “gaijin.”

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