You have always dreamed of visiting Japan. The rich culture, beautiful scenery, and delicious food have captivated your imagination for years. Finally, your trip is booked – but as the departure date approaches, some worries start to creep in.
As a larger person, you can’t help but wonder if Japan is truly equipped to accommodate your needs. Will you be able to navigate the busy train stations? Find clothes that fit? Manage all the walking required to see the sights?
These concerns are valid, but don’t let them stop you from experiencing this amazing country. With some preparation and planning, you can have an unforgettable trip to Japan, no matter your size. Here is an insider’s guide to making the most of your visit as a plus-sized traveler.
Getting Around: Trains, Walking, and Other Transportation
The train and subway systems in major Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka are world-class, but their massive, complex stations can seem like giant, maze-like dungeons – especially on your first visit. Don’t let the scale overwhelm you. With some navigation tools and insider tips, you’ll be zipping around on the rails like a local.
Google Maps is your friend for navigating stations. Download the app and an offline map of each city you’ll visit. Enter your destination, and it will tell you which exit to take from the station, ensuring the shortest walking route. You can avoid getting lost in sprawling stations like Shinjuku or Shibuya by simply following its exact directions.
When possible, choose stations closer to your destination, even if you have to transfer lines. For example, pick Shin-Okubo over the gargantuan Shinjuku for lodging in western Tokyo. Walking a bit farther between smaller stations on the Yamanote loop line is easier than traversing endless underground corridors.
Don’t ignore station accessibility features. Larger stations have escalators and elevators to platforms, though they can be hard to spot. Look for wheelchair symbols or ask station staff to point the way. No shame in skipping stairs and walking further to find the elevator – your knees will thank you.
Regarding distances, give yourself at least double the time Google Maps estimates for walks, at least at first. The app bases times on average Japanese walking speed, which tends to be quite fast. Build in plenty of buffer time in your schedule, so you never feel rushed.
Resting spots are scarce, so take breaks at cafes and shops along your route by popping in and grabbing a drink. Department stores and shopping centers also have resting areas near washrooms and elevators. Don’t be afraid to take a taxi for short distances when needed. Every bit of rest helps.
Trains and subways should be your main transport mode, but consider buses and other options, too. Buses have roomier seats, and you can take in scenery along the way. Some key sites like Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto are better reached via bus.
Clothing and Shopping Hurdles
Finding clothes, especially plus sizes, is extremely difficult in Japan. Sizes tend to run small, so focus your shopping at major chains like Uniqlo that offer larger sizes. Don’t expect to buy much; pack plenty of outfits and undergarments. Carry a spare change of clothes in case of spills or laundry issues.
If you simply must shop for clothes, head to Shimokitazawa in Tokyo or AmericaMura in Osaka. These youth fashion hotspots have some import shops with larger sizes. Big and tall specialty shops also exist, but require research to find.
Resist temptation to over-stuff your luggage with bulky clothes and shoes. Pack light layers and solid walking shoes that you can wear daily. Laundry machines are plentiful at hotels and coin laundries, so you can wash clothes as needed. Don’t let luggage limit your shopping in other areas like cosmetics, snacks and anime goods.
Staying Fueled and Energized
Walkability, not weight stigma, is the real issue facing larger visitors. Ward off hunger and keep your strength up by eating small, frequent meals. Grab an onigiri rice ball from a convenience store and eat it while walking. Stop into bakeries for a snack. Balance meals with protein and carbs to maintain energy.
Be selective when eating heavy kaiseki meals or meaty yakiniku barbecue. They can drain your energy and leave you sluggish. Prioritize lighter foods like sushi, rice bowls and noodle dishes instead. Stay hydrated with water, unsweetened tea and coffee.
Sit-down restaurants often have snug seating, so favor casual standing bars when possible. Conveyor belt sushi joints are perfect for a quick bite while resting your feet.
If seated on the floor with legs tucked under (seiza style), gently extend your legs out at an angle. Don’t force yourself into uncomfortable postures just for etiquette.
Lodging and Relaxation
Avoid lodging right next to major stations. The endless corridors and hordes of commuters are tiring to contend with multiple times per day. Find accommodation closer to small neighborhood stations for less walking, or budget extra for taxi rides.
Request a western-style room when booking hotels. These have beds rather than futons on the floor, which are far less comfortable for larger bodies.
Splurge for an onsen hotel/ryokan stay at least once. Soak weary muscles in therapeutic mineral baths – just double-check size restrictions beforehand if concerned. Some rooms have private open-air baths on balconies, a great luxury option.
Don’t overdo activities, especially in the summer heat. Allow ample free time for relaxing at cafes, shops or parks. Alternate active days with mellow ones focused on less walking. Listen to your body’s limits and rest when needed. The trip is about nourishing your soul, not just ticking off sightseeing lists.
Attitude and Etiquette
Sizeism or discrimination is less prevalent in Japan than outsiders assume. You’re more likely to stand out simply for being a foreigner than your weight. Still, avoid self-consciousness by exuding a friendly, polite attitude.
Greetings are essential. A simple “konnichiwa” (good afternoon) or “sumimasen” (excuse me) goes a long way in Japan. Small kindnesses like letting others pass on stairways and offering help if someone drops something can leave a very favorable impression.
Be conservative in your clothing choices. Avoid clothes with large logos or slogans. Dark muted solids help you blend in and look neat. Seek balance between comfort and cultural respect.
The spa culture of sentos (bathhouses) and onsens can be intimidating if you’re shy about your body. But people of all ages and sizes bathe comfortably together in the nude. Let go of inhibitions as best you can and enjoy the soaking and sauna rooms.
Traveling to Japan as a plus-sized foreigner comes with unique challenges. Advance planning, strategic packing, learning key phrases and employing tools like Google Maps will help overcome many obstacles. Maintaining realistic expectations and scheduling ample downtime prevents frustration when navigating the country as a larger person.
While Japan presents struggles you may not face at home, a positive attitude and graciousness go a long way. Patience is key – don’t rush your experience. Let things unfold naturally rather than forcing a rigid itinerary. Not every day will be perfect. Do what you can reasonably manage, then rest and regroup. Difficult moments often lead to growth.
Most importantly, enjoy immersing yourself in Japan’s hypnotic blend of traditional culture and high-tech modernity. Dine on tender wagyu beef and slurp steaming ramen. Lose yourself in robot restaurants and karaoke boxes. Feel centuries of history as you stroll under torii gates and temple eaves. This trip is yours to savor – don’t let small inconveniences prevent you from living your travel dreams to the fullest.