To say that there are not many Westerners in Japan is a serious understatement. In a total of 9 weeks spent visiting various parts of Japan I have never seen another Brit, and only met a handful of Americans, Canadians and Europeans. Those that I do see are marked out as tourists just as I'm sure I am myself, by the places they are visiting and their noticeably informal dress. Without fail, all of the Japanese people I see out and about or on public transport are immaculately dressed. Men wear suits, ties and smartly polished shoes even in the 40 degree heat and 90% humidity of summer, and the women are dazzlingly chic. Crisp, pastel coloured blouses paired with pristine white, baby blue or pink pencil skirts and matching closed toe high heels seems to be the uniform of the Japanese female office worker, and, like every other uniform in Japan, is worn with obvious pride and attention to detail.
It is very noticeable how important uniform and group identity is in Japan. Even a teacher's pet like me can remember the urge to throw off school uniform the second i stepped in the house and change into something of my own. Yet in Japan, teenagers wear their school uniforms all the time. Not only during the week, but at weekends too. We saw teenagers in school uniform at Disney land during the summer holidays. And if it isn't the neatly ironed shirts and pleated navy skirts of school uniform, groups of teenagers are dressed in the coordinated tracksuits of their school sports team.
Accessories, which in the UK are an opportunity to personalise consumer items, are used in Japan to further express the group identity. A group of 14-year-old baseball playing boys all have the same Daisy Duck charm hanging off their regulation sports bag. Or a group of girls all have the same phone cover and matching phone charms. Perhaps this explains why offbeat areas like Harajuku seem so particularly incredible; in general the ideal is to conform in a big way. As far as I can see, iPhone totally dominates the phone market completely, presumably because fitting in is more important than having choice. Looks like I'll have to send to the UK for that glittery Disney Princess Samsung Galaxy phone cover.