Traditional Japanese flooring is made of woven rice straw mats called tatami. Tatami mats are more or less standard in size, usually about one meter wide by two meters long. Before the adoption of the metric system, number of tatami was an effective way to measure the available area in shops, housing and other interior spaces. Keeping with tradition—another thing Japan does well— apartment dimensions are still measured in tatami. My apartment is 3 mats, approximately 64 square feet. To put that into perspective, my entire living space is slightly larger than a double bed. If I stretch just a bit, I can touch the walls on either side of my room.
With the exception of apparel that needs special fitting—suits, shoes and the like—most Japanese stores stock clothing in only one size. Even shoes come in only four sizes: S, M, L and LL. (An LL is roughly a US size 8.) Western stores carry a broader range of sizes, but the range extends down from the American average. The largest size available at Gap in Japan is an 8 (and there is usually only one in stock), but 0s and 00s are plentiful. There is also an additional small size that I don’t remember seeing often (if ever) in the US—an XXS. Jeans do not come in long lengths.
Don’t even get me started on Japanese bra sizes…
This Japan-sized scale and horribly orange tile flooring belong to my fitness center. Because my feet don’t quite fit on the scale, my weight registers at a wonderfully lower number than it does when my toes are factored in. It almost makes me enjoy going to the gym.
Subway seating also assumes a standard size of person. For bench-style seating, signs are often posed that say “This seat should fit 7 people”.
Sometimes I’m loathe to leave Japan just because I will never again be able to find cute small socks. Rather than invisibly tucked into a shoe, Japanese small socks are a fashion accessory meant to be seen.
My friend Nik is Hindu and had never eaten a hamburger; I’m an American and a bad influence, so we went to TGIFriday’s to indulge in a cultural experience. This is Nik eating beef (and yellow mustard) for the first time in his life:
Anyway, a Japanese couple were sitting at an adjacent table, and you could tell they had never been to an American restaurant by their sheer disbelief concerning the portion sizes. When their desert sundae came out, they doubled over in laughter and began taking pictures. The couple didn’t finish even half of their ice cream. Nik and I ordered the same desert, but we were remarkably able to eat every last bite…
Most chain restaurants in Japan list calorie counts on their menus, and typically a meal has around 600 calories. Portions are usually what can be consumed in one sitting, and small sodas at fast food chains are actually small. At Starbucks, you can order a “short” latte, which is 8 ounces, compared to a tall, which 12 ounces. I’ve heard that you can get the short size in the US too, but that you have to order it by name as its not actually listed on the menu.