Being tall in Japan

Even though I'm only 1.80 m (5 ft 11in), I sometimes feel like a giant in Japan

Even though I’m only 1.80 m (5 ft 11in), I sometimes feel like a giant in Japan

Tall?

The average male height in Japan is 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in). In my home country, Germany, it is about 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in), which is also my body height.  So while I’m average in my home country, I’m considered tall in Japan. A very interesting experience that sometimes makes me feel like a giant.

Bumping your head

My head's favorite contact points: Handles in Japanese metro trains

My head’s favorite contact points: Handles in Japanese metro trains (Source, License)

When your body height is above the Japanese average, you will very likely bump your head.

Most of the times you will be aware of low door frames and the like and therefore take care. In old buildings, such as the shops in higashi chaya district, the shop assistants may even tell you to take care. However there will be instances when you won’t be expecting things to hang that low and therefore be less attentive.

My own favorite items to bump my head against are the handles in the Tokyo metro trains. They hang at the height of my forehead, maybe at 172 cm. In the perfect position for the heads of people like me. This usually happens up to five times per trip, then I start to get it.

Things don’t fit

Many things won’t fit you. When in my size, it is not problematic to find fitting clothes or shoes. However things that are shared by everyone, such as toilet slippers in restaurants, will be too small. Same goes for interior such as benches, tables and sinks.

When I was sitting at at the table in my girlfriend’s parent’s house for the first time, I was surprised by how low but still comfortable the table and benches were. Fortunately it didn’t take me long to get accustomed to it.

Being asked about your body height

“How tall are you?” is a sentence I haven’t been asked in the last decade in Europe. In Japan things are different. Maybe one out of three times when my girlfriend introduces me to someone, preferably women, I hear it. And while this makes me somehow feel like I’m positively impressive, the reactions that are shown upon hearing “180 センチ” (1.80 m) are even more pleasing.

Seeing far in busy streets

Shinjuku

Shinjuku (Source, License)

When I went out on a Saturday evening in Shinjuku, the first thing I noticed were masses of people. The second thing was that, even though the area was packed, I could see anything. “Legolas! What do your elf eyes see?” shouts Aragorn in the back of my head.

Because I was a bit taller than most of the others, I was able to actually see the end of the road without a head appearing in my view. “So this is how basketball players feel all the time,” I thought and enjoyed the evening.

Summary

Being average in the west may mean being tall in a different cultural environment. I’m sure I didn’t mention all of the aspects of more-than-average body height in Japan, but this I hope this gave you an overview.

Did you experience some surprises regarding your size in Japan? Let me know in the comments!

4 comments

  • 2catsinJapan

    Hmmm… Have you spent much time in the inaka?
    Guys in the countryside are significantly taller than the genteel breed in Tokyo.
    Why is that? I don’t know. Better food, lots of milk, veggies…
    My very Japanese husband is 183 cm tall. He’s about average in his family.

    Also, the kids in JHS and HS these days are giants when compared with the lot 20 years ago.
    So brag while you still can, because pretty soon you won’t be “big in Japan” anymore.
    I’m 165 cm tall (virtually a midget as a western woman) and most of the girls at the HS near my house are taller than me.

    • Hi 2catsinJapan and thank you for your comment.
      I’ve spend most of my time in Nagano. I wouldn’t describe it as countryside but my fiancées father, who is living there, did so. In her family most of the males are somewhere between 175 and 178 cm.
      Just as you said, I also think the average height in Japan has increased over the last decades and will probably continue to do so. The intention of this post was not to brag however, I’m sorry if this was perceived differently.

  • what about a girl at about 173cm?

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