If you have ever traveled around Japan, you may have noticed that wearing a pair of dark-tinted shades is a rarity among locals. While it may seem like a pure coincidence, there are actually a number of reasons why Japanese don’t wear sunglasses and why they seem to avoid using sunglasses, especially in their home country.
In this article, we enumerate some of the popular reasons why Japanese people veer away from this tinted accessory. We also dive into a few theories and examples that support them. Quench your curiosity with this interesting and light read that lists the causes!
1. Japanese People Have Stronger Eyes
No, Japanese people do not have super-powered eyes. People of Japanese descent (or Asian descent in general) tend to have darker eye colors compared to people of Western genetics. These can range from a dark chocolate brown to a lighter coffee color. This is more than just a visual difference, as people with lighter-colored eyes are known to be more sensitive to light. This is called photosensitivity.
The more pigment that eyes have, the more that natural or artificial light rays are blocked off from triggering pain and sensitivity. Due to the dark hue that the eyes of Japanese nationals have, the need to protect the eyes from the light is much lower than that of the average tourist especially if they come from beyond other Asian countries.
However, Japanese people living closer to the border of Japan such as the indigenous Ainu people in Hokkaido do have a small portion of their population that possess some blueness in their eyes. Despite the lighter eye color though, the lessened sun exposure plus the colder climate and geography of their home in Northern Japan counteract the need for shades to protect against the sun.
In comparison to other reasons that will be listed, this may be the most scientific one explaining why Japanese don’t wear sunglasses!
2. Cultural Differences
In Japan, there is a common opinion that people who wear shades and sunglasses are of the unsavory sort – like hoodlums, criminals, gangsters, and even bad boy troublemakers. This is not that different from how most regular people in Japan did not get tattoos up until very recently because of how tattoos were closely linked to the Yakuza’s lifestyle and hierarchy.
These ideas have since begun to die down in recent years, as Japanese society continues to modernize and adapt to more global influences.
However, do not be surprised if you feel yourself receiving a few glances should you find yourself taking the Shinkansen or local bus service while wearing shades. Remember, the darker the tint, the more shady you can look – especially to older members of the community who have less exposure to current trends and foreign influences.
Our advice? Don’t take it personally and look away or politely remove your shades and wear them again later on. The last thing you would want to be mistaken for a dangerous person, especially if you are on vacation. On the bright side, most people living in Japan’s major city centers will pay you no mind due to the popularity of street fashion and individuality!
3. Japanese Pop Culture
Bouncing off of our second reason, our third reason for why Japanese don’t wear sunglasses may be Japanese pop culture. In any nationality, public opinion may be shaped by pop culture. In this case, the Japanese pop culture surrounding the use of shades and sunglasses in media and cinema may have contributed to the stereotype.
Many vintage films in Japan under the crime and gangster genres often featured main characters wearing heavily tinted shades as they operated in the shadows and committed violent crimes as part of Japan’s criminal underworld.
Examples of these films include Branded to Kill (1967) starring Joe Shishido and Koji Nanbara, Hana-bi (1997) directed by the renowned Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, Sympathy for the Underdog (1971) featuring Koji Tsuruta, and finally, Brother (2000) – which featured a more modern take on Beat Takeshi’s directorial style that still had plenty of the yakuza characters wearing the shades that often came with the genre.
Because of these frequent themes in movies especially in the past, a strong public opinion may have formed around people who voluntarily choose to wear shades!
You May Also Like: Best Yakuza Movie You Should Watch
4. Non-Verbal Communication
The final and perhaps the most complex reason why Japanese people choose not to wear shades may be to preserve the ease of non-verbal communication. Many people in Japan are not too talkative, or perhaps even wear face masks when they are out in public. Because of this, relying on chatting alone as a means of communication may be difficult.
Eye contact is one such form of non-verbal communication that many Japanese people rely on – conveying intent and emotion through their facial expressions. There is even a popular Japanese saying from famous novelist Ayako Miura, stating “目は口ほどにものを言う”, which translates to “The eyes say (just) as much as the mouth.”
You will find that Japanese people are great at communicating without uttering a single word, smiling with their eyes, and expressing politeness and concern in their day-to-day activities. This is also why they generally dislike it when ordinary people who aren’t celebrities wear shades. This is because famous people wear them to avoid being recognized and so that their actions are not over-analyzed.
Since most people they meet on an average day probably aren’t celebrities, they do appreciate the absence of shades since it may convey the honesty and authenticity of a person better. If you are hoping to make some Japanese friends or go out on a date with someone Japanese while in Japan, you may want to skip out on the shades or at least keep them stowed away in your bag for the day!
To Wear or Not to Wear Shades in Japan – That is the Question!
Ultimately, you should go to Japan and wear whatever you like without fear – including shades! So long as your outfit is decent and respectable, you are not likely to offend a Japanese person with the simple addition of shades to your wardrobe.
However, you are not likely to spot a Japanese person wearing shades unless you stay in a modern and metropolitan area like Tokyo during your visit to Japan. We hope that the four reasons mentioned above (whether scientific or cultural) can shed some light as to why shades or sunglasses are not a common fashion choice in this East Asian country.
That being said, Japan has a huge and booming fashion scene. As more and more Japanese people embrace international fashion and influences, we are sure that you would feel right at home should you find yourself spotting locals wearing sunglasses of their own!
Make sure you also read this post to understand why Japanese live longer.