The Japanese are an exciting bunch. They have a traditional fascination with the West, and most people in Japan I’ve met seem to be rather curious about Americans.
But cultural differences can confuse Westerners visiting Japan, especially regarding fashion and beauty standards.
One of those differences is the height or lack thereof!
While being tall is seen as attractive in many parts of the world, including America, being short (or at least not super-tall) is desirable in Japan.
It’s so common for women who live here to wear high heels that they seem like a natural part of daily life; you never see someone on the street wearing flats unless they’re trying to make themselves taller.
What are the stereotypes about height in Japan?
There are many. Some popular ones include that tall people in Japan are automatically assumed to be part of a sports team, while short people are considered intelligent and good with numbers.
It’s also thought that tall guys have fierce and aggressive personalities, while short guys are kind and good-looking.
Are there some exceptions to these stereotypes?
Yes, of course, but they’re primarily accurate. The Japanese like to consider themselves open-minded and progressive, but their ideas about height seem deeply ingrained in the culture.
Particularly for women, being short is considered cute and innocent. Growing taller than your partner can mean you’re trying too hard to be more like a Westerner, not the other way around.
Why do Japanese people like shorter men?
Let me share some conversations I had with Japanese people about this topic.
The first one is with my Japanese classmate Harumi, a 5’6″ woman who loves to wear high heels, even though she gets very little taller when she does so.
In this conversation, Harumi tells me about her experience of being tall for a Japanese girl:
Me: “You’re much taller than most Japanese girls. Were you happy when you were younger about being tall?”
Harumi: “No! We Japanese think having long legs is ugly and gross, so I don’t like it. So I would rather be short than tall. Yes, of course (I feel this way) now, even though I’m tall.”
Me: “Were you ever taller than your boyfriend? What did they think about this? Did it turn them off in any way?”
Harumi: “Yes, I was taller, so that would be good for me. But my boyfriends were never taller than me, so it doesn’t matter much.”
Me: “In America, I think tall women feel proud of being tall and would like to be seen that way. Perhaps they want their boyfriends to be bigger or taller, so everyone can see them together and know how big and tall they are.”
Harumi: “Well, yes… I guess. But when you put it that way, it makes me feel bad about my legs.”
The second conversation is with a male Japanese student of mine named Junpei.
When I asked him what he thought about the cultural differences in height standards, he said this:
Me: “What do you think about all the tall girls in Japan?”
Junpei: “I don’t have any problem with it, but I don’t like taller guys because they look too aggressive. When you see a guy taller than his girlfriend, you assume he is aggressive and unfriendly.”
Me: “But what if the girlfriend was tall, like her boyfriend? Would that be a problem, then? Don’t we have some women like super-tall in America too? We sometimes see 6 foot, four women with their husbands or boyfriends, and they don’t look like a comedy couple or anything. Do you think that is because of the well-educated level?”
Junpei: “You mean… yes, maybe. But I guess it still depends on what kind of person she is. In America, taller people aren’t considered aggressive or unfriendly.”
Me: “Are there any tall people in Japan who make a conscious effort to grow taller, like working out?”
Junpei: “Yes, but most tall people are born that way. The only reason why they would work out is that they want to be a model or become an athlete.”
Me: “Do you think tall people look stronger than short people?”
Junpei: “Yes, of course—that’s how you judge strength. The same might be true for America, but we believe that taller means are stronger! We think that shorter means weaker.”
Being tall is not always the best thing in Japan.
As you can see, the stereotype about height is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and most people aren’t even aware of it at first. If anything, they believe that being tall or short is only an issue if your partner is taller than you are.
The funny thing is that this rule still applies even when I tell a girl I’m 6 feet tall.
So, as you can see, being tall is not always the best thing in Japan. Sadly, this means that if you are taller than average (in other words, above 5’2″ for women and 6’0″ for men), then going to Japan is probably NOT the best vacation for you.
Unless you want to hear some real heart-wrenching stuff about how ugly tall people are in Japanese culture (and why short or average height is so much better).