Nothing’s Easy When You’re Big in Japan

One time a student told me that he saw me walking around Shibuya. I asked why he didn’t come up to say hi and he said that he couldn’t because I was about two blocks away.

What I’m saying is, that as a nearly 2 meter (six-and-a-half foot tall) white dude living in Japan, I kind of stand out.

Sometimes standing out (literally) that much is kind of fun. I’m not going to lie, I use my size to my advantage. When I had an issue at the local tax office, I no doubt suspect that my kaiju-like stature helped me get out of there more quickly than I would’ve otherwise. They didn’t want an enraged giant tearing up the place. And literally no one has ever tried to start shit with me in this country, out of the very real fear that I could literally step on them. And seeing little kids stare at me in awe while whispering to each other how tall I am is always fun.

But to be honest, my Godzilla-sized proportions are often much more of a hindrance than a benefit, and have recently even become kind of a health issue.

Of course, most of the problems are nuisances, and ones that you can probably expect, like problems finding clothing. It’s literally impossible. With rare exception, I cannot find clothing here aside from underwear and, oddly enough, jeans. Shoes are a straight-up impossibility. Allow me to offer a translated transcript of a typical shoe store customer service interaction:

Me: Yeah, do you have larger sizes?
Clerk: What size are you?
Me: Thirty-three centimeters
Clerk: …what…no…you…you are too big…

I’ve had shop staff just look at me and shake their head in disbelief until I’ve left before. It’s a thing.

There is a “big and tall” chain here in Tokyo. They’re called Sakazen, but the idea of them being “big and tall” is complete horseshit. They would more accurately be called “big or tall.” If you’re morbidly obese they got you covered, and if you’re a little on the tall side you’re good. But if you’re overweight and tall (like me) then too bad for you. And their shoe selection is a joke, with never anything over a US size 14. Ditto for Big B Shoes, the alleged big size shoe store in Tokyo. Their selection of shoes over size 14 is barely more than a pittance, and with never anything in a wide size. That store is a joke.

The problems don’t stop with clothes. Think it was easy for me to find an apartment to fit my giant ass in? Think again. My last place had ceilings so low that I had to be mindful when I got dressed, lest I smack my arms into the ceiling every time I put on a t-shirt. And the door frames were comically low, eye-level to me, necessitating an unavoidable duck every time I went from room to room. This usually was more of an annoyance than anything else, but every once and a while I would realize I forget something, turn back around mid-duck, and smack my noggin so hard into the frame that I was worried I might dent something (either my head or the door frame).

And the anti-giant architectural discrimination didn’t stop there.  The kitchen counters were so low that cooking was an impossibility; the table so close to the ground that I couldn’t fit my legs under it. I ate out a lot when I lived there. Speaking of my legs, you think it’s easy to sleep on a futon mattress when everything below your knees is poking out from under the blanket and exposed to the cold, hard floor? Guess, what, it’s not.

My current place is in a newer building, so I don’t have to worry about any of those problems. I even fit in my bed. It’s dope. But with a new apartment came getting new furniture (the last place was fully furnished) and that proved to be its own set of size-related nightmares. Most budget-minded furniture in Japan is weight-tested to about 260 lbs. I weigh…considerably more than that, enough over that suggested limit that I’ve managed to destroy three chairs and one rollaway bed. This means that I mostly avoid the discount furniture places here and have to visit more luxury and high-end places.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, in addition to being a royal pain in the (giant) ass, being an over-sized individual living in a country of slightly more diminutive people can become quite the financial burden. Since I can’t find any clothing here, I have to import it all, and that’s not cheap. And if I buy shoes online that don’t happen to fit, well tough shit for me, most places don’t accept international returns. 

And then there’s the issue of suits. When I first moved here, I brought four suits with me. But that was four years ago and they’re starting to show their age. But while my tiny boyfriend can just waltz his cute little self into any discount suit store and get a semi-tailored pre-made suit for less than $600 US, I have no choice but to go the luxury route and buy tailored suits at a high-end department store, as they’re the only place that have my size. I had to spend over three months rent to get two new suits this month. I am fortunate enough to afford that, but that does nothing to alleviate the feeling of bitter unfairness whenever I see a sign for a cloths sale and know there should be another sign aside it that reads “for everyone except you, you freakish giant.”

But like I said, I can afford it. So at the end of the day, it’s just a nuisance. Same with bumping my head in a door jam or having to duck my way through subway stations. Those are all annoying hassles, but not much more. However, there have been times where being a giant living in Japan has been detrimental to my health. When my shoes don’t fit just right, it’s more than just a matter of minor pain, it can cause serious health problems for me. I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. I don’t get minor discomfort in my feet, I get horrible throbbing pain that’s triggered by any shoes that aren’t just perfect. Those ill-fitting office chairs can lead to some annoyingly persistent back pain if I’m not careful either.

And getting treatment is made all the more difficult thanks to my size. A few week ago I had a pretty intense health scare. Nothing serious, but at the time I thought it was, which meant a visit to the ER. Stretchers here aren’t big enough for me. Same for wheelchairs. I was even in an X-ray room with an oddly low ceiling once, which made getting that neck X-ray quite the adventure. Medicine is tricky too. Japanese over-the-counter medicine is often weaker than their American equivalents. Even if I was of normal size they would leave me wanting. As it is now, I usually take double the dosage of something relatively harmless, like an NSAID. For cold medicine I typically throw in an extra pill or so also. Prescription medication is a bit trickier though. When I popped a rib ligament and was in excruciating pain, I damn near had to threaten the doctor into giving me a strong enough dosage of painkillers to actually make me feel halfway human. Recently, I’ve had some minor sleep problems and getting a proper prescription to help me with that has been difficult as well. 

But at least I never have to wait when I visit an emergency room.

Every time I’ve gone to an ER here and complained of feeling light-headed or like I might faint, the doctors see me immediately. I never have to mill about in the waiting room for long. Because if I pass out or fall down, ain’t no one in this country picking me up.

Makes me wonder how they deal with the remains of the monsters Godzilla kills.

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