About a decade ago I read a book called the Inland Sea, by Donald Ritchie, about his travels in the 1960s through a particular part of Japan – island hopping across the body of water connecting three of Japan’s four main islands.
Besides being a classic of the travel genre, the book is a wonderful insight into Japanese people and culture, with Ritchie’s travels taking him into and out of communities that were maintaining deep traditions at a time of rapid industrial growth across the country.
One of the clearest things I remember about the book is near the beginning, where Ritchie attempts to explain one of the key differences between the Japanese outlook and that of his native U.S.A.
He explained (and after a decade this may be an imperfect paraphrase) how in Western traditions of thought there was a separation between mind and body (from Plato through to Descartes most notably), whereas in Japanese traditions this distinction was not as clear.
In practice this meant that Japanese culture, broadly, saw a person’s appearance and actions as their self, rather than simply a reflection of it.
It’s a pretty interesting concept, especially when you consider the importance of ritual in many Japanese cultural traditions – martial arts, tea drinking, religious practice – and the uniqueness of Japanese fashion, from the drab black and white of the ‘salaryman’ through to the various fashion subcultures like Kigurumin (from which onesies originated, almost a decade ago).
On top of all that you can layer the take-up of mass consumerism in Japan and you have fodder for hours of philosophical debate.
My point here (if I actually have one) is that if I have any Japanese tendencies – and I do love various aspects of Japanese culture – it is not reflected in how I approach clothes.
Today I am wearing a pair of odd socks, a pair of checkered shorts I’ve had for a decade and a daggy Woodstock t-shirt my dad gave me for Christmas two years ago. When I got out in 15 minutes or so I will add another layer of socks (black business socks from somewhere or another) so that my dusty Redback boots fit properly, a zippered fleece vest I bought in a secondhand shop in Tasmania and a water resistant floppy hat I bought at a disposals store somewhere on the NSW North Coast. I need both a shave AND a haircut.
This hodgepodge of my appearance around is not really ‘appropriate’ fashion for anything, neither the bushwalk I’m about to go on in regional NSW, or handing out in funky Newtown on the weekend, where I’m just as likely to be seen like this.
My business mentor recommended recently that I consider my clients’ expectations of the appearance of someone who does what I do. There’s probably an equilibrium between that and the person who I am somewhere. It may very well involve a fleece vest, but probably not a onesie.