Are You a Tall Person Visiting Japan? 5 Places Where You May Have Problems

  • I’m 192cm tall, otherwise known as somewhere in the realms of 6’ 3” to 6’ 4”. By Western standards, that makes me somewhat taller than average, but take a random selection of a hundred Japanese men and I’d be surprised if even one of them is my height or taller. That equates to the fact that some things in Japan aren’t generally designed for someone my height. Let’s take a look at some places and situations where being a tall person isn’t going to make life easy.

    1. Subways and Trains

    Do you sometimes run to get onto the train before the doors close? Go for it, but you might not get onto the train at all if you knock yourself out on the top of the less than six foot tall doorway.

    Once you get onto the train, be aware of other hazards, too. The handles that people grab onto for support whilst standing will be at a level where they can slap you in the face, and the similarly used metal handrails may also be in your way. Watch for the signage suspended from the ceiling if you want to keep your hairdo in place, and you will most likely feel the air conditioning blowing down from the ceiling at more than a comfortable velocity as you will be closer to it than the average person.

    There is one advantage to this, though: you’ll be able to breathe more in a crowded carriage as your head will be in the clearer air above others.

    2. Doorways and Light Fixtures

    This applies to hotel rooms, shops, apartments, and houses – especially any of the aforementioned that are old or traditional.

    My parents-in-law’s house in Gunma prefecture is a common, older style of dwelling and is a classic example of this. Even though I’ve stayed there for many weeks in total over various trips, there is rarely a day where I haven’t hit my head on something inside at least once. At what I’m estimating to be 175-180cm in height, every doorway in that house is too low for me. This doesn’t only apply to doorways; there is one light in particular that hangs down near the top of the flight of stairs which I have head-butted at least 20 times! Not much fun first thing in the morning.

    3. Castles

    I love Japanese castles but they don’t always have much love for me. Many of the same doorway issues from the range of buildings mentioned above apply here too. However, some castles come with an added risk, particularly within the original twelve castles of Japan, of which I’ve visited a few.

    In addition to the low doorways, these castles have thick crossbeams which have been sturdy enough to survive for 400 years or so and also just happen to be set at the right height to knock someone like me out. Also, albeit generally having “watch your head” warning signs, the almost vertical inner staircases are ready to leave your head spinning for reasons other than due to the amazement of the history around you if you aren’t keeping your cranium out of harm’s way.

    This can apply to some of the modern reconstructed castles also, but to a lesser extent as modern constructions do tend to be more spacious.

    4. Hotels

    The average business hotel Western-style room is more than likely going to have a bed that is far too short for us taller folk. The bathroom will be a stuffy, steamy one-piece plastic shell containing a toilet, washbasin, and combined shower and bath, with a ceiling that you will unavoidably be resting the top of your head against when taking a shower. You’ll often find the shower is within an elevated bathtub which brings you up to ceiling height.

    There is a possibly a better option here to get around this. Look for tatami rooms (washitsu), as some business hotels have them, and traditional accommodation options in the form of ryokan (traditional inns) or minshuku (traditional houses) definitely will.

    Yes, your feet will hang out of the end of the futon mattress but at least they’ll be on the floor and not suspended in mid-air. The bathrooms are also generally bigger and often come with the toilet in a separate room from the shower and bath or have communal toilets and bathing areas.

    Whatever type of hotel room you end up in will, again, most likely have a doorway that is too low. Oh, and if your feet are more than a US Size 8 or 9, don’t expect the hotel slippers to fit, either!

    5. Tables and Chairs in Public Areas

    Leg room will not be your friend here. It won’t be a problem if you’re sitting on the floor tatami style, but if you are seated at a table and chair in an older establishment, there will be a good chance that you won’t be able to get your knees under the table. If you are an older person, the back support section of the small chairs might not do your back any favours, either.

    When I went to see a play in a relatively new looking theatre in Tokyo, my head was almost buried in my knees as the seats were set incredibly low and the seat area itself was very short from front to back. I’ve not had enough experience with theatres or cinemas in Japan to make a sweeping judgement, but I’m assuming it will follow the not-so-comfortable pattern found elsewhere in the country.

    It seems, then, that Japan isn’t a tall person’s paradise. That said, I’ve experienced some of these issues in China also, and even Australia, my home country, doesn’t always leave someone like me with enough leg room or head space in certain places. However, none of this should stop your enjoyment of Japan; after all, if you are tall then you’re probably accustomed to watching your head at times in your home country. You’ll just need to do it a little more often in Japan.