If this writer had to pick a Tom Hanks film to depict his three-and-a-half decades of life in this country, it would be a tossup between “Forrest Gump” and “Big.”
The latter, of course, is about the misadventures of a kid who magically finds himself transformed overnight into an adult, albeit with the mind of a child.
I happen to stand 189 cm (about 6 feet, 2 1/2 inches) in height. Please don’t think I’m boasting; the fact is, I’m still too short to make first string on most U.S. high school basketball squads. And besides, I’m lousy at dribbling.
When I moved into my home in Tokyo, one of the first things I did was to secure the services of a carpenter to raise the door frames to two meters.
This was a common-sense move; I figured some night I might be rushing to the toilet in the dark, slam my head on the door and knock myself unconscious.
Until quite recently, moreover, I tipped the scales at 124 kg. I was contemplating calling the carpenter back to widen my doors as well, but decided I’d benefit more from going on a diet.
For obvious reasons, Gargantuan individuals such as yours truly face certain disadvantages in Japan. All-you-can-eat restaurants hate you because they lose money; your fellow commuters hate you because you occupy 1.5 seats on the train.
Unless your name is Pavarotti and you can afford a custom-tailored wardrobe from Saville Row — from which, by the way, the Japanese word seibiro (business suit) derives — shopping for a new wardrobe can be a real hassle.
It’s not that Japan doesn’t have stores catering to horizontally challenged people. But it would seem that large Japanese are big in a different way from large Westerners, i.e., they tend to have proportionally shorter limbs and bulkier torsos.
So snazzy duds cut to fit them hang loose from my shoulders and leave my forearms and ankles exposed.
The good news is that, thanks to the Internet, you can easily order large sizes from Land’s Ends and other foreign companies that ship abroad.
The bad news is, there’s no way to try stuff on; if the item doesn’t fit well, returning it is time consuming and you usually have to pay for shipping.
That being the case, I stock up on needed items during visits back to the U.S. My technique has been to take two suitcases, a small one partially filled with a few basic necessities, which I place inside a larger, empty one.
On the return leg, both of them are invariably full. If the local department store is holding a two-for-one sale, I might even buy one more suitcase and fill that too.
Still, over the years I’ve learned how to shop for clothes in Japan. Granted, the selection tends to be limited; but I’ve found that items made in Japan, when you can find them in your size, are superb, both in terms of materials and construction.
This writer’s personal favorite for large sizes is the Himonya branch of Daiei in Meguro Ward — about 12 minutes on foot from Toritsu Daigaku Station on the Toyoko Line.
In addition to Daiei’s own “Mighty Lord” brand (once jokingly referred to by a friend as “Lord Almighty”), its King Size corner carries an extensive variety of large apparel, including underwear, socks, neckties, suits, overcoats and sportswear, at affordable prices. They will also perform needed alterations.
Many major universities here, particularly schools with judo, wrestling or American football teams, carry large sizes bearing the school’s official emblem, in English or Japanese.
The University of Tokyo Co-op, on the main Hongo campus of Japan’s most famous academic institution, welcomes those not affiliated with the university.
It carries T-shirts and sweat shirts up to 3L and an extensive variety of other neat gift items, such as pens, lighters, scarves, towels, and notebooks with the Todai logo.
They also sell Todai’s own specially bottled wine, which the manager assures me is not produced in the school’s chemistry laboratory.
From Hongo Sanchome station (Eidan Marunouchi line or Toei Oedo Line), walk about 10 minutes down Hongo Dori, enter the campus main gate and walk straight. Just before the Yasuda Memorial Hall, circle around to the right and go down the steps. The shop, in the basement, operates from 10 a.m-7 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays.
Meanwhile, for shoes, “Big-B” Kutsu no Hikari, 2 minutes from the west exit of JR Gotanda station, 2-4-2 Nishigotanda, at www.hikari-shoes.co.jp carries sneakers up to size 36 and snazzy dress shoes as well.
If all else fails, then waddle over to Lion-Do in Ryogoku. This one-story shop is not large, but the sizes contained therein certainly are, for good reason: Ryogoku is the center of Tokyo’s sumo community and Lion-Do has serviced its members for many decades.
The store stocks underwear, jogging suits, trousers, work duds and jackets, as well as authentic traditional garments such as yukata (bathrobes) haramaki (belly-bands whose folds double as pockets) and jimbei (a cozy summer costume made of lightweight cotton material.)
The 8L-size men’s briefs they carry, for waists of 145 cm and up, are big enough to double up as curtains.
Lion-Do is situated on the Keiyo Doro about 5 minute walk from JR Ryogoku Station on the Sobu Line. It’s slightly closer if you get off the Toei Oedo Subway Line and take the A4 exit.
They also have a Web site, www.liondo.co.jp (in Japanese only), and ship orders to anywhere within Japan.
A final note: I must fully concede that the above has been largely male-oriented. The topic of LL sizes for women appears to be broad enough to deserve a full treatment in a separate column.
I really must, however, defer this task to a more knowledgeable female counterpart.
Don’t you think that’s big of me?