Dressing Your Bump: Shopping For Maternity Clothes In Japan
How To Navigate Maternity Wear In A New Country
Congratulations on your pregnancy! Whether this is your first one or you’re adding to your growing family, every mama-to-be deserves to feel glowing during this magical time. Read on for the best shopping spots to flatter your growing baby bump whether you’re looking for cozy loungewear or a formal dress for attending your older child’s school entrance ceremony.
So, you’ve just found out that you’re pregnant while living in Japan. Welcome to one of the best maternity care systems in the world, yet one which undoubtedly comes with cultural expectations that might differ from what you’re used to at home. Maybe you’ve already read, as I had, about how the weight chart for pregnant women is several kilograms different from North American standards and that keeping your bump warm is considered of the utmost importance.
Maternity shopping and styling in a different country, however, brings a new set of challenges—like navigating new dressing conventions and finding clothes that fit when your body feels like it’s constantly changing.
Japanese vs, Western maternity fashion
I was pregnant for the first time in Canada. After quickly accepting the myriad messages of “flaunt your bump” and scouring celebrity looks for inspiration, I was excited to shop for maternity wear. When I started to look, it was not particularly hard to find the styles that I had hoped for: I ended up with a mix of leggings and flowy feminine tops with fashionable maternity belts to accentuate my waist, and many dresses—ranging from body-con (for the more body-positive days) to A-line and empire-waist syles. As for sizes, I was instructed to choose the same size in maternity as I was in regular clothing and that worked for me without a hitch.
Imagine my surprise when my second bump made its arrival in Japan and the standards and sizing—not to mention preferred weight gain by medical professionals—was vastly different. Of course, from traveling for a decade and living in Japan, I knew that skin tight maternity dresses were unlikely to be as popular as they were in North America. I was still not quite prepared for my first ob-gyn appointment where I saw lots and lots of very roomy dresses and long sweaters—and no other outfits. When it came time to get some new clothes for myself, the first thing I learned is that finding maternity wear in Japan is, comparably, difficult. Usually, I think of Japan as a consumption wonderland, with many more options than my home country for almost anything that I would wish to buy. Yet, paradoxically, not so with maternity clothes.
If I wanted to shop in person for maternity wear relatively nearby in the city I was living in (Fukuoka), I had two choices: MUJI or a department store. Since my nearest Muji’s stock consisted of one shirt in varying colors, one dress, and a pair of maternity pants, I hit up the closest department store, Hankyu, where I found dresses that averaged ¥22,000. For more choices, I found that going online was my only option.
Size and style: things to consider
Sizes also were very different, whether bought in-store or in person. Of course, there was the (in?)famous “free size” which also encompassed maternity dresses. Often, the sizing started at medium (M) to extra large (LL) with no relation to the pre-pregnancy size that I could see. While online retailers generally offered a sizing chart, I was not always in the mood to measure my bust and bump to see if I could order a dress in a pattern that I liked. Sizing was, as is often the case in Japan, not the same as North America and significantly smaller. Case in point: while my maternity clothes from Western retailers in Japan—that seemed to mostly stick to the “buy your pre-pregnancy size” rule—was one size, most of my Japanese maternity clothes were three sizes larger.
Style-wise (as I discovered by talking to other women, looking at pregnancy magazines and searching online) the most acceptable style in Japan is very loose and flowy and much less revealing than Western maternity clothes. Thus, the clothing sold by Western retailers in Japan made me pause. Although I was happy to be able to order from Gap online, for example, even the looser fit dresses showed off more cleavage and bump than I was often comfortable with here, leading me to pair them with scarves and long sweaters.
So, for your very own pregnancy makeover, read on for my recommendations on where to buy maternity clothes in Japan, whatever your style goal.
Maternity shopping guide
- Online Japanese retailers: Sites such as Sweet Mommy, Angeliebe and Chocoa offer a wide range of casual to formal maternity clothing that matches local dressing conventions. In my experience with these, buy a size up from what you would expect.
- Amazon and Rakuten: Amazon and Rakuten can be great places to find Japanese-style maternity wear, including those from the brands above. I found them especially useful for purchasing undergarments (like maternity and nursing bras) since they often have better (in other words, free and simple) return policies.
- Nishi-Matsuya: Just as their children’s goods are known for being extremely affordable, Nishi-Matsuya has basics, such as maternity leggings, for great prices.
- Western chain stores (such as Gap, Zara, and H&M): Although I have read that some locations offer in-store maternity wear, I could not find any near me. Their online stores are nice if you want more form-fitting clothing in sizes that will follow your pre-pregnancy size. Two caveats: the styling often is not very “Japan friendly,” in that it is tighter and more revealing than typical maternity wear here (as I mentioned above) and the return policies can sometimes be frustrating, such as only accepting returns at a physical store.
- Uniqlo and Muji: While the Muji where I live has a small selection of maternity wear, the Uniqlo maternity clothes are only available online. Both of these stores, for maternity as for every day, shine at making good quality basics. Muji’s maternity and nursing bras, for instance, are well-priced and cozy.
- Department stores: Maternity clothes in department stores are found on the children’s goods floors and are the best place to find luxury items and maternity formal wear. If you need to attend entrance or graduation ceremonies or a wedding, for example, your local department store will likely have the style of maternity wear that you are looking for. Although I wasn’t willing to pay full price for maternity clothes from my local Hankyu, when the dresses came on sale, I was happy to find clothes for special occasions.
Good luck and have a safe and happy pregnancy!