Shoe Shopping in Japan: The Size Conundrum

By Kelly Wetherille
January 24, 2014
Fashion

OK ladies, so you're in Japan and already inspired by the myriad of amazing fashions you see every day, and now you need new shoes. So you head out to the shops, only to end up disappointed and frustrated that the majority of the gorgeous styles on sale are not available in your size. The most common women's shoe size in the United States is somewhere between an 8.5 and a 9, but in Japan these are considered so abnormally large that most stores don't even carry them. But don't fret; there are solutions out there if you know where to look.

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Even as Japanese people become taller and larger on average than their ancestors, the retail scene here is very slow to catch up to the changing demographics of its consumers. I personally wear a U.S. 9 in shoes, and I have female Japanese friends who are the same size or larger. Unfortunately, many of them are just as lost about where to shop for shoes as we foreigners are. But after a lot of asking around, searching online and combing the streets, I was able to come up with the following places that carry larger-sized women’s shoes. You may not find every single style in your size, but at least these retailers will give you options that you may not have realized you had.

The Usual Suspects

There are a handful of shoe stores that my friends and I have been frequenting for years on our quest to find stylish shoes that fit. These include Diana Shoes, a nationwide chain that even has an online shopping site in English, with international shipping options. Diana’s Ginza flagship and its branch located near the bottom of Takeshita Dori in Harajuku both have sections dedicated to larger sizes, specifically 25 to 27 centimeters. If you’re looking for fashionable heels or cute flats, Diana is a good place to check out, and some of the simpler styles can also be purchased online by clicking here.

Washington is another favorite among my Japanese friends. This Ginza institution has a sister store, Washington L, that is entirely dedicated to women’s shoes sized 25 to 27 centimeters. Located in the basement floor of the Nishi Ginza shopping center, the store stocks over 600 styles from both its namesake label and several big-name imported brands as well. Like Diana, some of the larger sized styles can be purchased online for shipping anywhere within Japan.

Another place where I have personally bought shoes over the years is Oriental Traffic, which makes some of its styles in sizes up to 42. There are some very cute shoes, and since most don’t have super high heels, they tend to be pretty comfortable. Prices are also reasonable, but note that many are not made of real leather (if this is important to you, look for the kanji 本革, or ask for shoes in hongawa). Oriental Traffic has stores all over Tokyo (in Harajuku, Lumine Yurakucho, LaQua at Tokyo Dome City, and Shibuya Parco, to name a few), as well as an online shopping site in Japanese.

Other obvious places to look are the fast-fashion chains of Zara and H&M. The former can be great for fashion-forward, real leather heels and boots in sizes up to a European 41, and H&M has a fairly large selection of fun, trendy shoes that may not be great quality, but are so cheap you won’t feel guilty for purchasing them either.

Some department stores will also carry up to size 27 centimeters in a small selection of styles. For a bigger selection, check out Marui’s “Size Town” page in its online store (Japanese only). Other foreign women have also recommended Shoes Ten in Shinjuku and Tulsa Time near Gakugei Daigaku Station, but I’ve never shopped at either of these stores myself.

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Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Even if traipsing all over the city shoe shopping doesn’t sound like your idea of a fun Saturday afternoon, all is still not lost. In recent years many more e-commerce sites have popped up in Japan, and with the help of the Google Translate option in the Chrome browser, most are easily navigable even without Japanese skills. In addition to the sites mentioned above, also check out Seven and a Half, which carries brands like Fabio Rusconi and Corso Roma 9 in sizes up to 27 centimeters, and Javari, which has thousands of styles from international and Japanese brands, in sizes up to 28 centimeters for flats and 27 centimeters for heels. Ye Mart has sizes up to 27.5 centimeters, Locondo has up to 27 centimeters for heels and even larger for flats and sneakers, and Gallery M&C specializes in women’s shoes sized 25 to 27 centimeters.

If All Else Fails…

Even the most determined shoppers among us sometimes have to admit defeat. If you’re looking for something specific or if you wear a size larger than 27 or 27.5 centimeters, chances are you may have to look outside Japan. When this happens, e-commerce sites that offer free international shipping are your best bet. Some of our favorites include Asos, Shopbop, Luisa Via Roma and Shoes of Prey (more on that last one here).

A Note About Sizing

A quick web search will turn up plenty of hits for international shoe size conversion charts, but we’ve chosen not to include one here since sizes can vary quite drastically between brands. We suggest trying on a particular brand’s shoes in the store first to get a feel for the size you would need before ordering online.

Good luck, and may the shoe fairies watch over you!