Jan 3, 2019

The mottainai of clothing in Japan

As a crafter and beginning sewist, I love the idea of making my own clothes especially since I cannot easily buy clothes in my size here in Japan.

While I'm working my way up to having the skill to tackle a pair of jeans for myself if I want something above my skill level I have to get creative and upcycle something and incorporate it into my garment.

The main way I have learned to sew much of anything aside from just figuring it out on my own has been YouTube. Aside from the amazing ideas I find there, I've also learned a ton about clothing and the fabric industry.

Making my own clothes has also shown me the amount of money, time and effort are required just to make something simple like a sweatshirt. But not everyone has had a go at making their own clothing, especially, perhaps, most people in Japan. Even among those Japanese people who own a sewing machine most projects are bags and other small items.

So, when I began thinking about Japan and upcycling clothing and "how ready-to-wear" is heard as a good phrase to describe something, I started to become frustrated with Japan and its love of fashion.

If you don't know, ready-to-wear is the term for items of clothing that are mass produced often at the lowest cost possible. Companies do this by cutting wages to workers, using lower quality materials and not paying for quality checks on the items. You really do need to pay for a garment that is worth your money and then be able to pass it on to someone else once it's fulfilled its purpose for you. This way there is no waste. Also, an easy way to get around high prices is to buy used.

Compared to the United States with a Goodwill (store) in every town and possibly multiple other thrift shops even in more rural areas, Japan really isn't doing much to encourage people to recycle their clothing. Many of the prices at resale shops are equivalent to buying the article of clothing brand new giving very little incentive to buy used instead. Most Japanese people do love nice clothing and they are willing to pay the extra bit for it, however, because most people want that brand new look to their clothes, the moment they see a bit of wear they toss it out and buy another item to fit that particular season’s trend. Rarely do I see someone here wearing something from the previous year’s collection. It's a huge waste. But not only is there a push for new clothing and a keeping with the trends in Japan, there is also an aversion to trying to donate clothes as well. Yard sales and garage sales are nearly unheard of. If you do find a "free" market (it is meant to be "flea market" but in katakana), there aren't many stalls and ...The mottainai of clothing in Japan photo... many of them tend to actually be food vendors, ...The mottainai of clothing in Japan photo... those selling games or focusing on used items, ...The mottainai of clothing in Japan photo... but not clothing. However, I am glad when I see markets, bazaars or any other way for people to reuse their clothing instead of just tossing it out on burnable day.The mottainai of clothing in Japan photo

This is from a small bazaar my mother educational group had. Any clothing that wasn't bought was tossed out though. 

All that precious fabric and energy spent on making the items, being tossed away. I wish there was more being done to encourage the recycling of clothing, the reselling of clothing (even if it has been worn more than once) or donating to those who may need it. I wish there were more incentives for people to pass on their clothing instead of just toss it out.

Japan knows the concept of mottainai (wastefulness), if only they could attach it to the way they go through clothing.



American step mom with beautiful Brazilian babies. Raising them in Japan. I'm a crafter too


  • TonetoEdo

    on Jan 3

    I’ve got some time on the new year break and I’m going through my rag bag. Some bits of clothing are made from quality fabric, but they’re worn or holey. My apartment is drafty because of gaps between floors and doors. So I’m considering making draft excluders from the sturdy bits and stuffing them with scrap left over. Do you know any geriatric dogs, or wee dogs? They might benefit from sweaters. Also humans. Some thick and warm fabrics could be worked into supporters for old knees and elbows. I need a warm wrap for an elbow I damaged years ago. Also, I’m collecting bits for haramaki belly wraps. Could you make hankies, bags, coasters out of scrap? Anyway, you inspired me to not ditch stuff but have a go at repurposing.

  • maynestacy

    on May 15

    Hello! Nice post. 90% of clothes in my wardrobe are from used shops. I hear you about sizes here! Only mens` trousers fit me, though I am lady. It it is good thing to be forced to become more creative! I was excited to be on the PTA committee for the school bazaar ... what a let down, like Off house but for the school - new items, items in boxes, (unwanted gifts, overzealous sale shopping purchases)... and those were repackaged into hundreds of clear plastic bags. Almost no clothes, like 6 items. I donated used items thinking that was what it was all about. My stuff got binned. I rescued it and gave it out through internet Mottainai groups.