There’s a post-it note on the bezel of my monitor right now. It’s bright orange, and simply reads, “Akihiro is TALL!”
As I’ve made various editing passes on my book, Golden Week, I’ve realized that there were certain things I needed to change. Things like “I need to mention this group earlier on” or “I need to explain this better”. However, as I enter into (hopefully) the last pass at my book, I have realized a rather glaring issue.
You see, the protagonist of my book, Uchiyama Akihiro, is a staggering 6’4″. By anyone’s standards, this is really quite tall. In Japan however, where the average height is around 5’8″, this makes him stand out in any crowd. Thus, I felt the need to put some research into what it’s like to live in Japan.
I’ve found numerous men as tall as 6’1″ and 6’2″ talking about hitting their heads on doorways on a regular basis, or how badly their backs hurt from leaning down to utilize a standard kitchen counter. Shopping for clothes poses its own unique challenges. Sitting at a low table in a restaurant is uncomfortable, and for that matter, a particularly tall student may bang their knees on the underside of their school desk constantly. If you lay on a tatami mat on the floor, at least some part of you is going to wind up laying on the seam, since the mats are only six feet long. Japan is simply not built for people who stand over 6’0″ tall.
“I’ve always been a scrapper,” Akihiro said, “A kid in the first-grade said something about me not having a mom and I knocked two of his baby teeth out early. I was nearly at my full height in elementary school, so I didn’t stand a chance at avoiding being picked on. I fought in middle school, I fought in high school, and I signed up for kendo just to have the opportunity to beat people with sticks without getting suspended. It was cathartic.”
As it turns out, one of my favorite YouTubers is a 6’1″ Japanese man. Jun, who produces English-language videos about life in Japan with his wife Rachel, posted a video years ago about Being Tall in Japan. In fact, the segment from 3:23 to 3:34 had me rolling, because I almost pictured Akihiro doing precisely the same thing.
Akihiro is taller than most men that I’ve seen talking about living in Japan, and that has saved him some degree of head trauma. Because the door frames are closer to eye-level, he’s less likely to smack into them, but I imagine he’s still going to wind up with a dent in his forehead from time to time. It feels like I’ve gained some new insight into Akihiro’s life, albeit at the 11th hour of the writing process, and I’m happy to have a new layer of detail to write into his daily life.