From a purely anthropological standpoint, Americans possess a nearly unparalleled sense of self-importance and a constant awareness of themselves in conjunction with their surroundings. I can’t distance myself from that perspective, though, so when I see something so obviously dissimilar in form and execution from what I consider “normal,” I have to take note. For that reason, I’m drawn to Japan.

The East has and will always be a sticking point of fascination for westerners. Historically, this attraction could be attributed to the wealth and gilded artistry (as was noted by Marco Polo in his reminiscences on the court of Kublai Khan) that existed so outside the mind of the West that awe seemed to be the only appropriate reaction. And while Japan underwent a massive reversal in Western attitude toward the beginning of World War II, the course has been completely corrected today.

Still, only a surface-level interest resonates. For many Americans, Japanese culture is simply too foreign to totally grasp. From the food to commercials, Japanese culture can and has too often devolved into an empty spectacle and Facebook shares. There’s one area, however, in which it’d be easy to connect: fashion.

Videos of Tokyo’s busiest streets barely register as much different from, say, Times Square or London—that is until you look at what everyone’s wearing. Japanese style, particularly among the younger generations, embodies a quality of individual expression not seen in the West for the most part, and I believe the root cause is an anxiety that comes hand-in-hand with believing all eyes are on you. Americans have a stereotype worldwide for only thinking of themselves, and although this idea is totally blown out of proportion, there is certainly a greater emphasis on the self in the US than in Asia.

Japan has problems of its own, to be sure. From a purely outsider’s perspective, the reputation of rigidity in familial values and cultural principles seems overbearing and outdated at best, but this isn’t about adopting Japanese culture wholesale. Rather, it seems to me that weird has become the new normal for Japan’s youth’s style, a statewide silent social contract taken in by the future leaders of tomorrow. Extreme individuality can be isolating, and Japan’s emphasis on community allows safety in trying new things, no matter how absurd they may seem to the outside world.

A tradition of expression keeps the spirit of Japan vibrant and alive—a vibrancy and liveliness that Americans would do well to adopt. Freeing your fashion sense could be the difference between a dull day and an exciting one.

So take a lesson from the East: Present yourself the way you want. You owe it to yourself to show the world who you really are, and that starts with your clothes.

Photo: gettyimages/Matthew Sperzel