One thing I had to get used to as an American living in Japan was how British things could be here. There’s a long list of concepts the Japanese borrowed from the Great Britain, including driving on the left, the way trains are called nobori (up) or kudari (down) depending on whether they’re headed towards or away from Tokyo, plus major institutions like the postal service and NHK, which were heavily inspired by their British counterparts. The Japanese use many British words (bonnet/dustbin/water closet), have imported the tradition of eating Christmas Cake on December 24, and even have 3 o’clock tea, at least for people with a lot of time on their hands. England has influenced fashions in Japan over the years, too. The famous Japanese “sailor suit” school uniform was imported from England, and the Japanese word for a Western-style business suit (背広 sebiro) is thought to be a contraction of Savile Row, London’s famous men’s tailoring district. The Japanese have borrowed another word from the British, “pants” (pantsu) which always refers to underwear rather than outer trousers (as it generally does in North America), leading to some potential confusion when Americans first arrive here. Speaking of pantsu, you may have seen posts on various websites over the weekend about the “latest trend in Japan,” girls wearing panties on their faces. “Wearing Women’s Panties On Your Face Is All The Rage In Japan,” reports Buzzfeed with a straight face, while MSN tells us that “Japanese women have taken to putting panties on their heads, obscuring their faces.” While we’re big fans of pantsu and sell many interesting types from Japan, the fact is that this Japanese “trend” is just a clever marketing ploy by the publishers of the admittedly awesome Kaopan photobook to promote an upcoming tongue-in-cheek superhero film, and no one is actually doing this, unless it’s professional models being photographed. This is not unlike the time a street art performer created a costume that looked like a Coca-Cola vending machine and walked around crowded areas of Tokyo. A New York Times reporter misunderstand and concluded that “fearing crime,” Tokyo-ites had taken to disguising themselves as vending machines in order to feel safe in public.
Japan imports many ideas from the UK, including pantsu.