In most countries when you think of a construction worker you think of a hardhat, steel boots and safety equipment.
In the land of paradox, where rules abound and business culture is all about adhering to the norms and coloring within the lines, the attire of the Japanese construction worker continues to confuse me.
Construction pants? Well yes, but they are these huge, flowing baggy things that look perfect for getting caught in an auger and ripping off a limb. Called a Tobi trouser.
Tobi trousers or tobi pants are a type of baggy pants used as a common uniform of tobi shokunin, construction workers in Japan who work on high places (such as scaffolding and skyscrapers). The pants are baggy to a point below the knees, abruptly narrowing at the calves so as to be put into the footwear: high boots or jikatabi (tabi-style boots), often brightly colored.
According to a spokesperson for Toraichi, a major manufacturer of worker’s clothes of this style, the style was developed from knickerbockers. The regular knickerbocker-style pants are called nikka zubon ("zubon" means "trousers," and "nikka" or "nikka-bokka" is a gairaigo–transformation of the word "knickerbockers"). The excessively widened ones are calledchocho zubon. This style has also entered popular fashion, as evidenced by the emergence of toramani ("Toraichi maniacs"), die-hard fans of Toraichi trousers.
Construction boots? No. Usually soft boots with the big toe separate to allow for slip on footwear (i.e. flip flops). Definitely not steel toe. He happens to be wearing running shoes. Called the Jikatabi. I personally like this commentary on the boot “Though slowly being replaced by steel-toed, rigid-sole shoes in some industries, many workers prefer them for the softness of their soles”.
Hard hat? Infrequently. The bandana seems to be a team favorite.
One could say that construction mirrors culture – where tradition is tantamount, despite the changing world around them. Or perhaps, the right term is “to spite the changing world around them”. The paradox that is Japan.