Arama They Didn't

10:15 am - 05/08/2012

Japanese school uniforms: A tale of imported culture & fashion now spreading across the globe

Sailor-style outfits, blazers, and stand-up collars are just some representative items from Japanese school uniforms, which are now spreading across the world as part of the "Cool Japan" trend. Behind the skirts and the sleeves, however, are decades' worth of imported culture and generational changes.

In July 2011, some 30 youths of different ethnicities were found on stage in a Japanese fashion show in Paris as part of France's big annual Japanese culture event, Japan Expo. The models sported checked miniskirts, cardigans, blazers, and other items found in modern Japanese school uniforms.

In addition to cute outfits, the performances on the catwalk were abundant in "peace" signs and other typical Japanese gestures and poses -- followed by loud applause from the audience -- all of which underscored the "kawaii," or cute, appeal of Japanese culture, which seems to be turning into an internationally accepted term.

The fashion show was organized by school uniform retailer Conomi, which has five shops, including two in Tokyo's largest youth fashion area, Harajuku.

"The event made me realize that Japanese school uniforms are no longer perceived as 'cosplay,' but as real fashion," says Conomi's Vice President, Toyoko Yokoyama, 36, who can't shake off the excitement she felt at the show.

Conomi's school uniforms are original items that are not part of any school's designated uniforms. Nevertheless, youngsters -- often accompanied by their parents -- are flooding Conomi's shops, passionately choosing neckties, sweaters, blazers, skirts, and other items. In other words, even students who don't attend schools that require students to wear uniforms are keen on wearing them as fashion, company officials say.

"It seems that many youngsters perceive school uniforms as a type of clothing they can wear only when they are young -- a limited sort of fashion 'privilege,'" Yokoyama says. "Recently boys are increasingly visiting the shops too. It seems that their mothers are trying to make them look like handsome school boys from popular TV dramas."

Whether in Japan or abroad, it seems fair to say that school clothing is at the forefront of "kawaii" and "kakkoii" (cool) fashion for youngsters.

Looking back on the history of uniforms in modern Japanese education after the promulgation of the school system in 1872, the standard school uniform style for female students was "hakama," a type of traditional Japanese long skirt. This particular style spread across the country around the beginning of the 20th century, and quickly became a symbol of female Japanese students.

Originally, the female school hakama used to be colored purple, but this was later changed to "ebichairo," or brownish-crimson, as purple in Japan was considered a noble color, traditionally worn by aristocrats. According to some historical sources, following the color change, female students were nicknamed "Ebichairo Shikibu" after the author of "The Tale of Genji," Murasaki Shikibu, the first part of whose name means "purple."

However, the hakama style of clothing proved to be too expensive for young women who were interested in competing with each other in fashion and looks, and troublesome when it came to washing. For these reasons, female school clothing gradually shifted to Western-style outfits.

The two-part sailor-style school uniform worn today was first introduced in Japan at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin Junior and Senior High School in Fukuoka Prefecture, some 90 years ago, in 1921. The figure behind the switch was 27-year-old American missionary Elizabeth Lee, who was serving as the school's principal at the time, and trying to teach the girls to play volleyball.

At the time, all the girls wore Japanese-style clothes, which were restricting their mobility. After watching her students struggle to move around, Lee came up with the idea of using sailor-style clothes, which she herself liked to wear. The sailor outfit, which was traditionally worn by members of the navy, was back then a popular trend among women in the U.S. and Europe.

The sailor-style uniform, which was perfected after a series of trial pieces had been made at a Western-clothing store near Fukuoka Jo Gakuin, quickly became popular across the country, and turned into a major Western fashion hit.

Its standard style -- dark blue cloth, a dark red necktie, three stripes of dark red on the collar and the cuffs, and a white anchor mark above the chest -- has not changed over the past 90 years. It is not uncommon for students at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin to wear the same uniform their mothers and grandmothers wore when they were students.

Among them is Mei Nomiyama, 15, a first-year high school student at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin.

"I can feel the history," she says. "When I see other schools' sailor uniforms, I am always reminded that our school was the first one (to introduce them). I feel that it's a great thing."

While in recent years skirts and blazers are more common as school uniforms for girls, there are many students who wish to enter Fukuoka Jo Gakuin simply because they want to wear the sailor uniform, officials at the school say.

"Given the long tradition and people's appreciation of the uniform, it is unlikely that it will change with time," says Yuji Motomura, the head of the school's planning and public relations division.

The sailor school uniform, a clothing style that was originally imported from overseas, is now, a century later, being exported from Japan -- as a new trend that is building its own history day by day.

More insight: Tokyo Kawaii TV's School Uniform In The World, Kawaii School Uniform, Fashionable Japanese Kids

Can we have a uniform spam post?
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sibylblack 8th-May-2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
I remember being in elementary school, watching anime and wishing so badly my school also made us wear uniforms! I wanted one of those they wore in Sailor Moon.
mellastella 8th-May-2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
rim1789 8th-May-2012 02:35 pm (UTC)
Japan Expo was such a let down last year. Definitly not going back this summer.

On a side note, the appeal of uniform probably comes in France from the fact that we don't wear uniform at all. Only some schools and even there, there are less than five that have '' real'' unform (did a research some years ago)

I do love boys who are wearing uniform or a suit though, and girls uniform are sometimes super cute
squallina 8th-May-2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
Gotta love Japanese school uniforms! Our Aussie uniforms are nothing in comparison. You know how the girls try to wear their skirts as short as possible in Japan? In my high school (private, all girls) the trend was actually to do what the guys do in Japan with their pants and pull the skirt down as low as possible to show off your silky, vibrant boxer shorts underneath. How ladylike! And no, I didn't do it. xD

Also, yay for Arashi and their guests in school uniforms!

Edited at 2012-05-08 02:51 pm (UTC)
katzsong 8th-May-2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
which HnA is this? Thx in advance ^^
pyroyale 8th-May-2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
Only one of the high schools I teach at has the sailor style uniform and all of the female students I've spoken to hate it and wish they had the blazer and ribbon/tie style (it's probably the best public high school in the area though, so they're willing to suffer it XD)

It always amuses me how many girls go to lives (especially of indie visual kei bands) in uniform. When I was at school we'd tear our uniform off first chance we'd get - we'd never go out in it!
shiny_lights 9th-May-2012 02:36 am (UTC)
Yeah, the idea that it's fashionable sort of throws me for a loop. I remember girls changing clothes on the school bus if they were going somewhere after school!
sakuraimai 8th-May-2012 03:11 pm (UTC)
My school uniform was simply a white shirt with the school’s emblem, and jeans! (that's how it is for most school's here!)
I remember watching anime and wishing my school’s uniform was as cute as the Japanese ones.
fumine 8th-May-2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
That girl in the middle (5th pic from above) looks like a dude O_o
(Not that I have anything against dudes in skirts [to each their own])
Huh...maybe I'm just seeing things...
fumine 8th-May-2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
Love these school uniforms ^^
I kind of wish I had been able to wear something this cute (Austria is school uniform free)...but then again, I always felt uncomfortable wearing skirts and I never liked the way my legs looked in them.

"It is not uncommon for students at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin to wear the same uniform their mothers and grandmothers wore when they were students."
Wow... Let's hope they never tear them/get them too dirty.
eevaleena 8th-May-2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
Japan school uniform is the best! The girls uniform look so cute. Even those gakuran look cool ^^ I remember wishing that we had those kinds of uniforms when I was watching GTO long ago!
usdutchkitty 8th-May-2012 03:38 pm (UTC)
Oh ya, when I got more into anime and saw these school uniforms I was actually jealous. I had wished that my schools made up wear uniforms. Even if it is a public school, I would love to wear that.
unbroken_glass 8th-May-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
this article comes at such an appropriate time, today was my school's Nerd Day dress up and a lot of girls wore Japanese style uniforms with knee high socks and nerd glasses XD
annhh 8th-May-2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
lol whaaat is that real world
queenbathory 8th-May-2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
I'm one of those sad losers who loved her school uniform. of course Japan's shit on my old catholic school one lol
ohprecioustime 8th-May-2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
why does everything that has to do with Cool Japan have to be kawaii!

so bizarre..tbh
asai64 8th-May-2012 04:56 pm (UTC)
My school uniform was boring
and it was really heavy and hot :')
i wanted to wear that even though i am going to graduate soon
i wanted the one with the vest... damn, send me to japan please
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