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
sadistic_dance 8th-May-2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
I've always loved Japanese school uniforms and thought they were really stylish. I wouldn't wear one though.
yume_no_yousei 8th-May-2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
Some of these uniforms are so cute. c:
I've never been too fond of the sailor style though.
tomoeicemaiden 8th-May-2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
I hated my uniform with a passion. I'm completely ok with it as a form of fashion, but as a way to distinguish the sexes it carries more sinister implications. Also I HATED the way men looked at me when I'd walk to school.
annhh 8th-May-2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
ah I've never worn uniforms~ But I'd rather not. Maintaining my legs all year, what a hindrance lol. I prefer more variety but if I had to choose, I'd like beige/brown ones they have (as cardigans) with bow ties! bow ties are so pretty.

I don't like the grandpa pants boys wear (checkered ones) :S also I can't imagine the "proper" styled clothes like vests and such on "rebels" *lol reminiscing school days*

Edited at 2012-05-08 07:45 pm (UTC)
saraab87 8th-May-2012 05:44 pm (UTC)
I wore a uniform from grade school through high school, and I always hated it. The difference in the US and Japan is that japanese students take pride in their uniforms. When I was in school no one wanted to wear the uniform, and it was a burden and shameful to be seen in public wearing it. It would have been very different had it been cool to wear a uniform! Instead most students in my classes ended up looking disheveled because they would wear torn pants, stained skirts, shoes with holes especially towards the end of the year when parents didn't want to buy new uniform items because the kid would likely outgrow them. I wore the same shirts for a couple years simply because white uniform style blouses in adult sizes are extremely hard to find here and my parents didn't want to buy new ones, but as I said before, pretty much everyone did this. In Japan everyone seems to keep their uniforms neat and clean and they take pride in their appearance.

I would have liked the vest option, I think that would make it look a lot better. We did have sweaters as an option, but they were ugly. My high school uniform was a white blouse and navy blue pants. In grade school I had the jumper with peter pan collar shirt, most kids were wearing outgrown jumpers by the end of the year. In middle school we had a skirt and white blouse. Skirts were allowed in high school but almost no girl had them, everyone wore pants, and it had to be a navy blue skirt from a uniform company. The girls that had skirts did try to make them as short as possible though, lol! Basically no one looks good in this uniform in the states though. The shirts get dirty, and lets face it the white blouse makes heavy girls look absolutely terrible, although the vest would help with that. The ribbon or tie would NOT go over well in the US, as no one would wear it period even if it was required by the school. A lot of students have short necks or no necks here, making the wearing of a tie or ribbon extremely uncomfortable. In Japan a lot of students seem to have very skinny, long necks which make adornments like high collar shirts, ties and ribbons look pretty and more comfortable to wear.
kazu_kumaguro 8th-May-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
I spotted Acchan! lol.
kazu_kumaguro 8th-May-2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
now if I think about it, I think my high school uniform isn't that bad IF ONLY they didn't sew it oversize.
like, seriously, it's like they're expecting us to gain at least 10 kgs during our 3 years in high school.
and the waist area, eww, totally emphasizing our belly fat.
but actually the design is not too bad, quite elegant, if only they realize that the fabric is too thick and hot.
brucelynn 8th-May-2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
Aside from the sailor uniforms, most of those looks can be found in schools across the globe they are not exclusive to Japan. Where I live a bunch of the catholic students wear those type of uniforms and I don't think the "fashion statement" thing started because of Japan, if you look back at those 80s-90s movies and tv shows( Clueless , Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Fresh Prince, The Craft ) you can it was a statement back then, I think Japan might have been a big help though.

I had a uniform in the 1st grade, it wasn't mandatory because I was in a public school but I really loved the shit out of it. Most of the elementary schools in NYC made it mandatory for students to wear uniforms and I think it makes things better for the students and the parents.
kazu_kumaguro 8th-May-2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
my catholic high school has no such thing though.
after re-thinking again, my high school uniform is pretty plain.
inachan89 8th-May-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
I never wore one but i admit i wanted to wear the ones i saw in animes when i was little^^ but i think i like the blazer a bit more than the original sailor one=)
nalty7 8th-May-2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
I think it looks cute but I wouldn't want to wear it everyday because skirts are not comfortable.At least to me.I start liking them and wearing them two years ago.
liime_arix 8th-May-2012 06:39 pm (UTC)
The school uniforms here are definitely different from the ones in Japan. And it's mandatory for primary and secondary levels of education. Secondary school wise, majority of the uniforms are basically carbon copies of each other with variations in color. Also it doesn't help that the girl's skirts are tight around the hips and waist. So when I eat, I have to unbutton it. I quite like my uniform since it could be worse.

I also like that some girls hike up their skirts outside of school but pull it back down when in class. That's clever.
ofs1992 9th-May-2012 09:41 am (UTC)
doesn't it get windy in japan? or maybe the opposite, and praying for wind
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