What to Know about Japanese School Uniforms

Introduction

When you watch Anime or J-Drama, surely you would be very interested in the Japanese school uniforms of the actors. It is undeniable. Japanese school uniforms are very attractive and elegant. While we all think that school uniforms are very standard and unobtrusive. That’s not the case with school uniforms in Japan. 

For you who have the interest to learn Japanese as well as the iconic Japanese culture, you can read our article about learning Japanese! Go here and please leave your comment below for our improvement!

In this article, let’s discuss Japanese school uniforms here. It is said that Japanese school uniforms began when an educational institution of the imperial family and nobles during the Meiji period made uniforms by adopting a Navy-style uniform. Take a look below!

1. History

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At first, students in Japan only wore standard clothes to school. The hakama for male students and kimono for female students. Starting in the Meiji period, school uniforms in Japan began to change. The first institution that made the earliest Japanese uniforms was Gakushūin. Gakushūin is an academic institution of the imperial family and the nobility. Gakushūin was founded in the 1890s during the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

At that time, Gakushūin adopted a uniform for male students. According to the formal attire of Japanese naval officers. It included a hat, high-collared jacket, and trousers, we call Gakuran. Uniforms like this were initially only affordable for the distinguished Gakushūin students as elites. This is where the history of the male student uniform comes from.

On the other hand, the history of female student uniforms in Japan dates back to the reforms carried out by Utako Shimoda ((1854-1936). She is a women’s activist, educator, and fashion designer. She found that the kimono limits girls’ physical activity and jeopardizes their safety.

Then, in the early 1920s female student uniforms began to transform. They adopted navy uniforms combined with European styles. Then, we know as Sailor Suit or Sailor Fuku. It is very easy to sew, facilitates movement, and supported the physical activities of female students.

2. Variations of Japanese School Uniforms

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Generally, we can find that there are two different uniforms styles among schools in Japan. Some school still adopts the traditional uniform or modern style. The typical uniform colors are navy, green, black, and white.

However, the variations of school uniforms in Japan are getting attention among the crowds. It is throughout different rules as well as the cultural significance in Japan. Some school has a particular uniform style to show their school characters, philosophy, and certain rules.

School uniforms in Japan usually represent specific moments and bring youth period the special memory among students. Therefore, students sometimes modified the uniform with their styles like changing skirts longer or shorter, detaching the ribbon, etc.

3. The Regulations of Japanese School Students Uniform

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In Japan, mostly elementary school students do not need to wear a uniform to school. The rules vary among the schools. However, there are regulations for almost all junior and senior high school students in Japan to wear a uniform. Public and private junior and senior high schools in Japan mostly require uniforms.

Moreover, all schools usually have a summer and winter version of the uniform. The summer uniforms are simpler and lighter rather than the winter uniforms that are more casual and use heavier material that usually comes with blazer jackets to protect students from cold.

4. Gakuran: Boy’s Uniform

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The Japanese school uniform for boys or we know as Gakuran adopted the Prussian army uniforms called Waffenrock. The term Gakuran is a combination of Gaku (学) means “study” or “student”, and Ran(らん or 蘭) means the Netherlands, that generally assumed as the term West in Japan. Hence, Gakuran commonly translates as “Western-style uniforms”.

Gakuran typically consists of several items as the following:

  • sturdy-shouldered top with stand-up collar
  • White-collared shirt
  • five charming golden or bronze buttons
  • straight black pants
  • The color of Gakuran is black or blue-navy
  • Brown or black leather shoes or loafers

4. Sailor Fuku: Girl’s Uniform

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The uniform for female Japanese middle and high school students or sailor suits is also very attractive. Utako Shimoda in the 1920s designed this uniform with a very well-thought concept. She aimed to support girls’ movements and it is very simple to sew. The sailor suits usually consist of the following items:

  • White shirt with a sailor-style collar
  • Kerchief, bow, or tie
  • Skirt with pleats
  • White, navy, or black socks
  • Brown or black shoes

In the autumn or winter, girls would add a sweater to their outfits to make them feel warmer.

5. 2 Types of Uniforms: Winter and Summer

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As Japan has 4 seasons within a year, the uniform will change as well. Japanese middle and high school uniforms have 2 bundles for summer and winter along with sportswear. The details for the items generally come as follows:

  • Uniform for Summer: white and short shirt, light trousers for boys or a pleated skirt for girls with t-shirt and shorts for sports.
  • Unform for Winter: sweater, blazer, long trousers or skirts, polyester tracksuits for sports

6. Modern-Styled Uniforms

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These days the more we take a look at the changing of Japanese school uniforms. Exactly, the more changes in Japanese school uniforms would appear. Some schools, for example, have adopted a uniform style with a western pattern. The uniform usually consists of:

  • a white shirt
  • tie with certain motif
  • a distinctive blazer with the school crest
  • trousers specifically designed for boys
  • a plaid skirt with high and loose socks for girls.

In contrast, many argue that the most modern development of Japanese school uniforms is the freedom to not wear a uniform at all. Not a few junior high and high schools in Japan also adopted this rule. They started not tightening the rules regarding the uniform.

Nonetheless, in general, Japanese school uniforms continue to receive international attention. Many by the condition where these uniforms often appear in various media. Such as Anime, J-Drama, and social media which represent young Japanese. Thus, we cannot neglect the fact that this is what always attracts foreign tourists to visit as well as being interested in Japan.

7. Uniform’s Regulation

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As we all know, maintaining cleanliness and appearance is a big deal in Japan. School uniforms in Japan are serious business. Schools usually have strict rules that students must follow. Middle and high school in general, usually not only regulate the color of clothes, socks, shoes. But the school will also monitor the length of skirts and color of socks for girls and the length and shape of trousers for boys.

Either the haircut usually will also get attention. This uniform must also be used properly and neatly not only in the school environment but also when outside the school.

8. Real Uniforms Vs Anime

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For those who have a question about whether the school uniform in Anime is the same as the real one in Japanese schools? This is the answer for you. The real student uniforms in Japan usually tend to be plainer than those that appear in Anime. For instant, in Anime we usually see female students in very tight uniforms with pastel pink miniskirts. This is very impossible for Japanese students to wear.

The skirt will actually be longer in a more conservative color, such as dark blue or beige. The motifs, designs, and styles of uniforms are also not as free as we see in Anime.

9. Public and Private School Uniforms

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Until now, we can get that almost all public and private students in Japan have uniforms and accompanying rules. Especially for junior high school and high school students. Each school also usually has its own uniform. However, most school uniforms are very similar to each other. Some special features mark a particular uniform as it would be coming from a particular school. Such as the color of the stripes on a girls’ uniform, or the type of buttons or collars on a boy’s uniform.

10. How much do Uniforms in Japan cost?

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According to several sources we have compiled, the prices for middle and high school uniforms in Japan vary among the schools. The price of these uniforms is usually around 40,000 JPY. Even so, according to a recent study of parental attitudes about junior high school uniforms by Asahi Shimbun Digital.

Many parents report that they need to spend around 100,000 JPY for a complete set of their kid’s winter, summer, and athletic uniforms that are mandatory at the school. This turned out to be a problem in families with many children of different ages, hence the need to buy uniforms became a big burden.

11. Where to Buy Japanese School Uniforms?

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If you intend to purchase the standard school uniforms, then you would get them everywhere! Yes, exactly at any store. Please purchase at a special store of uniform near you or online. Please keep in your mind that if you want to get the uniforms for your kids or family to wear to school. Even if it is a “standard type”, there might be detailed regulations or the designation of the store depending on the school.

Please carefully check the regulations of the school. What’s more? For the sailor suits, specifications such as the shape of the collar and the number of lines on the collar differ depending on the school usually. Please remember that the measurement date and time at the store to purchase may be specified as well.

12. Why the sailor suits were adopted for the girl’s uniforms?

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As previously mentioned in the sailor suit section, the sailor suit style makes uniforms for girls much easier to sew and makes female students get more freedom to move. The previous uniform of girls in Japan was the Kimono which is said to have restricted the movement of students to do physical activities at school.

Additional Accessories

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Besides the Japanese student uniforms, there are other additional accessories that they usually wear. Sometimes, schools allow students to wear accessories of their choice or provide these additional accessories with a certain design that represents the school symbols. Japanese students would also wear some additional accessories like the following.

  • Sweater or vest for autumn and winter.
  • Socks. Schools usually have a certain rule for color, most are white or black.
  • Sneakers and loafers. The colors are usually black, brown, or white.
  • Leather or Nylon Bag.
  • Ties and ribbons. Students can choose the color or design freely.

Conclusion

To conclude this article, please look back at the following points.

  • Gakushūin adopted a uniform for male students following the formal attire of Japanese naval officers that became the root of Japanese student uniforms for boys.
  • Female student uniforms began to transform into uniforms that adopted navy uniforms combined with European styles designed by Utako Shimoda, a Japanese fashion designer.
  • In Japan, the name of the male uniform is Gakuran, and the female uniform is Sailor Suits or Sailor Fuku.
  • Japanese middle and high school uniforms have 2 bundles for summer and winter along with athletic wear.
  • There are other additional accessories as well that students usually wear such as a sweater for winter, socks, sneakers, bag, ties and ribbon.

ABOUTこの記事をかいた人

Hi, I’m Eka. I’m one of the awardees of the 2016 MEXT College to College Recommendation Scholarship. I completed the one-year JASSO-Tokyo Japanese course (2016-2017) and won second place in the Japanese speech competition held internally at JASSO at that time. After that, I continued my education at NIT. Akashi College and earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree after 2 years of study. I love teaching children English and Japanese, writing blogs, designing graphics, and creating digital content. I hope you enjoy the knowledge I share here based on the experience I gained in Japan for over 5 years. Thanks!