Japanese School Uniforms

Students wearing school uniforms in Kyoto, Japan 2010

Riding my bike home from IIAS, my local shopping mall (in the rain) I saw a group of elementary-school-aged kids wearing bright, yellow hats walking home from school. It’s really nothing out of the ordinary to see school uniforms here in Japan. Every school has a special uniform that they wear.

I personally think the school uniforms are a great idea because they are a great a equalizer for children who may not have much money. Despite the benefits, I don’t think they’ll ever become popular in the U.S., children just wouldn’t go for it. In the U.S. children can become quite individualistic as they get older. Part of the initial back to school excitement in America is walking in on the first day, with your freshest gear. Cool gear is all fine and good, if you have money, but it can be really disheartening for the “have-not” kids.

Here in Tsukuba, the disparities between rich and poor children don’t seem to be nearly as evident as it was in Atlanta. Kids generally come from middle-class, to upper-middle class, and maybe even some lower high-class students. But anyhow, I am always fascinated to see the younger children wearing the bright-colored caps. I believe they choose bright colored caps, because it makes children super easy to spot (so if they’re ever lost, you can see them from a mile away). I also think the hats a pretty good indicator of what school you come from.

In addition to the hats, kids also wear shirts and short-sleeved shirts in the warmer seasons, and school-issued jump suits in the colder temperatures. I’ve seen all kinds of colors and styles: purple with gold trim, white outfits with purple trim, and the list goes on and on. From what I understand, so many parents take an active part in their schools’ Parent Teacher Associations (PTA). At some schools the PTA members vote on the school’s uniform, at least at the elementary school level. The best way to describe these uniforms in a word is…cute.

But what I don’t understand is what happened when they were choosing the junior high and high school uniforms? The girls’ uniforms in particular. It kind of seems like some sexually deprived old men were at some board meeting and one guy must’ve said, let’s give the girls pleated, mini-skirts…all in favor? A resounding I from the board members. I’m not sure that’s what happened, but just a theory. The junior high and high school uniforms definitely go from being cute to being much more professional. The girls have the school-issued blazer and a mini-skirt with either stockings or knee high socks. The boys usually wear a school-issued blazer and slacks. Blazers usually have the school’s insignia on the left lapel.

School uniforms are common in Japanese public schools, and a common characteristic of Japanese culture. I currently work in an Eikaiwa (private English language school), but in the near future, I will be changing to the public school system, so I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot more of these school-issued uniforms.

Students on a field trip in Nara, Japan (only red hats/no uniforms)

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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