From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (2023)

When you were a student growing up, did your school have uniforms? Most schools in Japan do! Japanese school uniforms, called seifuku(制服), were introduced to Japanese private and public schools in the late 19th century. The uniform traditionally consists of a military-styled uniform for boys and a sailor outfit for girls, but Western-styled Catholic-school uniforms are also very common. In addition to following the dress code, students are not usually supposed to have makeup, piercings, or crazy hairstyles, or unnatural hair colors. It’s a very pure and natural look, and it has become an iconic symbol of Japanese youth and culture!

From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (1)

Photo: https://www.nippon.com/en/features/jg00033/

Contents

  • 1 Origins
  • 2 Uniforms Today
  • 3 Girls’ Uniforms
  • 4 Boys’ Uniforms

Origins

Japanese school uniforms first originated during the Meiji era, when Meiji Emperor opened Japan to a number of western countries for trade and business. Before that, Japanese students just wore traditional formal clothing to school, as students at that time were typically from relatively wealthy families. Girls wore kimono and boys worehakama.

From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (2)

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Traditional Male Hakama

Towards the end of Meiji era and the beginning of Taisho era, Japanese culture began to mix with Western culture as a result of the newfound influence from foreign countries. This mixture took many forms and resulted in a new variety of products, technologies, fashions, subcultures, and ways of life. One of the noticeable influences was in the transformation of Japanese school uniforms.

Boys started to wear a uniform called a gakuran. It was made up of a hat, a black top with a stand-up collar, five golden buttons, and black straight-legged pants. It is actually the same uniform that boys continue to wear to this day, but back when it was first introduced in the Taisho era, the Japanese boys wore it with geta(wooden platform sandals) on their feet.

As for Japanese school girls, they began to wear colorfulhakama that were different from men’s wear, as they were specially designed for females to wear. Girls wore them with leather boots and a bow tied in their hair, and this style of school uniform became incredibly popular among school girls during the Taisho era. Unlike the boys uniforms, which continue to use the gakuran to this very day, the girls’ school uniforms underwent an incredible number of changes as the decades passed and the trends changed. Soon, hakama were out and themilitary-styled naval uniforms were in, and are in fact still quite common in present day. Then, the Catholic-school-influenced plaid skirt and blazers with high socks was the next uniform movement to sweep the schools of Japan.

From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (3)

Source: https://livejapan.com/

Uniforms Today

Regardless of what type of uniform any particular school assigns its students, all schools have a summer version of the uniform, as well as a winter version. The summer uniform is quite simple and light, as the summer months in Japan are notoriously hot and humid. They usually consist of a white dress shirt and slacks for boys, and a light blouse and skirt with a tie for girls. Students also have a casual sports uniform for physical activities and club practices. Winter uniforms are less casual and more professional, and are made from heavier material and come with blazer jackets to keep the students warm.

Depending on the discipline level of any particular school, students may often wear different seasonal and activity uniforms within the same classroom during the day.Certain schools also regulate student hairstyles, footwear, piercings, and book bags, but these particular rules have become slightly more relaxed in the modern times, and at some schools are only adhered to on special occasions such as school opening/closing ceremonies or school photo days.

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It is normal for uniforms to be worn outside of school areas, and you will often see students out in groups in the evenings and on the weekends still dressed in their school uniforms.As for the younger kids, although not many public elementary schools in Japan require uniforms, many private schools and public schools run by the central government still do so.

Girls’ Uniforms

When you think of Japanese schoolgirls, you likely picture them in sailor uniforms. Seira fuku (セーラー服 ) is a common style of uniform worn by female middle school students, occasionally by high school students, and even rarely by elementary school students. It was first introduced as a school uniform in 1920 in Heian Jogakuin (平安女学院)and 1921 by the principal of Fukuoka Jo Gakuin University (福岡女学院),Elizabeth Lee. The sailor design was modeled after the uniform that was bring used by the British Royal Navy at the time, which Elizabeth Lee had seen firsthand when she had been an exchange student in the United Kingdom.

The uniform typically consists of a blouse with a sailor-style collar and a pleated skirt. As mentioned, the uniforms change slightly in the summer summer and winter, so depending on the season, the sleeve length and fabric are adjusted accordingly. A ribbon is tied in the front and laced through a loop attached to the blouse. Although seira fukudoes all generally follow a similar design, the ribbon collar can vary, sometimes instead having neckties, bolo ties, neckerchiefs, and bows. The most common colors are navy blue, white, grey, and black.

The shoes, socks, and other accessories are sometimes included as part of the school’s regulated uniform. The socks are typically navy or white, and usually come up quite high. Shoes are generally brown or black penny loafers.

Today, the sailor uniform is usually associated with junior high schools, since a majority of high schools have adapted the more Western-style plaid skirts or blazers.

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From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (6)

Boys’ Uniforms

Japanese boys at most public and private schools in Japan wear unique uniforms as well. By far, the most common uniform for boys is thegakuran(学ラン). It consists of a square-shouldered top with a stand-up collar, five golden buttons, and black straight-legged pants. The color of the uniform is normally black, but some schools use navy blue.

The gakuran is derived from the Waffenrock, a military uniform that was introduced to Prussia in 1842. The term gakuran is a combination of gaku (学) meaning “study” or “student”, and ran (らん or 蘭) meaning the Netherlands or, historically in Japan, the West in general. Therefore,gakuranliterally translates as “Western student”.

The uniform has a standing collar top that buttons down from top-to-bottom, and straight-legged pants that are worn with a dark-colored belt. As for the shoes, boys usually wear penny loafers or sneakers with this uniform.Some schools may require the students to wear collar-pins representing the school and/or class rank.Traditionally, the gakuran was also worn along with a matching (usually black) cap, but this custom is less common in modern times.

The buttons, typically gold-colored, are usually decorated with the school emblem. The second button is the one closest to the heart, and it’s common practice for a boy to give the second button from the top of a his uniform to a female he is in love with, as a sort of confession. This practice was apparently made popular by a scene in a novel by Taijun Takeda.

From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (7)

From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (8)

Modern Styles & Trends

While these seira fuku and gakuran styles of uniforms are still quite common today, many schools these days have moved to more Western-pattern catholic school uniforms. These uniforms consist of a white shirt, a tie, a blazer with the school crest, and tailored trousers for the boys and a plaid skirt with high socks for the girls.

These days, various schools are known for their particular uniforms. For former students, school uniforms can have a nostalgic characteristic, and are often associated with relatively carefree youth. For current present-day students, uniforms are sometimes modified as a means of exhibiting individualism. Students may try to create their own trends byshortening the skirt, removing the ribbon, wearing small patches or badges under the collar, or even wearing subtle amounts of makeup. However, this isn’t just a current trend – there have always been young people who have sought to express a little originality by bending school uniform rules.

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Just as with mainstream fashion, student school uniforms experience a wide range of trends that change over time. In the 1990s, it was considered fashionable for high school girls to wear very long and baggy “loose socks”, often pairing them with an extremely short skirt. It was around this same time that loose clothes were also popular with boys, who aimed to imitate American rappers by wearing oversized shirts and pants.These days, the current trend is for pastel colors and slim-fit designs that create a more simple and pure look for girls, who aim to achieve a thinner figure. Black knee high socks are also a current trend, as they elongate the legs and make them look more slender. There is a line to be draw, however, between school uniforms and fashion, as seen in the case earlier this year, when one elementary school in Tokyo caused an outroar after announcing a plan to adapt $729 uniforms that had been designed by the Italian luxury brand Armani.

But actually, in the most modern development of Japanese school uniforms, more and more junior high and high schools are starting to not even require uniforms at all. In these cases, it is common for students to wear smart clothing that follows dress code and looks like a uniform, but yet allows for individual expression.However, that trend is still limited to a small number when compared to the entire Japanese school population. Japanese uniforms continue to maintain their reputation and receive international attention, as even to this day, there are specialist shops for stylish school outfits that are popular with high school girls―and even foreign tourists.

Japanese school uniforms are likely to remain an iconic symbol of youth and Japanese culture for years to come.

From Tradition to Today: Japanese School Uniforms (9)

Photo: https://www.nippon.com/en/features/jg00033/

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FAQs

When did Japanese students start wearing uniforms? ›

The Japanese school uniform is modeled in appearance similar to that of the European-style naval uniforms. It was first used in Japan in the late 19th century, replacing the traditional kimono. Today, school uniforms are common in many of the Japanese public and private school systems.

Do Japanese students wear the same uniform everyday? ›

At school, we often wear one uniform and get changed the next day. But in Japan, students have different uniforms – one for daily school life, others for sports class or clubs.

Do Japanese students still wear uniforms? ›

Japan is well known for its uniform culture. Japanese schools can be quite strict about clothing and personal expression. In the average anime, students wear some version of a school uniform. Most Japanese schools do have a uniform for students.

What are the school uniforms in Japan Modelled on? ›

Traditional Japanese school uniforms show the influence of old European military uniforms. In this style, boys typically wear black or navy blue pants and jackets with stand-up collars. The first institute to introduce this kind of uniform was the Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) in 1886.

Do all Japanese schools require uniforms? ›

As for the younger kids, although not many public elementary schools in Japan require uniforms, many private schools and public schools run by the central government still do so.

Why do Japanese students wear armbands? ›

In Japanese society, a method for identifying the leader of a group, be it the leader of an Ouendan or a club or group president, is to look for the red armband on the upper arm. The armband has the name of the group printed on it. For Westerners, associations might come out wrong.

Can Japanese students dye their hair? ›

All Tokyo public high schools abolish rules forcing students to dye non-black hair, underwear color regs. Popular boys' hairstyle also removed from banned list. On Thursday the members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting.

How many uniforms do Japanese students get? ›

However, some private schools might also have Japan school uniform requirements for elementary children. Japan has two different uniforms styles that you can find among schools. You might see the traditional uniform or the more modern style. These uniforms typically come in navy, green, black and white.

Which school in Japan has the best uniform? ›

1. 北海道松前高等学校/ Matsumae High School in Hokkaido. This school uniform has a pink ribbon as its charm point. The shape and color are unique compared to other schools.

Can boys wear skirts in Japanese schools? ›

A school in Japan is allowing their male pupils to wear skirts and bows as part of a gender-fluid dress code. The Kashiwanoha Middle School, in the city of Kashiwa, has been newly built and is set to open later this year.

Do Japanese schools have dress codes? ›

Japan introduced school uniforms in the late 19th century. Today, school uniforms are almost universal in the public and private school systems. They are also used in some women's colleges. The Japanese word for uniform is seifuku (制服).

How much is a Japanese uniform? ›

Uniforms in Japan averaged 32,000 yen to 33,000 yen in the fiscal year ended March 2017, a roughly 18% increase from a decade ago, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Why do Japanese kids wear sailor uniforms? ›

The official said "In Japan, they were probably seen as adorable Western-style children's outfits, rather than navy gear." Sailor suits were adopted in Japan for girls because the uniforms were easy to sew.

Where did Japanese school uniforms originate? ›

The beginning of the Japanese school uniform can be traced back to 1879, when the male children of Japan's nobility, then called <@kazoku|,i@> started wearing uniforms as they attended private schools. For women, the Japanese school uniform tradition started around 1900.

Where did Japanese school uniform come from? ›

Japan's current school uniforms can trace their beginnings to the Meiji period (1868-1912), when Gakushuin (an educational institution for the Imperial family and nobility at the time) adopted Navy-style uniforms.

How long are Japanese uniform skirts? ›

This is where you see the individuality. It's generally agreed that the “best” skirt length is 15cm above the knee; not too long, not too short, but just the right length.

Do teachers wear uniforms in Japan? ›

Clothes & Japanese Work Attire

As a teacher in Japan, you'll have to have a similar dress code to a Japanese office worker or business person. There's no uniform for ALTs, but work attire is still pretty conservative. Like with hair rules, it's best to be cautious and check what your school's staff are wearing.

What does red band on arm mean? ›

What does a red wristband stand for? A red wristband denotes support for heart disease, stroke, DARE/substance abuse, AIDS, and MADD.

What does red armband mean AOT? ›

In order to be easily identified by their oppressors, the Eldians are compelled to wear these special armbands that signify their race and status; normal Eldians wear white armbands, an Official Marleyan's is red, and the Warrior Cadets wear yellow armbands.

What is red armband? ›

The red armband was worn, along with civilian clothing or in some cases, de-badged Russian Imperial Army uniforms, by revolutionary Red Army soldiers (or Red Guards). The armbands distinguished them from other troops and symbolised their allegiances following the 1917, October Revolution.

Is brown hair rare in Japan? ›

Brown continues to be a common hair color in Japan. Schools found their brown hair ban difficult to enforce. A small percentage of Japanese have naturally brown hair. Students all claimed their hair color was natural. Japanese parents often support their child's right to change their hair color.

Are schools in Japan strict? ›

The students in Japanese schools are generally better behaved and there are far fewer discipline problems than in the United States. Studies have also shown that Japanese students on average spend about one-third more time learning each class period than American students do.

Is curly hair not allowed in Japanese school? ›

In most of Japan's public schools, pupils are only permitted to have straight black hair. They cannot bleach, dye or perm it. Conversely, any student whose hair is naturally light or curly can be made to straighten or dye it until it is the required shade of black.

What shoes do Japanese students wear? ›

Uwabaki (上履き) are a type of Japanese slippers worn indoors at home, school or certain companies and public buildings where street shoes are prohibited.

What do Japanese girls wear? ›

The kimono is the traditional dress of Japan. It's got long sleeves and reaches from the shoulders all the way down to one's heels. Different types of kimono are worn depending on the occasion; kimonos for everyday wear are a lot simpler than those for formal occasions.

Are Japanese school uniforms expensive? ›

Current uniforms cost around 50,000 yen (about $430), but Uniqlo's cost only 10,000 to 12,000 yen (about $86 to 103) for the top and bottom, with some being home washable. Through online shopping, the clothing firm offers a variety of sizes that are close to custom-made.

What fabric are Japanese school uniforms made of? ›

Summer uniform skirts are usually made out of a medium weight polyester. Intermediate uniform tops can be made of a lightweight cotton or polyester and are usually a light-colored fabric. Aifuku skirts are also made out of a medium weight polyester.

What kind of shoes do Japanese school girls wear? ›

Shoes. Most students wear loafers, usually in black or dark brown, while some people wear sneakers. Loafers in the recent collection have heels so that girls have better proportions.

Why do the Japanese all change to summer wear on June 1? ›

The Japanese have developed a mutual feel for the seasons living in a country with distinct changes in seasons. From old, it has been a custom to change to a different set of clothing at each new phase of the season.

Can girls wear pants uniform Japan? ›

Or are they allowed to wear pants as well? Thank you! Generally, schools with a dress code, which means pretty much any private school and pretty much all high schools, require skirts to be worn by girls and pants by boys.

Do girls wear Gakuran? ›

However, it's usually girls' uniforms, particularly the sailor suit, that inspires creative clothing. This time around, though, it's the gakuran, a straight-collared jacket ordinarily worn by boys, that's in the spotlight.

Where did sailor uniform come from? ›

The popularity of nautical style in mainstream society can be traced back to Queen Victoria who inspired a trend that soon became widespread in general fashion. In 1846 Queen Victoria had a child's sailor uniform made on board the royal yacht for her son Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.

Do you wear bra under yukata? ›

Normally, females don't wear (at least not Western style) bras under yukata or any kind of Japanese kimono. And properly, females are supposed to wear a koshimaki (in which you wrap around your bottom) and a hada-juban (in which you wear on your top) even when wearing yukata.

Why do kids in Japan wear yellow hats? ›

It is like she really thinks kids should play outside in camouflage. But attracting adult attention is exactly what the yellow hats are supposed to do. In Japan, the assumption is that the easier it is to see children, the easier it is for grown-ups to look out for them.

Can you wear makeup in Japanese high schools? ›

In some high schools in Japan, the dress code may be strict, with teachers checking students' uniforms meticulously, even nail and hair length! Also, don't wear makeup, nail polish, or piercings at school; keep those for when you let your hair down on the weekend.

Is it polite to slurp in Japan? ›

Loud slurping may be rude in the U.S., but in Japan it is considered rude not to slurp. Oh, and don't forget to use your chopsticks to get the noodles into your mouth. It is also acceptable to bring your small bowl of food close to your face to eat, instead of bending your head down to get closer to your plate.

How long does high school last in Japan? ›

The Japanese school system primarily consists of six-year elementary schools, three-year junior high schools and three-year high schools, followed by a two-or-three-year junior colleges or a four-year colleges.

Do Japanese schools provide shoes? ›

Every student gets a shoe locker at the entrance, and changes from their outdoor shoes to indoor ones when they enter the school. The practice of taking your shoes off at the lower step of an entranceway when you enter a building is called genkan, and is believed to go back over a thousand years.

Why do Japanese children wear charms? ›

Omamori charms are small colourful good-luck pouches which contain sacred inscriptions inside. They are commonly sold in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. They act as charms to ward off or protect the owner from evil spirits and bad luck. Most visitors to Japan would have come across these omamori amulets.

Do Japanese students still wear bloomers? ›

But to most Japanese, “bloomers” conjures up exactly what you've described — tiny high-cut gym shorts that hug the body and expose the entire thigh. Part of what's so interesting about your question is that this style of gym wear is no longer used in Japanese schools.

What are the anime uniforms called? ›

Japan's uniforms are no different, but the style is rather unique. The sailor uniform, or seifuku, if the most iconic style of uniform associated with Japanese school children. Series like Sailor Moon and Lucky Star feature characters wearing the iconic outfit, but why are sailor uniforms even a thing in Japan?

Why do the Japanese all change to summer wear on June 1? ›

The Japanese have developed a mutual feel for the seasons living in a country with distinct changes in seasons. From old, it has been a custom to change to a different set of clothing at each new phase of the season.

Why do Japanese school kids wear sailor uniforms? ›

The official said "In Japan, they were probably seen as adorable Western-style children's outfits, rather than navy gear." Sailor suits were adopted in Japan for girls because the uniforms were easy to sew.

Do Japanese students still wear bloomers? ›

But to most Japanese, “bloomers” conjures up exactly what you've described — tiny high-cut gym shorts that hug the body and expose the entire thigh. Part of what's so interesting about your question is that this style of gym wear is no longer used in Japanese schools.

Can Japanese students dye their hair? ›

All Tokyo public high schools abolish rules forcing students to dye non-black hair, underwear color regs. Popular boys' hairstyle also removed from banned list. On Thursday the members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Why do all Japanese schools look the same? ›

In Japan, there is a strong emphasis on conformity and rules. This can be seen in how schools are run, where uniformity is crucial, and there is a lot of focus on discipline. In a society that values these things, it makes sense that the schools would reflect them.

Why do Japanese students change shoes? ›

Japanese culture mandates that people should remove their shoes when entering homes and other buildings, especially where the floors may have rugs, polished wood floors, or tatami. Uwabaki are light, flexible shoes which are easy to slip on and off, designated for indoor use.

Does Japan get hot? ›

Eastern Japan has hot and humid summers and cold winters with very heavy snow on the Sea of Japan side and in mountainous areas. Western Japan has very hot and humid summers (with temperatures sometimes reaching 35 oC or above) and moderate cold winters. Okinawa and Amami have a subtropical oceanic climate.

Can boys wear skirts in Japanese schools? ›

A school in Japan is allowing their male pupils to wear skirts and bows as part of a gender-fluid dress code. The Kashiwanoha Middle School, in the city of Kashiwa, has been newly built and is set to open later this year.

How many uniforms do Japanese students have? ›

Japan has two different uniforms styles that you can find among schools. You might see the traditional uniform or the more modern style. These uniforms typically come in navy, green, black and white.

Where did Japanese school uniforms originate? ›

The beginning of the Japanese school uniform can be traced back to 1879, when the male children of Japan's nobility, then called <@kazoku|,i@> started wearing uniforms as they attended private schools. For women, the Japanese school uniform tradition started around 1900.

When did Japan stop using bloomers? ›

Some schools in New York City and Sydney still wore them as part of their uniforms into the 1980s. In Japan their use persisted into the early 2000s.

Is brown hair rare in Japan? ›

Brown continues to be a common hair color in Japan. Schools found their brown hair ban difficult to enforce. A small percentage of Japanese have naturally brown hair. Students all claimed their hair color was natural. Japanese parents often support their child's right to change their hair color.

Are schools in Japan strict? ›

The students in Japanese schools are generally better behaved and there are far fewer discipline problems than in the United States. Studies have also shown that Japanese students on average spend about one-third more time learning each class period than American students do.

Is curly hair not allowed in Japanese school? ›

In most of Japan's public schools, pupils are only permitted to have straight black hair. They cannot bleach, dye or perm it. Conversely, any student whose hair is naturally light or curly can be made to straighten or dye it until it is the required shade of black.

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