Japanese school uniform

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A winter sailor fuku (sailor outfit) with long sleeves on a mannequin.

The Japanese school uniform is modeled on European-style naval uniforms and was first used in Japan in the late 19th century. Today, school uniforms are common in many of the Japanese public and private school systems. The Japanese word for this type of uniform is seifuku (制服?).

History[edit]

An official from Tombow Co., a manufacturer of the sailor fuku (sailor outfits), said that the Japanese took the idea from scaled down sailor suits worn by children of royal European families. The official said "In Japan, they were probably seen as adorable Western-style children’s outfits, rather than navy gear."[1] Sailor suits were adopted in Japan for girls because the uniforms were easy to sew. The sides of the uniform had similarity to existing styles of Japanese dressmaking, and the collar had straight lines. Many home economics classes in Japan up until the 1950s gave sewing sailor outfits as assignments. Girls sewed sailor outfits for younger children in their communities.[1]

In the 1980s sukeban gangs began modifying uniforms by making skirts longer and shortening the tops, and so schools began switching to blazer style uniforms to try to combat the effect. As of 2012, 50% of Japanese junior high schools and 20% of senior high schools use sailor suit uniforms.[1]

The Asahi Shimbun stated in 2012 that "The sailor suit is changing from adorable and cute, a look that 'appeals to the boys,' to a uniform that 'girls like to wear for themselves.'"[1] As of that year, contemporary sailor suits have front closures with zippers or snaps and more constructed bodices. The Asahi Shimbun stated that "[t]he form is snug to enhance the figure—the small collar helps the head look smaller, for better balance".[1]

Usage[edit]

In the classroom, Japanese students are required to take off the shoes they wear outdoors and put on their uwabaki, a kind of soft slipper meant to be used only indoors.

The Japanese junior- and senior-high-school uniform traditionally consists of a military style uniform for boys and a sailor outfit for girls. These uniforms are based on Meiji era formal military dress, themselves modeled on European-style naval uniforms. The sailor outfits replace the undivided hakama (andon bakama 行灯袴) designed by Utako Shimoda between 1920 and 1930.[2] While this style of uniform is still in use, many schools have moved to more Western-pattern parochial school uniform styles. These uniforms consist of a white shirt, tie, blazer with school crest, and tailored trousers (often not of the same color as the blazer) for boys and a white blouse, tie, blazer with school crest, and tartan culottes or skirt for girls.

Regardless of what type of uniform any particular school assigns its students, all schools have a summer version of the uniform (usually consisting of just a white dress shirt and the uniform slacks for boys and a reduced-weight traditional uniform or blouse and tartan skirt with tie for girls) and a sports-activity uniform (a polyester track suit for year-round use and a t-shirt and short pants for summer activities). 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. Individual students may attempt to subvert the system of uniforms by wearing their uniforms incorrectly or by adding prohibited elements such as large loose socks or badges. Girls may shorten their skirts, permanently or by wrapping up the top to decrease length; boys may wear trousers about the hips, omit ties, or keep their shirts unbuttoned.

Since some schools do not have sex-segregated changing- or locker-rooms, students may change for sporting activities in their classrooms. As a result, such students may wear their sports uniforms under their classroom uniforms. Certain schools also regulate student hairstyles, footwear, and book bags; but these particular rules are usually adhered to only on special occasions, such as trimester opening and closing ceremonies and school photo days.

It is normal for uniforms to be worn outside of school areas, however this is going out of fashion and many students wear a casual dress.[3] While not many public elementary schools in Japan require uniforms, many private schools and public schools run by the central government still do so.

Gakuran[edit]

Museum exhibit of the uniforms of the Ichikawa Gakuen school. The middle mannequin is displaying a gakuran.

The gakuran (学ラン?) or the tsume-eri (詰襟?) are the uniforms for many middle school and high school boys in Japan. The color is normally black, but some schools use navy and dark blue as well.

The top has a standing collar buttoning down from top-to-bottom. Buttons are usually decorated with the school emblem to show respect to the school. Pants are straight leg and a black or dark-colored belt is worn with them. 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.

The second button from the top of a male's uniform is often given away to a female he is in love with, and is considered a way of confession. The second button is the one closest to the heart and is said to contain the emotions from all three years attendance at the school. This practice was apparently made popular by a scene in a novel by Taijun Takeda.

Traditionally, the gakuran is also worn along with a matching (usually black) student cap, although this custom is less common in modern times.

The gakuran is derived from French Army uniforms.[4] The term 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; thus, gakuran translates as "Western student (uniform)". Such clothing was also worn by school children in South Korea and pre-1949 China.

Sailor fuku[edit]

Japanese junior high school students in sailor suit

The sailor fuku (セーラー服 sērā fuku?, Sailor outfits) is a common style of uniform worn by female middle school students, traditionally by high school students, and occasionally, elementary school students. It was introduced as a school uniform in 1920 in Heian Jogakuin (平安女学院?)[5] and 1921 by the principal of Fukuoka Jo Gakuin University (福岡女学院?),[6] Elizabeth Lee. It was modeled after the uniform used by the British Royal Navy at the time, which Lee had experienced as an exchange student in the United Kingdom.

Much like the male uniform, the gakuran, the sailor outfits bears a similarity to various military styled naval uniforms. The uniform generally consists of a blouse attached with a sailor-style collar and a pleated skirt. There are seasonal variations for summer and winter: sleeve length and fabric are adjusted accordingly. A ribbon is tied in the front and laced through a loop attached to the blouse. Several variations on the ribbon include neckties, bolo ties, neckerchiefs, and bows. Common colors are navy blue, white, grey, light green and black.

Shoes, socks, and other accessories are sometimes included as part of the uniform. These socks are typically navy or white. The shoes are typically brown or black penny loafers. Although not part of the prescribed uniform, alternate forms of legwear (such as loose socks, knee-length stockings, or similar) are also commonly matched by more fashionable girls with their sailor outfits.

The sailor uniform today is generally associated with junior high schools. A majority (though by no means all) high schools having changed to more western style plaid skirts or blazers. A large part of the motivation for this change was as a response to the fetishisation of the sailor outfits as well as the desire of modern high school students to differentiate themselves in a more grown up way from junior high students.

Cultural significance[edit]

Various schools are known for their particular uniforms. Uniforms can have a nostalgic characteristic for former students, and are often associated with relatively carefree youth. Uniforms are sometimes modified by students as a means of exhibiting individualism, including lengthening or shortening the skirt, removing the ribbon, hiding patches or badges under the collar, etc. In past decades, brightly coloured variants of the sailor outfits were also adopted by Japanese yankii and Bōsōzoku biker gangs.

Because school uniforms are a popular fetish item, second-hand sailor outfits and other items of school wear are brokered through underground establishments known as burusera, although changes to Japanese law have made such practices difficult. The pop group Onyanko Club had a provocative song called "Don't Strip Off the Sailor Suit!".[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Schoolgirl sailor-style uniforms on decline." Asahi Shimbun. April 7, 2012. Retrieved on February 6, 2013.
  2. ^ 制服でたどる百年
  3. ^ "Uniforms - The Japanese Fashion Everyone Loves" (April 2011). Hiragana Times, Volume 294, pp. 12–15.
  4. ^ 辻元 よしふみ,辻元 玲子 (2008年3月). スーツ=軍服!?―スーツ・ファッションはミリタリー・ファッションの末裔だった!! (in Japanese). 彩流社. p. 67. ISBN 978-4-7791-1305-5. 
  5. ^ 女子生徒に洋装制服登場、大正モダン
  6. ^ 平安女学院(京都)と福岡女学院(福岡)の間で、セーラー服の起源を巡る論争が勃発!
  7. ^ Grigsby, Mary (1998). "Sailormoon: Manga (Comics) and Anime (Cartoon) Superheroine Meets Barbie: Global Entertainment Commodity Comes to the United States". The Journal of Popular Culture 32(1):59–80. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1998.3201_59.x.

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