Japanese High Fashion: School Uniforms?

In writing about Japanese culture, I knew one day I’d have to address this subject.

Girl’s Japanese School Winter Uniform (Photo Credit: Robert Huffstutter)

With that said, I am merely just scratching the surface of this topic. The trends and fashion go way beyond my understanding (and comprehension  in it’s appeal to any men over 20) so bear with me if I get something wrong.

Girl’s Japanese School Summer Uniform (Photo Credit: Robert Huffstutter)

Moving from a South Carolina Air Force base to Baltimore city, we found that elementary public school children were recently mandated to wear school uniforms. In the early 80’s through the 90’s, Inner city Baltimore was a very dangerous place to live. Children (mainly teen gang members) were killing each other for clothes, jewelry, and/or shoes and the adults had no idea how to curb the violence. That is, until they took a look at private schools and Japanese schools.

Museum exhibit of the uniforms of the Ichikawa...

After the Mayor’s office did a few social studies on children wearing uniforms versus children who didn’t, they decided public city school children should wear school uniforms as well. This way, they’d know who actually went to a particular school and who didn’t on top of everyone having the potential to focus more on their studies. (What they really should have done was higher more well trained teachers, reduce class sizes, and increased the education budget but that’s a whole other topic…)

Baltimore Elementary Uniforms – Boys also wore a black pullover sweater.

Of course, being a nine year old kid who’d never worn an uniform, we all bitched and complained about how it’s not fair and blah blah blah but we all wound up in a uniform anyway. Once we got to middle school, everything was back to normal again… whatever that was supposed to be but I digress…

This was the first time I’d ever heard of the Japanese School Uniform but it would not be the last.

The first time I remember noticing Japanese School Uniforms.
Project A-ko: The first time I remember noticing Japanese school uniforms were sailor uniforms.

I’ve always been a fan of anime and in my teen years I discovered an anime called Project A-ko. The animation is amazing and the story is a wacky tribute to all the contemporary anime of the era but the first thing I noticed was everyone was wearing school uniforms.

Mind you this was also right before the anime explosion happened in America (when only a handful of people knew about Akira or Ghost in the Shell or even Miyazaki’s Nausicaa) so I also learned very slowly about the school girl fetish and everything that comes with it. (Again, a separate blog topic…)

I do understand it BUT once I graduated high school, I was into college women and older. It’s a maturity preference. Thats my two cents, just for the record.

Fetishes and fashion aside, what is the sailor thing about? Japan is an island country that had a very powerful (if not dominant) Navy back during World War II. (Check your history, America didn’t drop the bomb because we were winning the Pacific war. We did it because Japan was kicking out butts!) So, were the uniforms a tribute their navy?

“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?)”. – Wikipedia

If you go to Sailorsuit for Dummies, you’ll get some insight on the Otaku (obsessive or sometimes perverted) side of things. Pay attention to uniform age ranges and you’ll see why lusting after a girl in sailor uniform would be frowned on if you’re a grown-ass man.

An official from Tombow Co., a manufacturer of the sailor fuku, 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.” 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 fuku as assignments. Girls sewed sailor fuku for younger children in their communities.

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.

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”. -Wikipedia

Girls wear Sailor fuku (few-kew) or a skirt and blouse while boys wear Gakuran (ga-kew-lan).

Check out this fun video for a better idea on real uniforms and rules:

And this one on the ever changing fashion trends:

As far as cultural significance goes:

Various schools are known for their particular uniforms. Uniforms can have a nostalgic characteristic for former students, and is 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 fuku were also adopted by Japanese yankee andBōsōzoku biker gangs.

Because school uniforms are a popular fetish item, second-hand sailor fuku 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!”. – Wikipedia

Once again, I’m not an expert and would never claim to be but I hope this post gives you more of an idea. Thanks for reading!

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Author: hikikomori78

American Hikikomori is an upcoming short film that explores the emotional struggles of a Japanese teenager named Isamu Fujihara, when he moves to America.

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