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Japanese School Uniforms: Trends, Conformity and Self-Expression

We look at historical trends in Japanese school uniforms and how uniforms allow conformity and self-expression.

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4 min read

School uniforms are very common in Japanese schools. From Nippon.com:

School uniforms are ubiquitous in Japan. First adopted more than a century ago, the distinct outfits are used at a majority of public and private junior and senior high schools as well as around 10% to 15% of public elementary schools.

We will look at the types of school uniforms, the costs, and how how uniforms let students conform while expressing their personality

Types of School Uniforms

Schools have different uniforms, but there are a few general types.

The "Gakuran" and Sailor types

Irasutoya

The blazer types

Irasutoya

Blazer is more common these days.

Cost

School uniforms have been increasing in price. From the Japan Fair Trade Commission:

Source: Prepared by the JFTC based on the "Annual Report on Retail Price Survey (Retail Price Survey (Trend Survey))," Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication

Some factors that affected the price of the uniforms are:

  • Number of vendors
  • Whether there was competition between different manufacturers
  • Whether the school was involved in negotiating with the manufacturer/vendor
  • Whether every school in the area used the same uniform

Unexpectedly, uniforms seem to cost less with more competition in general.

The rising costs may especially be a problem for kids who are quickly growing in height, though you may be able to make the case that it's worth it because you can reduce time and money spent on clothes since it's like the only thing you'll wear.

Conformity AND Self-Expression

Wearing uniforms is a way to conform. From the Nippon.com article:

The early history of school uniforms in Japan is an amalgam of school policies and student aspirations and expressions of self. As the nation gradually modernized over subsequent decades, though, enrollment at junior and senior high schools rose and the growth of Japan’s textile industry made Western clothing standard wear throughout society. The result was that uniforms transformed from unique items worn by elite students to symbols of homogeneity that were expected to mask the socioeconomic and class disparities they once represented.

There can be good and bad effects of uniforms being worn for conformity, but the last part—masking the socioeconomic and class disparities—is a common argument for why there should be school uniforms.

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