Japanese School Uniform Basics

Jennifer L. Betts
Uniforms at Japanese Schools

While you might think that uniforms are pretty standard, Japan's iconic uniform stands out among the crowd. Learn the history, culture and different styles available along with the stringent changing of the uniform schedule.

Japanese Uniforms Vary By Season

Japanese uniforms are generally found in middle and high schools. However, some private elementary schools might also have Japan school uniform requirements for elementary children. Japan has two different uniforms, or seifuku, styles that you can find among schools. You might see the traditional uniform or the more modern style. Japanese school uniforms for high school will include both a summer and winter uniform along with athletic wear.

  • Winter Uniform: Usually including a sweater, sweater vest and blazer and longer trousers or skirts
  • Summer Uniform: Usually a white shirt with no covering and either shorts, light fabric trousers, or a pleated skirt for girls.
  • Summer Athletic: A t-shirt and shorts in the school colors.
  • Winter Athletic: These polyester tracksuits can also be worn over the summer athletic uniform.

Now, it is time to look at each uniform individually.

Keeping It Traditional

Based on Meiji formal dress and naval uniforms, the traditional Japanese uniform offers a distinct style for both girls and boys.

Girls

Called the sailor suit, this uniform is based on navy uniforms and was designed by Utako Shimoda in the 1920s. It typically has a short-sleeved white shirt, kerchief, sailor style collar, and pleated skirt. In the winter, girls will typically add a sweater to the outfit to make it warmer.

Boys

The Japanese boys' school uniform (the gakuran) was modeled after Prussian army uniforms and was part of the change in nationalistic Japanese culture shortly after World War I. The traditional Japanese outfit consists of a black or dark blue high-collared coat and slacks. The jacket has very visible gold or bronze buttons that run down the front. Under the jacket, they typically have a white collared shirt. Boys also wear loafers. Younger children might wear a hat.

Teenager girls in school uniforms running to school

A More Modern Appeal

Over the decades, some school uniforms have taken on a more Western appeal. While different schools have some variations in style through different fabrics and design elements, for the most part, the uniform elements for a Japanese student are very similar.

Japanese Boys' Uniforms

Blazer, trousers, black leather shoes, and a white shirt and tie underneath complete the uniform. Some schools also require that their students wear a cap as part of the uniform.

Girls' Uniforms

Modern uniforms are similar to parochial uniforms found in the West. Blazers, sweater vests, pleated skirts in a gray or tartan pattern, Mary Janes shoes, white shirts, and neckties are part of the modern Japanese uniform. Most schools also have their school crest printed somewhere on the uniform, usually over the left breast pocket. A cap might also be worn.

Teenage students in Japan

Changing of the Season

Going from your winter to your summer uniform is an anticipated occasion. Most Japanese students wait for the dates June 1st and October 1st. On June 1st, students will transition into the summer uniform, while in October, they will transition to the winter clothing.

History of Japanese School Uniforms

Japanese uniforms started in the late 1800s. The history of the uniform for boys was very similar to the gakuran and was complete with a cap. However, the uniform for girls was unique. In keeping with tradition, it included a kimono and hakama, or flowing pleated pants that belt at the waist. These pants allowed girls freedom of movement to participate in athletics. This trend was short lived though. In the early 1900s, girls shifted into the sailor suit, which made mobility much easier.

Western Appeal

If you live in America, chances are you have seen a Japanese student uniform at Comic-Con or another cosplay event. While it might be the uniform that is appealing, it is typically part of a character outfit. Several different manga characters wear a school uniform. For instance, you can see the traditional uniform on the likes of Sailor Moon and Kagome. The modern Japanese school uniform is displayed on characters in Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Vampire Knight. If you are looking to buy a cosplay uniform, Amazon offers all the different styles for boys and girls.

Understanding School Uniforms in Japan

Clothing in Japan is unique. Not only do they have a long history of beautiful flowy garments, but when it comes to the school uniforms, Japanese culture has taken unique trends even among Asian cultures. While the traditional sailor suit is iconic, the modern Japanese fashion falls in line with Chinese and Korean styles.

Japanese School Uniform Basics