Japanese Short Pants Suits

Figure 1.--This boy pictured in a 1999 department store ad shows a boy wearing a blue short pants suit worn with Argyle ankle socks.

Western suits for Japanese boys are essentilly a post-World war II development. Japanese boys even after the War seldom wore suits. This is not just a modern development. American and European boys now wear suits much less in the past, although most have a suit or at least a blazer and dress pants for church or formal occassions. This is less common in Japan. We see Japanese boys only wearing suits for very special occassions.

School Events

School entrance interviews

Most boys don't wear suits except in school entrance ceremonies. Thus suits are generally made in smaller sizes for children of about 6 years of age. In Japan, the size of children's wear is measured by their height. Averege height of a 6-year old child is about 115 centimeters (cm). Most short pants suits has the sizes of 100cm, 110cm, and 130cm. An important event in every Japanese school boy's life is beginning school. Education is very important to the Japanese an beggining school is comsidered a major event. A short ceremony is held on the day when the school begin at the begining of the term and breaks up at the end of the term.

Leaving elementary school

Another important milestone in a Japanese boy's life is of corse graduating from elementary school. There is an important ceremony marking the occassion. In most public shools, many boys attend their elementary graduation ceremony wearing their school uniform. As a result, they don't need short pants suits. Threrefore short pants suits for older boys do not sell well. As a result, most clothing company have no line-up of short pants suits sized from 140cm to 160cm. For reference, 150/160cm is the average height of junior high school students, but the 140/160cm short pants suits are sold only to elementry-age boys from 4th grade to 6th grade (under 12 years of age). As in Americam 6th grade is the last grade in elementry school. At non-uniform schools some boys did, however, wear short pants suits to the ceremony, depending on the customary practices at their school and their mothers' preferences. This has become less common since the 1990s. One Japanese reader reports that by the 1990s, boys at many schools would just wear nice dress-up clothes, but not short pants suits. A Japanese reader commented, "Generally the boys are very proud of their new junior highschool uniforms." I wasn't sure if that meant that the boys were allowed to dress in the uniform of their new school. Another Japanese reader informs us thatin his experince this is not the case, "The new uniform is, I believe, worn to the new school not the old. The graduation and matriculation ceremonies that I have atended have the graduating boys and girls, if the school has a uniform, wear the uniform of the school from which they are graduating,--not the school which they will be attending."

Other Occassions

Some older boys also wear suits, but much less commonly in America and Europe. There are, however, some event for which a Japanese boy might wear formal clothes (probably a short pants suit or blazer and shorts). Japanese boys generally dress formally for weddings and funerals. A short pants suit would be entirely appropriate for either one, although many boys would simply wear their school uniforms if they went to a uniformed school. A Japanese observer also notes that he has seen the occasional boy at concerts and recitals, usually in short pants. The style in the late 1990s is longish short pants, but very short shorts before the mid-1990s. They are often worn with ties. As a result, some stores carry short pants suits in the larger sizes of 140cm, 150cm, and 160cm. The size of Japan's children's wear generally ranged from 100cm to160cm.

School Suits

Elementary-age boys at private schools commonly have school uniforms consisting of suits or blazers and short pants. So they also generally don't buy suits. Boys over 12 don't wear short pants suits and don't buy suits. Secondary age boys generally have school uniforms consisting of a military-style jacket and long pants. A few schools hve introduced a blazer-style uniform. Even among these older boys suits in general are not common. They would not wear a short pants suit or shorts in general for formal wear.


We notice American boys wearing different styles of suit jackets and pants. The variety was not as great as in the West. This is because that Japanese only began wearing Western suits to any extent after World war II. By that time suits jackets had beconing basically standardized--essentially single-breasted and to a lesser extent double-breadted blazers. For a long time suits for pre-teen boys came mostly in short pants.

Jacket Styles

Japanese short pants suits come in a limited range of styles. The variety was not as great as in the West. This is because that Japanese only began wearing Western suits to any extent after World war II. By that time suits jackets had beconing basically standardized--essentially single-breasted and to a lesser extent double-breadted blazers. variety of styles. Suits from the 1950s to the 80s followed relatively traditional styles. Collarless Rton jackets were popular for the younger boys. Older boys had jackets with medium sized lapels ans pocket arrangements. Jackets in the 1990s have been more diverse. Eton collarless jackets are less commonly worm. Lapels can be very small amf high up on the jacket. Some suits have small lapels that look more like an informal jacket collar. Pocket arrangements are also more diverse. Many jackets have not breast pocket.

Pants Styles

Japanese boys do wear long pants and during the 1980s jeans became popularv for the first time among elementary-age boys. One Japanese contributor reports, however that short pants are still more common than long pants. If anything, he reports, that jeans have actually declined in popularity. Wearing jeans, after school of course, was fairly widespread in the 1980s, particularly among older boys (10-12 year olds) during the winter. This appears to have declined significantly in favor of the gurkha shorts among the dressier and the gobutake among the sloppier. The hanzubon shorts hang on only in school uniforms and certain dressier styles. Note that one of the suits in the 1999 department store page is a hanzubon suit (figure ?). Another Japanese source reports, "Shorts are still more common than long pants in the late 1990s. The style of short pants is longer, but I don't think that shorts are significantly declining in poopularity."

Individual Experiences

School ceremony

One Japanese contributor tells HBC: "I went to the private elementry school that have no school uniform in the 1980s. But as a school rule, boys must wear short pants. When boys leave elementry schools, formal ceremony is held. My mother bought a short pants suit for this ceremony when I was 11. But most private schools have thier uniform, so they don't need short pants suits. "

Kenyan boy

One boy's first day of school was carried as a feature on Japnese television in 2002. The short pants suit as "expected" formal wear for boys DOES survive in Japan. I saw proof on a television program. The program covers "international" marriages -- one Japanese to one foreigner. The other week featured a Japanese man who had married a woman from Kenya. She had moved back to Japan with him to live in his home town, a small town on the northern island of Hokkaido which has Japan's coldest climate. This permitted the television announcer to go on at length on the contrast between the tropical climate of Kenya and the Minnesota-type climate of Hokkaido.


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Created: July 30, 1999
Last updated: 10:40 PM 11/21/2008