Japanese Boys' Clothes: Uniforms

Figure 1.--Here we see Kobe school boys around the tutn-of-the 20th century. The wear their cadet-style school caps with traditional kimonos. Also note the leather western-style shoes.

Many Japanese children have worn uniforms, especially school uniforms. This was not common in the 19th century. We see some boys wearing cadet-style school caps with kimonos, but rarely full uniforms. This changed with the 20th century. Many Japanese boys in the 20th century wore uniforms. Uniforms varied in primary school, but many city schools had simple uniforms. They were less common in rural areas. Unifoorms were worn at secondary schools. Boys wore cadet uniforms and girls sailor outfits. This us still common today. Some boys joined youth groups. The Scout movement was more limited in Japan than in America or Europe. There was also a nationalist youth movement, but we know very little about it at this time. School uniforms are still common in the 21st century, although the conventions are varied in primary schools. Most secondary schools, however, continue to have uniforms.

School Uniforms

Many schools require the short pants be worn with knee socks, usually white knee socks although, grey knee socks and white ankle socks are also common. Japanese elementary school uniforms were not as elaborate as British uniforms. The children do not commonly wear ties and blazers, although some private schools do have the more elaborate uniforms. Almost all private Japanese elementary schools (about 1/3 of the schools) require school uniforms. Almost all of these schools make short pants a required part of the uniform--usually very short and boys are required to wear them through the winter. Many public schools also have uniforms, also often with short pants. The Japanese appear to believe that short pants help to toughen boys. Many parents until quite recently made boys wear shorts all year long. Only very recently has the fashion shifted from neat, tight, very short shorts to floppy American-style knee-length shorts. School uniforms are all still the former. School uniforms are very common in Japanese schools. There is no national standard, but rather determined by individual schools. Elementary children wear a variety of uniforms and short pants, but not blazers and ties are common. Secondary schools have commonly adopted a military style uniform. (The girls wear sailor suits.) The schools have enforced the uniforms regulations very strictly. A much used Japanese saying is, "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.") And that is just how children who deviated from the often strict regulations. Many secondary schools in the 1990s are shifting to a more British look of blazers and ties with long pants and skirts. Everything changes for Japanese boys when they leave elementary school. One aspect of this is their clothes. Boys appear to stop wearing short pants. I have no detailed information on this. Apparently the language barrier prevents Japanese contributions to this site. (Japanese are among the most frequent visitors to HBC, but no one from Japan has yet commented or communicated with the web master which is a pity.) Thus I can only deduce trends based on a variety of pictures I have seen. They suggest that through about 11, which would correspond to elementary school that boys primarily wore shorts. Then there is an almost universal transition which I assume is when the boys begin intermediate or junior high school that they stop wearing shorts. Even casual and leisure shorts are rarely seen on 12-13 year olds.

Figure 2.--This photograph was taken in 1916. We believe it is an early group of Japanese Boy Scouts, butt we are not yet sure.

Youth Groups

The only uniformed youth movement in Japan that HBU is familar with is Scouting. couting was not the first Japanese youth group. Reformers established the Seinen Dan in 1880 to promote social activities for youth in the new modernizing Japan. HBU has not been able to acquire information on such groups. Nor do we have information available on what happened to the Scouting movement in Japan during World War II. Today in Japan, the Scouts are the only youth movement known to the authors. In fact, the demanding Japanese educational system leaves little time for activities outside school. While Scouting is the only group with which we are familar, it is a relastively small group. Few Japanese boys participate in the movement.


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Created: 8:55 PM 10/20/2008
Last updated: 8:55 PM 10/20/2008