*** Japanese boys clothes: short pants

Japanese Boys' Clothes: Short Pants

alt=Japanese short pants"
Figure 1.--Athletic styled tops and shorts appeared in the 1970s and were very popular in the 1980s for casual wear.

Japanese primary-age boys have traditionally worn short pants with a sharp age divide. This was the generally pattern in the 20th centurty. We see tradiotional clothes at the beginning of the 20th centurty amd more long pants at the end of the century, but for the most part boys wire short pants during the 20th century. Boys usually wore short pants of varying styles depending on the time period. This was the case both in uniform and non-uniform schools. As soon as they graduated from elementary school at about 12 years of age they immediately syopped wearing short pants. Only in the 1990s have older boys begun wearing shorts, but only casual shorts--never dressy ones. Since the 1950s, Japanese boys have worn short, rather trim fitting shorts. Longer shorts began to become popular in the mid-1990s, although shorter shorts are still commionly worn with school uniforms. Many boys wore short pants all year long, although by the end of the century they were becoming inreasiongly seasonal wear. Japan ttends to have somewhat more moderate winters than the United States so the seasonl factors were not quite as pronounced.

Chronological Trends

The basic chronological trends are discussed on the main Japanese pants page.

Style Change

Japanese observers are not sure why the style of short pants worn by boys changed in the mid-1990s from the short, trim style to the longer baggy style. HBC Japanese contributors have offered some speculations about the change.


Japanese elementary school boys have traditiinally worn short pants. The various Japanese terms for different styles of shorts are:
Gurhka shorts: Gurka shorts are knee-length short pants loosely based on the shorts worn by British Gurka sholdiers recruited in Nepal.
Gobatake: Baggy, knee to below the knee.
Hanzubon: This literally means, half-pants. They are traditional snug, short, short pants (usually implies young boys' shorts only).
Pantsu: Pants said alone mean underwear, i.e., the way the British use the word.)
Shotto pantsu: I believe that the english term short pants usully refers to women's shorts although I'd want to check with a native speaker.
Shottsu: The English term shorts can be used to cover all these varieties and is the generic term for any shorts worn by men.
Tanpan: This means literally mean short pants. "Tan" suggests very short. Tanpatsu, for example, means very short hair. I think that tanpan is used for any extremely brief shorts whether worn by boys or men (i.e., good old traditional rugby shorts) and has an aura of sports or athletics about it, while hanzubon means conventional traditional short boys' shorts.
Zubon: Means trousers (American pants), thus han (Japanese word for half) zubon for proper short pants as explained above.


Japanese short pants came in a variety of styles. They were the same basic styles that we see in America and Europe. We do not see any destinctive Japanese styles, except tht some shorys were dome at very short lengths. Until the 1980s-90s the shorts we see for the most part look more like European styles. By the 1980s we see shorts that look increasingly like Ameriocan shorts.

Jean shorts

Jean short pants (but not longs until the 1980s) were very common; these were styled like jeans except there were virtuallu no legs, typically inseams were only a centimeter or two. Jean shorts normally had two big pockets in the back. Jean shorts were considered play shorts and commonly worn in the summer.

Non-denim shorts

I believe the mostcommon style for the non-denim were single pocket in back (right side), lined (at least in the heavier weights), and with an elastic waist in the back but with belt loops. Another popular style had the belts actually part of the shorts. Occiasionally, you would see a little loop in back which some thought very charming.

Suspender shorts

Dress shorts

School shorts

Many Japanese schools required uniforms, often short pants for primary boys. AS a result there were a range of school shorts. I am not sure just when elementary boys began wearing short pants, but the earlist photographs I have seen date to the 1930s and almost all of the boys appear to be wearing shorts, albeit rather long, knee-length shorts--sometimes rather baggy. I'm not sure to what extent they were required by the schools. After the Second World War, many schools adopted school uniforms, although I am not sure precisely when this ocuured. By the 1960s, however, Japanese schools boys were wearing trim fitting short pants, showing a European style. The most common shorts were blue and were often worn with white kneesocks. Beginning in the 1950s, many school adopted much shorter length, trim fitting shorts. Mny boys wore short pants all year round, even in the cold winter months. This continued through the 1970s becoming a national standard. It only began to change in the 1980s as many primary boys began wearing long trousers, especially during the winter months. More change took place in the 1990s as the longer, baggy shorts popular in America and Euope also began to appear in Japan. This was especially true at non-uniform schools. The uniformed schools tended to retain the shorter, trim fitting shorts. After boys graduated from elementary school they would rarely wear shorts--except for scouts, even for casual wear. Although this began changing in the early 1980s as shorts became popular among older boys for casual, hot weather wear--but not to school.

Jogging/athletic shorts

There were also the casual, jogging style shorts with the rounded, open legs and the elastic waist bands. Many Japanese shorts seem to look more like European than Amrican shorts. These jogging/ath;etic shorts seem more American. This was the same style that prevailed in the States, although it lasted here considerably longer. Some boys wore them to school, but they were really casual wear.

Designer style shorts

We notice a variety of Japanese short pants with designer elements meaning non-standard treatment of the basic elemenys. . This includes various treatments of the pockets. We note shorts with flap pockets. That is something that we hvbe not noted in America or Europe. These include both shorts for casual occassions as well as playwear. School shorts werre not done with trebndy features. For the mnost part these designer shorts did not prove bery popular. Japanese parents seem to have generally prefgerred conservative, basic styling.


Japanese short pants were made in several different materials, depending on the type of shorts and season. Denim was a popular material for summer sorts. In the winter, heavier fabrics (flannel, wool and wool/polyester blends, and corduroy) were widespread. A variety of light fabrics (cotton or cotton/polyester blend) were popular for summer shorts. Some dressier summer styles appear to have been made of linen or linen blends, but I'm not sure.


Japanese short pants came in many colors, depebding on the type of shorts, material, and age group the shorts were made for.

Jean shorts

Jean shorts commonly came in several different colors. Dark blue and white seemd the most popular, but there were also light blue and tan or brown.

Casual summer shorts

Light colors such as beige and light blue were popular for casual summer shorts. Younger boys might wear brighter colored shorts.

Dress shorts

Regional Trends

The popularity of short pants in Japan appears, to some extent to be regional. Japan while not very wide, extends several hundred miles moth to south. This means that there are consideranle climatic differences between the s\norther and southern islands, much as the climate in the United States varies considerably between Maine/Vermont and Floida/Massachusetts.

Northern islands

The most northerly of the main Japanese islands is Hokkaido. Hokkaido has a very severe winter and a rather coolish summer. (Americans should think Vermont.) One Japanese contributor informs ua that short pants were never prevalent there, even in the summer. It would certainly be too cold in the winter. A HBC contributor who went to college there said Kushiro people say, "Yes, we have four seasons. Winter, winter, spring, and winter." Another Japanese source reports that he once visited Kushiro, a city in the northeast of Hokkaido. He was there in early May 1990. It was raw and uncomfortably chilly, although not really cold. All the boys were in long pants except one decked out in the classic Japanese short-shorts and knee socks. He was talking to his parents and he apparently was from Yokohama.)

Central Region

Honshu is the biggest of the Japanese islands and stretches from quite far north to quite far south (roughly Massachusetts to Georgia). The far north of Honshu also has very severe winters, and I think shorts wearing has always been confined to the summer. Sendai, the biggest city on Honshu north of Tokyo (not all the way to the north -- about halfway between Tokyo and the northern tip) , is rather cosmopolitan and sophisticated. As noted, boys there wore shorts from early spring to late fall and a few boys wore them straight through the winter.

Southern region

From Tokyo on south, short pants appaer to be worn year-round and universal, except in some rural areas.

Future Trends

One Japanese source speculates that the short shorts style will live on as a uniform style, since Japanese uniforms typically change very slowly. But they are likely to disappear altogether for any other form of dress (already we're pretty close to that), unless for some reason American and/or French/Italian boys go back to dressing that way. Very unlikely, perhaps, but who would have predicted in 1970 that by 1980 the vast majority of American boys would dress casually in very short athletic shorts and tube socks? Who would have predicted in 1910 that by 1930 the vast majority of European boys would have bare knees?

Short Pants Suits

Japanese boys seldom wear 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. Special school ceremonies such as the first day of school and graduation were especially important events. This is less common in Japan.


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Created: August 5, 1999
Last updated: 2:04 AM 12/4/2012