Japanese School Uniforms: School Types

Figure 1.--School children are a familiary site in Japan truding their way to school in the morning. Often the elementary children have brightly colored caps or book bags. The fact that the children here do not wear caps suggest that they go to a school in a small town or village where the traffic is not such a great problem.

The Japanese strongly believe in uniforms for both elementary and secondary school children.  While many primary schools do not require uniforms, almost all secondary schools do require them. The decision on what specific style of uniform appears to be up to the individual schools. While there is no nationwide uniform, many schools, especially secondary schools, have adopted such similar uniforms that there almost appears to be a national standard. The fact that there is a limited number of companies producing the uniforms adds to the appearance of a nation-wide standard for secondary schools.

State and Private Schools

Most Japanese children go to the country's excellent state schools.  Japan has one of the premier educational systems in he world. Nor is religion a major concern among Japanese parents. As a result, few Japanese parents see the need to enroll their children in private schools. The private sector is relatively small, except for after school cram schools.  Japan does not have the deep-seated social problems and resulting serious discipline standards in its schools that face American and some European parents--causing them to flee the state system. Japanese schools have high standards and produce excellent results The Japanese schools are especially notable for obtaining excellent results with students from low-income families. Here parents may be at least as important if not more so than the schools. Japanese schools have been criticized, however, for the great pressure put upon students and the failure to engender creative thought.


Uniform styles are very different in the elementary and secondary schools.  The decision on the uniform is up to the individual school. There is a wide variety of styles in the elrementary schools, but the secondary schools are more uniform. I'm not sure why there is such uniformity if the decision is up to the individual schools. Not only are uniforms required, but most schools, again especially the secondary schools, rigorously enforce the regulations adopted. Many secondary schools in the 1990s have begun to adopt new uniforms with a British look and move away from the former military styles worn at almost all schools. Uniforms are not worn at all public elementary schools. Roughly only about a third requite them. Japanese elementary school children wear a wide variety of simple uniforms, usually consisting of caps of various designs, white shirts, short pants, and white knee socks. There is, however, considerable differences among schools. Many schools do have blazers, most commonly blue ones. They are usually worn seasonally. A few elementary schools have the Prussioan type military uniform normally associated with junior and senior high schools. Everything changes for Japanese children when they leave elementary school. Discipline at elementary schools is strict, but there is less formality and a closer personal bond withe teacher. The secondary schools are larger and much more inpersonal. The secondry schools are more strict and heavy amounts of homework are given. One of the changes is the uniforms. Virtually all secondary schools, both junior high and seniuir high schools require uniforms. Japanese boys in secondary schools, both intermediate/junior high schools have traditionally worn military style jackets and caps.  The uniform looks quite standard all over the country, but this is probably because there are only a few manufacturers.  It is an army-like uniform. The girls wear sailor suits, middy blouses and skirts.  There are quite a few minor stylistic details in the middy blouses, but the use of the sailor suit is quite common.  I don't know why a military style uniform became common for the boys and a sailor suit for girls, but would appreciate any insights readers could offer on the historical background.  In recent years a few secondary schools have begun to reassess the uniform.  They have replaced the military/sailor styles with more-British-looking blazer and pants/skirts.  This process is just beginning, but will likely become the principal style for secondary uniforms after the turn of the century. Japan is a very traditinal society, however, and such a major change will take place at a very slow pace.

Figure 2.--Most Japanese secondary have military style uniforms for the boys. The girls wear sailor suits. Discipline is often quite strict.

Boarding Schools

There are very few bosarding schools in Japan. There is no tradition of sending children to boarding school. Almost all Japanese schools are day schools.


There is a marked difference in approach to gender at primary and secondary schools. Most state primary schools are coed with boys and girls mixed. Many private primsary schools, horver, are single gender schools. Secondary schools in contrast are mostly single gender schools. There are some coed secondary schools and this approsach is becoming increasingly popular in Japan.

Cram Schools--Juku

A child's performance in secondary school is critical for his chances in passing the examinations needed to enter an important university. Thus parents send children to so-called cram schools after regular schools. These private schools require enormous amounts of rote learning. Discipline is very strict, but there is no uniform. After cram school the children go home and commonly have several hours of home work to complete.

Additional Information

Related links: Careful this will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but these sites are highly recommended.
Apertures Press: New Zealand eBook: eBook on New Zealand schools available
Apertures Press: Boys' Preparatory Schools: Lovely photographic book on British Preparatory Schools during the 1980s with over 200 color and black and white images.
Apertures Press: British eBook: eBook on British schools available
Apertures Press books and eBooks: A list of Aperture Press titles


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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: 7:58 AM 1/9/2014