* Japanese school uniform : Historical trends -- seasonal conventions

Japanese School Uniform: Seasonal Conventions

Figure 1.--Most Japanese junior and senior high school students wear a uniform based on a 19th century Prussian 19th century military-styled school uniform. Primary school children that wear uniforms generally wear uniforms styled on English uniforms and European clothing popular after World War II. Only a few primary schools wear Prussian military styles. This Japanese school, for example, has Prussian styled caps. The grey shirts and shiorts have a Bew Zealznd look.

Japan is a country in the north Pacific set on a north south axis. It is located at alittudes roughly cpmparable to the United States, but slightly more southerly. It thus has a temprtate climate with significant seasonal differences, although really severe winter weather is only experienced in the north and even that is more moderate than exprirnced in the northern United States and southern Canada. And like the United States there are substantial regional differences. Many but not all Japanese schools have seasonal uniforms or make seaonal adjustments. This of ourse only occurs at those schools with uniforms and is most common at private schools. At other schools it is up to the parents to decide. Some uniform schools have entirely different uniforms for summer and winter. The garments may be done in a lighter weight for the summer. Most schools make only minor changes such as adding sweaters and jackets to the summer school uniform. Most of this occurs at state primary schools. The secondary schools, as far as we can tell, have essentially the same uniforms for both summer and winter wear.


Japan is a country in the north Pacific set on a northeast - soutwesth axis. It is located at lattiudes roughly cpmparable to the United States, but slightly more southerly. The area occupied by the Japanese islands is slightly smaller than the state of California, but more narrow and elongated. It extends 3,008 km (1,869 mi) NE - SW and 1,645 km (1,022 mi). This geography creates a greater seasonality than is the case for most countries. The five principal districts/islands are Hokkaido, Honshu (the main island), Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Like the United States, because of the substantial lattitudinal range, there are substantial regional differences. Japan has a tempertate climate with significant seasonal differences, although really severe winter weather is only experienced in the north (Hokaido). Here winter uniforms are definitely needed. And even that is more moderate than exprirnced in the northern United States and southern Canada. But it does get chilly in the Winter and the summers are warm. In the extremne south (Okinawa) we find a semi-tropical climate rather like Florida where summer unifiorms can be worn year round. .Schools today are air conditions and well heated which makes an important difference.

Non-uniform School

Only a fraction, but a substantial fraction, of Japanese elementary schools require uniforms. There are generally no seasonal clothing rules at the schools without uniforms. It was left up to the parents to deal with the matter of seasonally appropriate clothing. Many Japanese parents until the 1980s generally saw short pants as the appropriate dress for boys. Thus seasonal wear meant adding sweaters, jackets, perhaps knee socks, and in really cold weather a heavy coat. Knee socks have declined in popularity over time, but we still see them to spme extent during the winter. Thus we see some boys wearing sweaters and coats with short pants during the winter. Some parents did but long pants for boys during the winter. The choice varied fom family to family. Long pants for school wear has increased over time. Long pants, especially for the winter, was most common in the northern island of Hokkaido. And short pants most commomn in the south. We are not sure to what extent the boys' preferences fitted into this family decesion. Probably it was mnot a major factor when most boys wore shorts, but became more important as we see larger numbers of boys wearing long pants.

Uniform Schools

Many of the Japanese schools which require uniforms have seasonal requirements. We do not yet have detailed information on the different seasonal adjustments. The approach to seasonality varies at Japanese primary schools. Japan has both primary schools that have uniforms and others that do not hve uniforms. While at the non-uniform schools the seasonal clothing changes are left up to the parents discretion. At the uniform schools it is quite differnt. The most common is to wear jackets during the colder months. Generally the boys wear short pants whether it is winter or summer. The boys might commonly wear kneesocks rather than ankle socks in the winter. Younger boys might wear tights at some schools.Many of these schools have destinct summer and winter uniforms and a time table as to when the shift takes place, a schedule that often does not precisely follow the vageries of actual weather conditions. The schools vary as to how closely they enforce the schedule. Some schools are very strict, others less so. Even in the schools that strictly enfore the uniform regime, often it is left to the parents as to whether the boys wear their overcoats during the winter.


A Japanese reader reports, "Many Japanese schools will shift all at once from the summer to the winter uniform and then back (common shift dates are October 1 and June 1). Some schools seem to permit a period of a month or so (months of October and May , for example) in which either uniform is acceptable. Gyosei seems to shift all at once; even though the weather had turned coolish by the time this picture was taken. However, one of the boys is wearing a sweater and there seems to be no objection to that. Sweaters are okay, but long pants under no circumstances would be acceptable at elite uniformed boysschools in Japan until the boy enters middle school, not even on the coldest of winter days."

Individual Schools

It is the private schools that have the most destinctive seasonal uniforms. One school for example has inter uniform of peaked cap, white shirt, red tie, and a grey short pants suits with an optional overcoat. For the summer, the shorts, socks, and shoes are the same but there is no tie, no jacket, and a short-sleeved white shirt. Instead of the poeaked cap, a typical Japanese summer primary uniform white, round hat.


Note that in the image here that the boy in the sweater shows the effect of contemporary boys street fashions with long baggy shorts (figure 1). His knees and calves are tanned, but his upper legs are much paler. He clearly spent the summer in the contemporary knee-length shorts. One sometimes encounters the two-toned leg effect at the end of the summer when boys go back into the trim, snug shorts that characterize school uniforms. (opposite of what a British contributor noted in the spring at his school when boys shifted out of knee into ankle socks -- then it was the upper legss that were tanned and the calves that were pale.).


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
Late 19th century] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing School Uniform Pages
[Return to the Main Japanese School Uniform Page]
[Australia] [England] [France] [Germany]
[Ireland] [Italy] [New Zealand] [Scotland]
[United States]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Long pants suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers] [Blazer] [School sandals]

Navigate the HBC Scoll Section Page
[Return to Main school uniform page]
[About Us]
[Activities] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Debate] [Economics] [Garment] [Gender] [Hair] [History] [Home trends] [Literary characters]
[School types] [Significance] [Transport and travel [Uniform regulations] [Year level] [Other topics]
[Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Historic Boys' School Home]

Created: January 17, 2003
Last updated: 12:15 PM 8/25/2020