Japan’s school uniforms turn away from gender stereotypes

Courtesy of Kanko Gakuseifuku Co.
Recent school uniforms allow female students to wear slacks and a necktie if they like.

The definition of “normal” is changing when it comes to school uniforms, as some female students are choosing to wear neckties and pants these days. Schools are working to change with the times amid growing acceptance of diversity, revamping their traditional uniforms that drew a clear line between boys and girls.

More choice

Amid heightened interest in gender issues, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in 2015 issued a notice to boards of education nationwide, informing them of detailed measures to be taken regarding students’ outfits, club activities and counseling.

So-called genderless uniforms have appeared as social mores dictating what men and women “should be like” have relaxed. On Nov. 10, the Minami-Ashigara city government unveiled a new lineup of public school uniforms, featuring a blazer for both boys and girls. Female students can choose pants or a skirt.

In the city’s junior high schools, the classic uniform has been a jacket with a stand‐up collar for boys, and a middy blouse and skirt for girls. However, this dress code had brought complaints from some female students who did not want to wear a skirt.

The municipality surveyed 2,100 households in the city, established a review committee to discuss the matter with parents, and ultimately decided to revamp the designs from the perspective of both gender neutrality and protection from cold weather. The new uniforms are scheduled to be introduced from April 2023.

“We hope [the new uniforms] will motivate children to think about diversity without being restricted by gender differences,” the director general of the city’s board of education said.

Tokyo’s Setagaya and Nakano wards also allow girls to wear pants at all junior high schools.

10,000 signatures

On Nov. 9, a university student who calls herself Kaede submitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education a petition signed by about 11,000 people in support of letting students choose their school uniform.

Kaede, who graduated from a public high school in Tokyo this spring, was born as a man but sees herself as a woman. She was required to wear a male uniform but wondered whether such outfits should be differentiated by gender.

According to the education ministry, uniforms are determined by each school based on rules set by the principal.

“I hope the Tokyo board of education will support us,” Kaede said.

Bow or tie

Kanko Gakuseifuku Co., a leading maker of school uniforms based in Okayama, said it receives more orders for fashionable blazers these days, while fewer schools are seeking jackets with stand‐up collars and blouse-skirt combinations.

In line with this trend, genderless uniforms are increasingly being seen on the market. The number of schools ordering pants for girls increased from about 560 in 2016 to more than 1,400 in February this year, Kanko said.

The design and shape of the blazers is the same for boys and girls so as not to emphasize the body line, and students can choose either a bow or a necktie for the neck of the shirt.

“The redesign of school uniforms symbolizes the changing attitude at schools toward incorporating children’s opinions,” said Ryo Uchida, an associate professor of sociology of education at Nagoya University. “It’s meaningful for students to think and act by themselves through discussions about school uniforms.

“Unreasonable school regulations have been a major problem in recent years. I hope more discussions like this take place between teachers and children, to achieve a better school life,” Uchida said.