Autumn is in the air – the crisp breezes, the falling leaves, the changing of the school uniforms…
Like most junior high schools in Japan, my students are required to wear a school uniform. However, because the classroom temperature fluctuates so greatly from winter to summer (remember, schools are basically all windows and there’s no insulation, central heating, or air conditioners, etc.), there are two versions of the uniform: one for winter and one for summer. At my school here in northern Japan, students start the school year (April) in their winter uniform, transition to the summer uniform on June 1, then transition back to the winter uniform on October 1.
For winter, my school has the stereotypical navy sailor uniform for girls and the black gakuran suit for boys (although the girls’ skirts are worn much longer than what you see in anime – hah!). In the summer versions, the bottoms stay the same – navy skirt for girls, black pants for boys – but the girls wear white sailor-style tops and the boys wear a white dress shirt.
The students have a week to make the transition from one uniform to the next. During that week, they can wear whichever they want to wear on that day. Last week was transition week, so when I walked in to class today, all of the students were in their winter uniforms for the first time since last spring. The change is pretty drastic – there is a big difference between a classroom full of white shirts and a classroom of dark shirts!
Even the teachers have to change from “cool biz” summer wear to winter wear. It doesn’t affect us women as much because we have more flexibility when it comes to dressing for school (I’m still wearing the same dress pants and button-down shirts that I’ve been wearing all summer), but all of the male teachers showed up today in their suits and ties. Whoa.
School uniforms aren’t new for me. In Canada, I went to a school that had uniforms for Kindergarten through Grade 3*. Although, when I was tired of wearing the girl’s dress, I sometimes wore the boy’s pants and shirt! I don’t think you can find that kind of flexibility here in Japan – at least, not at my school, where even hairstyles must follow the dress code! As a Canadian, I think it’s interesting to see the precision and conformity of Japanese culture even in something as simple as changing clothes to match the season.
*It’s also interesting to note that, while I had to wear a uniform in elementary school, my elementary school students here in Japan don’t! They get to dress however they want. いいなー！