Why Do Japanese People Like Uniforms?

A femal cabin crew staring at airline counters in an airport

Which uniform do you like?

Which do you think the best cabin crew uniform is? Did you think I would immediately answer “Air Asia?” Indeed, I have to admit their vivid red provocative uniform is stunning, but my favorite is Saron Kebaya from the Singapore Airlines. It may be true that traditional cloths are designed to make local people look best. Having said that, I think it’s difficult to judge cabin crew uniforms separately from their services. In terms of service quality, I strongly believe Japanese airlines (JAL and ANA) are best. There’s nothing special in their uniforms, but they look best to me.

It’s about 1400 years ago that uniforms first appeared in Japanese history. It was attire for noble people to show their ranks, and the fundamental role of wearing uniforms hasn’t changed over a long period of history. It’s always to satisfy the senses of exclusiveness and belonging. Those senses are two sides of the same coin. As the world (especially Japan) is still filled with a lot of uniforms, we can’t seem to live without feeling those senses. Today’s story is about uniforms in Japan.

Bittersweet memories of school uniforms in Japan

As I wrote sometimes, Japan is a country of peer pressure, which, I guess, may be developed primarily in the system of school uniforms. In Japan, we are supposed to wear uniforms basically for six years from junior high to high school. When I was a junior high school kid, about 30 years ago, boys’ uniforms were commonly black stand-up-collar jackets, like a naval officer uniform. Girls’ uniforms were a set of sailor-suit top with a pleated skirt. Now, it seems like blazer jackets become more common. In addition, the design of school uniforms is getting better and better because competition in uniform design becomes intense according to the market principle especially among private schools.

Let’s get back to the school uniform story of my era. At that time, school kids were strictly bound by the school rules. Not only clothes but also shoes, bags, etc. were stipulated in detail like army. By the way, do you remember how you behaved like when you were a teenager? Of course, there was no way that kids in the rebellious phase followed such rules. Youth gone wild in any place and any time.

Kids flew under the radar for a while after entrance but started their rebellion against the school rules and teachers little by little. Boys wore a flashy-color shirt and unbuttoned the jacket so that the shirt can be seen. Some made the length of the jacket shorter; others made it longer. If I was shown the photos of myself at that time, I would die of embarrassment, of course. Youth is a disease, from which, I hope, I have already recovered. What is funny about the rebellion is kids never tried to refuse uniforms themselves. We want to be different from others, while wanting to belong to something. This ambivalence should be one of the major symptoms of the disease called youth.

How do you like our uniform?

After such a rebellion in vain, most of the Japanese people are tamed and get used to wearing uniforms. Consequently, there are many companies who have their own uniforms, and so do we (see the image below). Surprisingly enough, some people especially coming from overseas seem to like it. They see in our factory our staff work in the uniform and very often say “It looks cool!” For your information, our uniform is available for sale if you are interested in it!

A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.