A New School Year in Japan Brings Gender-Free Uniform Choices, “Subscriptions”

A new school year starts in Japan next month. And with it are coming changes in school uniforms. This year, students in Oita prefecture middle schools will get more choices – and parents will get more help paying for them.

Gender-free uniform selection grows in Japanese schools

Gender-neutral uniforms from Kanko Company
Kanko School Uniforms shows how it’s changed its designs to be more gender-neutral, eliminating differences in waist curvature and using unified color schemes. (Source: PR Times)

Starting this year, the city of Oita will join other school systems across the country in diversifying uniform selection. For the first time, the school will offer four different choices of uniforms – and students can select their preferred uniform, regardless of gender. Students can select from sets including a blazer, slacks, a skirt, or short pants.

The move follows a growing trend in Japan to respect sexuality and gender diversity. According to school uniforms manufacturer Tombo, the number of schools it serves in Japan that offer genderless uniform choices has almost tripled from 370 in 2018 to 1,000 in 2021.

Rival manufacturer Kanko reports similar numbers. By its count, the number of its customers offering slacks as a choice to female students has shot up from a mere 49 in 2018 to 832 in 2023.

The change represents the widening acceptance of LGBTQ people and gender diversity in Japan in recent years. It also signals a shift by schools to align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new focus of Japanese businesses and government institutions within the last several years.

Renting uniforms instead of buying

Oita’s new uniforms also aim to ease the economic burden on parents. Students can wear the new uniforms in summer or winter, alleviating the need for parents to buy multiple sets of clothes. To further alleviate the economic burden, Oita will allow students to hand down their current school uniforms to their siblings for the next five years.

Meanwhile, in the city of Hita, schools will give parents of kindergarten students the option of renting instead of buying. Parents can rent uniforms for their kids for 500 yen a month (appr. USD $3.79). As kids grow, they can change the sizes they wear at no extra cost.

The move could mean real savings for some parents. One school administrator says that, using the subscription service, parents would spend around 18,000 yen on a child’s uniform over three years. By contrast, buying a uniform outright would cost around 30,600 yen.

Hita says that, as part of its own commitment to Sustainable Development Goals, it’s also repairing and reusing old uniforms that parents donate after their students graduate.

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幼稚園「制服」購入が不要に…サブスクで何度でもサイズ変更を イマドキ制服事情【大分】. TV Oita

採用増える「ジェンダーレス制服」、誕生の背景は トンボのデザイナーに聞く. Asahi EduA

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