Genderless options are increasingly finding their way into schools in Japan, easing pressure on students to conform to norms and stereotypes.
A growing number of schools allow students to choose skirts or pants for their uniforms, while satchels for elementary school children free from gender-based colors are increasingly common. Some schools are reviewing regulations that include clauses based on the distinction of sexes.
Tombow Co., a school uniform manufacturer in the city of Okayama, is in the vanguard of encouraging schools to introduce gender-neutral uniforms. The company developed a pair of trousers for female students incorporating ideas proposed by transgender people. Designed to look wearable by boys as well, the comfortable garments have been adopted by some 1,000 schools across the country.
But as the option may serve to emphasize that wearers belong to a sexual minority, Ayumi Okuno, a designer at Tombow, said, “Emphasis is given to functionality so that students can choose (the trousers) whether they are in sexual minorities or not.”
Sanyo Junior High School, run by the Himeji city government in Hyogo Prefecture, adopted a new school uniform consisting of a blazer and slacks for both male and female students this spring, abandoning a tight standup collar uniform for boys and a sailor-style uniform for girls. It made the shift after considering that railway operators and other companies are using genderless uniforms.
“School is a microcosm of society. We decided that uniforms that are wearable regardless of gender are suitable for a school in the new age,” Takahisa Hasegawa, principal of the school, said.
The school introduced the new uniform after holding discussions with students, parents and teachers and surveying parents of elementary school children in its school district. It has also made a skirt available to female students who wish to wear it.
Male and female elementary school students used to carry black and red satchels, respectively, on the shoulder almost with no exception. Only about 20% of girls opted for red satchels in the current school year and 60% of boys for black ones, however, according to an industry survey.
The change to multiple colors of satchels began around 2000, according to Tsuchiya Kaban, a leather bag manufacturer in Tokyo, which now offers them in about 50 colors.
The company conducted a survey of parents with children who will enter elementary school in the next school year and found that more than 80% of them consider it desirable to eliminate the color-based fixed concept of gender difference. A similar share of respondents supported gender neutrality.
Demand for satchels free from gender-based difference is increasing, a public relations official at Tsuchiya Kaban said. “There are boys who opt for red ones. An increasing number of parents value their children’s taste and opinion over gender difference.”
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