Wearing a uniform is a daily practice that is deeply rooted in Japanese society. Whether it is in the professional or school environment, the clothing must respect very precise dress codes. Japanese uniforms have been greatly popularized by manga and are nowadays recognized all over the world.
But did you know that these outfits were also a way to welcome and take advantage of the seasonal changes in the year? Learn more about the tradition of Koromogae, the renewal of Japanese uniforms to celebrate the arrival of summer and winter.
Koromogae: seasonal wardrobe change
Origins and evolution of Koromogae in Japan
The term Koromogae is composed of the kanji 衣 (garment) and 替 (exchange).
In the Heian period (784-1185), the Koromogae tradition already existed. It involved storing away one's winter clothes and bringing out lighter fabrics to better withstand the heat of summer, and vice versa. This seasonal change of clothing took place five times a year. Today, it occurs only on June 1 and October 1 and is adapted to the climate of different regions of Japan.
The Koromogae is institutionalized and is most evident in the uniforms of private employees, civil servants and school children. On June 1st, Japanese people abandon their dark clothes (black, dark blue) with long sleeves in exchange for light white clothes that repel the heat. On October 1st, we cover ourselves to avoid getting cold!
Symbolism of this Japanese custom
The Koromogae is an occasion for the Japanese to consciously welcome the change of season, the passage to summer and winter. We take a moment to clean and sort out our homes, to store the warm clothes in boxes and to take out the summer clothes. Kimonos are carefully stored and leave place to yukatas.
In the Heian period, the Japanese took the opportunity to replace their furniture, accessories and utensils according to the time of the year. This is much rarer today.
Through Koromogae, everything is transformed for the Japanese: the nature around them and the interior of their own houses. A way to celebrate the arrival of a new season and all the joys associated with it.
Renewal of the uniforms of Japanese schoolchildren and salarymen
Summer Sailor fuku. Source: Wikipedia
Gakuran and Sailor Fuku: school uniforms in Japan
Gakuran is the name given to the uniforms of middle and high school boys. It is compulsory in most schools and has a jacket with a buttoned collar and long straight pants. The uniform may be slightly different depending on the school you are attending.
Sailor Fuku is the uniform of Japanese school girls. They wear a pleated skirt and a blouse with a sailor collar and a ribbon. On June 1, they can put away their dark blue sweaters and keep only their white short sleeve shirts.
Left: example of a winter sailor fuku / Right: the corresponding summer uniform. Source: Wikipedia
Salarymen uniforms: between elegance and conformity
Salarymen are known to be dedicated to their company. They do not count their hours and blend in with the mass thanks to their clothes. Of course, there are many stores that specialize in selling uniforms.
Employees and public service workers wear a minimalist outfit with very precise codes: dark colors, shirt, tie, pants. On October 1st, people wear jackets and fabrics that are more resistant to the cold.
The Koromogae also helps to save electricity in offices. Indeed, on June 1, 2011, the "Super Cool Biz" had been implemented to encourage clothes with short sleeves and thus compensate for the shutdown of the Fukushima reactors after the disaster of March 11, 2011.
Note that little by little, traditional uniforms are evolving towards more Western versions. High school boys are increasingly wearing a shirt, jacket and tie. High school girls are turning to plaid skirts and sweaters with bows.
If you want to learn more about traditional Japanese clothing, read our article: Traditional japanese clothing you should know about.