One of the things that usually surprise many people during their first stay in Japan is just how prominent a figure the young Japanese woman in a school uniform is in popular media. It is certainly rather unavoidable to notice how truly appreciated and admired the adorably uniformed girls of the nation truly are. Since high school girls in Japan are generally required to wear a uniform, and the uniforms are fairly consistent from school to school, the conceptual icon of the Japanese schoolgirl has easily made a societal impression over the years.
Young women in Japan are relatively outgoing and tend to have a social lifestyle, so Japanese schoolgirls in uniform do comprise a relatively large portion of the publically active population commonly seen daily around town and on public transportation. They are, in many ways, like a national symbol for the modern embodiment of the innocent happiness associated with youth, in addition to being an icon of young beauty. Almost all of the Japanese population today has, after all, worn a uniform in school at some point themselves and so is really not so surprising that the uniformed girl would be such a popular theme in advertising and the media in general. Imagine if, in the US for instance, all women from 16-20 dressed in an almost identical uniform on a daily basis, even after school hours. That uniform would most certainly become a very common part of popular media.
The design of the uniform actually came into use around 1920. While the particular sailor style uniform worn by young women in Japan may seem like it must have been designed by a man, it historically originates from a design imported and adapted by a woman named Elizabeth Lee. Ms. Lee was a principal of a University in Japan and, having studied abroad, was inspired by the uniforms of the British Navy. This is why the uniform includes such uniquely sailor style features as a red scarf tied in the front of a clean white blouse and a naval style collar that has a small navy blue cape draped over the shoulders. There are variations on this general style of dress, as many uniforms will be black and white or even a Japanese version of a western schoolgirl uniform featuring a skirt and crested blazer or sweater. The classic sailor uniform is actually, in some ways, a thankfully cute and innocent cultural remnant of the nationalistically uniformed Japanese population prior to and during the rather unpleasant events of WWII.
The schoolgirl uniform has, of course, made its way to other countries around the world through Japanese popular media and other such exports. Two internationally popular titles featuring uniform clad young women are the rather aptly named “Sailor Moon” series, and also the “Card Captor Sakura” series. It is certainly a uniquely Japanese style known across the world today. Regardless of one’s opinion of the real reason that the cute young women in their school uniforms are so avidly adored and celebrated in popular media, they are truly an iconic symbol in Japanese society.