Kill la Kill and the Japanese Culture of School Uniforms

Can’t get enough of Kill la Kill? We’ve got you covered. This blog post is the first in a series of in-depth articles analyzing the way of life at Honnouji Academy and how it relates to the culture and history of Japan. Still craving more exclusive Kill la Kill content? Sign up for OMAKASE before November 23rd to receive your very own shipment of specially curated Kill la Kill merchandise and tons of other great content!

In Kill la Kill, school uniforms play a central role. At Honnouji Academy, ordinary students wear ordinary uniforms while higher ranking students wear a special Goku uniform that sets them apart from the main student body, and even these are ranked into 3 categories. But where did the high school uniform that is so common in Japan originate?

The Japanese school uniform has a history over a century old. In the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) the number of schools increased, some for samurai, some for the children of ordinary people. With the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912) education became standardized and mandatory. The earliest uniforms, recommended by the Ministry of Education were based on traditional Japanese clothing, both boys and girls wore hakuma and a kimono top. In Kon Satoshi’s film, Millennium Actress, there is a great scene of Chiyoko riding a bicycle with just such a uniform.

Kill la Kill

In time, a boy’s uniform, the origin of which is said to be based on the Prussian military cadet uniform, developed. The first of these uniforms were worn by students at Gakushuin University in the 1870s, made from navy blue cloth with a high collar. In the 1880s, Tokyo University students began sporting the uniform with gold buttons which became the norm. While college students no longer wear such uniforms, the style became common in high schools, either in black or blue. In many schools the collar had a design indicating the grade of the student, usually roman numerals. Grade level is an indicator of status in Japanese schools and in Kill la Kill, the Goku Uniforms are divided into three levels using stars to indicate the wearer’s level.

For girls, the sailor fuku school uniform originated after WWI at Fukuoka Jo Gakuin, a Christian High School for girls. The sailor suit design had been popular among women in the West for some time and the American headmistress of the school wore such an outfit. The girls liked it and also sported the look, this spread to other schools run by missionaries, and for many years the uniform was associated with Christian schools. The design spread further and became the standard throughout Japan with a jacket to match the skirt.

Kill la Kill
Starting in the 1980s, many schools switched to a plain blouse and blazer rather than the sailor top for girls and for boys a white shirt with a blazer. The outfits were so popular, and there was such a great variety, that Mori Nobuyuki produced a hit guidebook in 1985 to Tokyo area uniforms, the Illustrated Schoolgirl Uniform Guidebook.

Schools also have dress codes that restrict what the students can do with their uniforms. Girls however began to add accessories and small alterations to personalize their outfits. One trend in the late 1960s and early 1970s, associated with delinquent girls, was to wear long skirts with a shorter blouse, bad boys would also do alterations, lining jackets with flashy prints of dragons or tigers, wearing their collar open etc. In the 1990s a trend was to hike up the skirt to make it shorter. Of course such skirt shortening was rarely done at school due to regulations, but as soon as the girls got out the hemline went up. Recently in some areas this has become seen as out of style and longer skirts are returning. I noticed this in Kyoto, Nara and Osaka where skirts are worn much longer than in Tokyo.


Kill la Kill is available to stream with English and Spanish subs in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and Argentina

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