Ask any Japanese which is the most expensive and sleek neighborhood in Japan, and the answer will most likely be Ginza, in Tokyo. This is the neighborhood of the Taimei Elementary School, a 140-year-old public institution, which takes pride in its elegant location, surrounded by shiny skyscrapers, and multiple-floor boutiques like Armani and Bulgari.
However, parents of students were shocked to find out that the school had selected a new Armani-designed school uniform costing 80,000 yen each, or about US$730. That would be more that 2.5 times the current cost.
Japan has a wide-reaching uniform culture, especially for middle school and high school. When used at the elementary school level, the uniforms are meant to be durable and create a sense of community, free from fashion pressures.
Although the uniforms aren’t mandatory, parents who spoke to the Sankei Shimbun voiced several concerns: “What about the kids who can’t afford this?” “We were not consulted about this!” “Isn’t it strange for a public school to have an Armani uniform?”
The school principal, Toshitsugu Wada, explained in a press conference on February 9 that he was thinking of the future of the school, and using the power of the fashion companies in the neighborhood seemed sensible.
On February 8, the controversy was even discussed in Parliament, where Japan’s finance minister commented, “This [uniform] is clearly very expensive, and it would be very difficult if even one person could not afford to pay for it.”
In the midst of the media storm, the new uniforms are meant to be introduced to first-grade students in the coming academic year, which starts in April.
Interestingly, the topic has also sparked a larger public debate on how schools should face the increasingly competitive environment. Yet, as Takao Sawabe, deputy head of the Sankei Shimbun editorial board, points out, when a school is looking at its future, perhaps the priority should be the quality of the teaching as opposed to how cool the uniform looks.