I’m sure a lot of you know this already but as I am going to be talking about gakurans a lot, I think I should start by defining the term.
Gakurans are those boys’ school uniforms you often see in anime that aren’t a blazer and tie. Those high-neck black overshirts or coats with shiny gold buttons all down the front and black pants. Those are Gakuran. From my understanding, the convention is that if a school has traditional sailor-type uniforms for girls they will often have gakuran for boys. On the other hand, schools that go with the blazer and tie model use it for both boys and girls (with the girls having skirts of course).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me get to my subject. I noticed a while ago that delinquents and tough guys in anime often wore gakuran. Not always of course, if the anime was already taking place in a school with blazer uniforms, the bully is still going to be wearing that same uniform. But in shows that have delinquents as a theme or important characters, I found that they disproportionately wore gakuran over anything else.
At the time, I dismissed it. I couldn’t find any evidence to support my impression and it was entirely possible that I just happen to fall on a lot of shows with the in common but that it isn’t an overall trend. After all, I watch a lot of anime but in the grand scheme of things, my sample size is pretty small.
That is until I found a completely unrelated video on YouTube that lends a bit of credence to my theory. Unfortunately, I was unable to find it again. It was a video by this pleasant young Japanese man that was just discussing some of the general ideas most people have about Japan and one of the points touched on school uniforms.
It was a very short point and sort of a blink-and-you-‘ll-miss-it thing but it created a Eureka moment in my mind. He brought up two basic points that I’m going to use as support for my thesis. The one about delinquents wearing Gakuran.
The first thing he mentioned is that it was easy to wear gakuran “wrong”. He didn’t elaborate on that. I should mention that this young man was obviously not a native English speaker although he spoke really well and probably write way better than I do. He tended to use short sentences and not always explain certain things and I don’t know if anything got lost in translation. After all, you can wear anything wrong if you want to. Believe me, I went to catholic school, and years of rolled skirts, misaligned shorts, and unbuttoned vests can testify to the fact that wearing a blazer uniform can definitely be done wrong.
So I tried to do a little more digging and here’s what I found.
First of all, gakuran are black, usually thicker than a standard dress shirt, and meant to be worn closed. Technically, the uniform also includes a high-neck white shirt that’s worn under the gakuran but you often don’t really see it and it can get warm in Japan so it’s not unusual for students to wear a lighter t-shirt or tank top underneath. When the gakuran is buttoned up, as it should be, you really can’t tell what’s underneath. So students might show up in the morning looking perfectly presentable. However, it’s very easy for them to just open up the coat and show off whatever inappropriate logos they have on their t-shirts before any teachers can notice.
By contrast, the white shirts worn in blazer uniforms will show any bright colours or contrasts underneath so anyone wearing an unsanctioned t-shirt underneath can be spotted right away and sent home to change before they even step into the school. Besides, even if they managed to avoid detection early on, they would have to take off their tie, untuck and then unbutton their shirt and take off the blazer. It’s a lot of trouble just to show a little individuality and most people won’t do it.
Second is the tie. As I said, Gakuran are very easy to wear unbuttoned. You’re not supposed to but what the heck, just undo a couple of buttons, and if you get called out you can button them again. But you can’t do that with a tie. It’s simply not comfortable to have a lot of buttons undone when you’re wearing a tie and even if you just open the top ones, the tie is going to hide it so no harm, no foul. You almost can’t make it look sloppy unless you undo the tie and then you’ll get called on it right away. It’s too obvious. Not to mention that some students are great at tying their ties so they avoid undoing them as much as possible. Having a weird tie is just going to make you look silly and we don’t want that!
Finally, there’s the climate. Japan gets really hot and really muggy for long periods of time. Almost all schools offer a summer version of their uniforms since not all schools have air conditioning and it would be downright mean to make the kids wear the full uniforms year-round. However, there don’t seem to be any short sleeve versions of gakuran meaning that they either have to wear the coat at which point everyone will unbutton it even if they aren’t rebellious, or their uniforms simply become black trouser and a short sleeve white shirts that can be worn open collared. In other words, they look like they’re wearing the blazer summer uniform but they ditched the tie like bad*sses!
Ok, I stand corrected. It seems it is easier to wear gakuran “wrong”.
But here is the second point in the video. It brings it all together. Because it’s easy to wear gakuran wrong, in Japan it’s usually the top schools that are very difficult to get into and have model students that use gakuran style uniforms. The regular schools for the riff-raff (I’m joking) and the ones more likely to end up with more difficult or “troubled” students, pretty much always go with blazer uniforms.
Ok, so according to this young man, reality would be the opposite of my observation. Real-life high school delinquents in Japan should be way more likely to wear a blazer uniform than a gakuran. But for the conventions to even exist, it’s because at some point a lot of rebellious teenagers must have worn their gakuran wrong. And someone decided that they looked more respectable in blazer uniforms instead. Meaning that the tough guy image of the gakuran must have existed and been important enough to base policy thereon.
Look, it’s not exactly a smoking gun. Even the TV Tropes page (consult at your own risk) on Japanese Delinquents doesn’t mention gakurans in their article at all. I would like to point out however that the image they used to illustrate Japanese delinquents shows a very gakuran-like jacket. So I might still be totally wrong about this. BUT I think there is at least something there. And isn’t it cool if we stumbled onto a secret trope together?
10 thoughts on “Gakurans and Delinquents”
This is a very cool and informative post! Whenever I think of the gakuran (now I know the proper term, lol), my mind instantly moves to think about Josuke the JoJo because he just wears it iconic.
All Jojos tend to be icons in their own right. But I think of Josuke too!
Funnily enough, when I was living in Japan, I saw gakuran all the time because it was the standard school uniform for the middle-school boys in those areas. If I took the bus or train somewhere further out though, I’d notice a lot more blazer-style uniforms, mostly on high-school guy students (in both towns where I lived, there were no high schools, hence why I usually only saw the blazer uniforms while commuting somewhere).
I did read that the sailor and gakuran styles are more common with younger students
Thank you for this term! There have been many times when I wanted to talk about this type of school uniform in anime, and I just had to call it an “old timey military like uniform”, because I didn’t know and couldn’t find the correct name for it! Thank you for helping me expand my Japanese vocabulary of words I want to use, but are never in language learning books.
Yeah! I immediately thought of Yuyu Hakusho. And Ryuuji Takasu in Toradora.
As a contrarian example of a good boy wearing it properly is Yusaku Kitamura,
also in Toradora.
I don’t know if I would call Kitamura a good boy but he does give off that proper look
I never really paid attention, but I think you’re right; it’s a trend – especially when it’s about delinquent groups. I think the major exception would be Great Teacher Onizuka, but everything else I remember (Tokyo Revengers, Gokusen, Beelzebub, Cromartie High…) would wear the gakuran – I checked quite a few shows on google.
I think that even the point that gakuran schools tend to be the more fancy schools sort of support your theory: you’re not going as likely to get delinquents there, but that’s precisely why anime can use the uniform for contrast.
Ohhh good point there. Anime is doing the opposite of what’s expected for effect