Until not very long ago, almost all Japanese schoolgirls wore sailor fuku, or uniforms modeled after sailor suits. But did you know that these uniforms are thought to have originated in Fukuoka? The sailor fuku uniform was introduced by Fukuoka Jo Gakuin in 1921. The winter version featured a navy uniform with a burgundy scarf, while the summer version featured a blue uniform with white stripes, and this style has remained more or less unchanged to the present day.
Back then, girls used to wear kimono to school, but this proved inconvenient when they had to play sports. So, the principal at that time, Elizabeth Lee, came up with a more comfortable uniform based on the school uniforms she used to wear herself. In that day, it was hard to source the materials needed in Japan, so Ms. Lee ordered 150 students’ worth of cloth and made-to-order shoes from London. The original design was soon popular throughout the city.
Ms. Lee also started one of Fukuoka Jo Gakuin’s well-known events: the Maypole Dance, which is held every year on May 18, the anniversary of the school’s founding. In fact, this event is older than the sailor fuku uniform, dating back to 1916.
The Maypole Dance is an ancient fertility rite that has been celebrated in European countries for centuries. At Fukuoka Jo Gakuin, students dance around the pole while twining red and white ribbons together. This is also the day when students can switch to wearing their summer uniforms, so it doubles as a sign that summer is near.
The event also features a May Queen decked out in a pure white dress. Nowadays, the May Queen is selected from among the ranks of second-year junior high school students, but in the early days, the student with the best behavior and highest grades was chosen to serve as May Queen. Back then, the May Queen wore a black patterned kimono and sat on a Japanese cushion.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn245, May 2019)