Friday, March 21, 2008

Japanese Uniforms

In Japan, when you are preparing to tape a sign to a wall, be sure to wear a smart-looking uniform and matching helmet, as seen in this video about a type designer.

Every time I go to Japan, I marvel at all the different kinds of uniforms I see. They are always beautifully designed and tailored, even those worn by the street sweepers and trash collectors. Uniforms in the United States (in the rare instances they are worn) are sloppy affairs -- ill-fitting and shapeless.

Here are some notes and photos I took on my last trip to Japan a couple of years ago:

Of course the schoolkids all wear uniforms. The girls have the traditional sailor uniforms, and a lot of the boys have these dark blue Chinese-looking jackets with the cylindrical collars and big round buttons. (Why are so many schoolkids always walking around in the middle of the day here? Don't they have classes to attend? Do they get breaks from school at odd hours that allow them to roam the streets?) I saw a large crowd of "Beauty College" students pouring out of a building. They looked about 17 years old. About half were boys. They had nifty two-tone smock-like uniforms. They raced each other into a 7-Eleven and filled the place up. I took some great pictures of them packed in there. I went the the big park near Harajuku (Meji something) and saw a worker in a smart gray uniform and pith helmet raking up leaves from the wide, tiny-pebbled, path leading to the Shinto temple. His rake was hand-made bamboo, and the business end of it fanned out about three feet. He had a large woven basket filled with other wooden park-cleaning implements, that looked like they came from the 17th century. I love the way Japan mixes ancient stuff with the brand new.

Back in the shopping area of Harajuku, another uniformed guy was on his knees, wiping one of the ubiquitous outdoor vending machines. He was making the surface *squeak*. After that, I noticed all the vending machines were spotless. The Japanese love to keep things clean. (The day before, two people in yellow raincoat uniforms were walking down a narrow shopping street, picking up wet cigarette butts with poles that have pincers on the end, and depositing the butts in a plastic bag. They were obsessive about it. They didn't even have Walkmans on -- they were focusing solely on getting every last cigarette butt picked up.)

I spent the rest of the day taking pictures of people in different uniforms. It seems like they have at least four varieties of cops here, judging by the color and style of their caps and jackets.

I'm not alone in my obsession (it's not a fetish, I swear!). An entire industry is devoted to publishing photos of Japanese people in uniforms. For example, there's "Office Lady Uniform Pictorial Book Part 1.":
For fans of the sailor uniform books, here's a "Chinkame" format photobook (pocket-sized) photobook of the beautiful uniforms of Japan's OLs (office ladies) -- those dedicated to serving tea and working on copy machines across the country. A super full-color publication documenting the cutest blazers, skirts, outfits and different uniform styles as introduced to you by the hottest current race queens. Famous uniforms of famous companies (NTT Docomo, Seibu Bus Company, BMW, etc) from across the country, with information on the style of the uniform as well as the girl modeling it. This is volume 1, a perfect bound, soft cover book that will look great on your coffee table.