Saturday, 11 February 2012

Coldness and Youth: Children of the Wind

There is no winter uniform... this is it, all year round
When I was a child my mother often told me to wear warmer clothes or I would catch a cold. Being a revolting child I used to reply that the common cold is a virus and that wearing more layers wouldn’t prevent the transmission of the virus. Despite my cheek, the idea that getting cold will lead to sickness is deeply ingrained in me (and in Western culture generally).  I also see small children and weaker and more vulnerable to the cold and physical discomfort than adults or teenagers. It’s been interesting for me to have both of these assumptions challenged in Japan. I’m writing this post after shivering through lunch in a classroom without heating or insulation… and with the windows thrown wide open. Although my grandchildren will doubtless never believe me, snow was literally blowing into the classroom. Why were the windows open when it was snowing? Because the ‘flu is going around, and the belief that fresh air will disperse the germs is stronger than any idea that getting cold will make the students more prone to illness. The junior high school girls’ winter uniform is a skirt and ankle socks. That’s right… bare legs. In the snow. No-one apart from me finds this scene peculiar. It’s even worse in kindergarten (three and four year-olds). There the uniform is shorts and cotton T-shirts all year round, and out-door play is mandatory. At a school I visited recently the kids have a fifteen minute 縄飛びタイム during which they skip (jump-rope) to music to warm themselves up at the start of every day. The teachers wear warm clothes and sometimes even jackets and scarves. Kindergartners are called children of the wind, 風の子, and they are seen as incredibly strong and resilient. In primary (elementary) school the children who wear T-shirts through the winter are praised by the teachers and there is a competitive element to how much coldness the kids can endure. When I asked an eight-year-old who was wearing a tank-top on a snowy day if he was cold, the class-room teacher commented “isn’t the power of youth great?” By contrast, many high schools have heating and the girls’ uniforms include stockings. The power of youth must be fading by then…
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  1. In Japan there is a strong beleeve that coldness for children is good for toughening and health.
    School uniforms in most japaneese schools require short shorts with ankel socks for boys, and skirts with ankle socks for girls the jear round. The only consession to the cold in winter could be knee socks, but the thights and knees heve to be bare at all time.
    But nearly the same was in Europe in the 50/60 ies. It was normal that boys went to school in shorts most of the time, also when it was cold.
    I was born in the beginning of the sixtees in south Germany and from infant time on my brother and I had to waer short lederhosen, by cold with woolen kneesocks.
    In Dezember I am often working at a scout bording school in the north of France. All the boys from 6 to 16 have to wear a uniform with short lederhosen and white kneesocks the year round also when it has -15 C°.
    Teachers and parents believe that this has a positive effect on discipline, health and helps to toughen the boys.
    As the boys have to do a lot of work outside at the ground one could feel pity one the one hand, by seeing all the goose pimled bare legs and bluish tortured knees by the cold and snow, on the other hand it is interesting to see how strong the boys are and how they stand the cold bravely.
    The older boys where the legs are presented to the elements since many years do have very strong sturdy thights and knees with a skin like strong braun leather.

    1. That's an interesting point, thank you! I know the uniforms are still based on British and Prussian designs from the 19th century... I wonder if the short-shorts were something that coincidentally affirmed a pre-existing belief in the virtue of kids being cold, or if they were the origin of the belief?

  2. I think the short shorts are something that coincidentally affirmed a pre-existing belief in the virtue of kids being cold. In the 50ies there was a fashion shift from central Europe especially from France, Belgium and Italy (not British) to Japan. Mothers saw short shorts as being stylish and European and thougth that boys looked sweet in them. Fathers seemed to think that shorts were good for boys and helped to toughem them, especially during the winter.
    Prussian styled school uniforms were enthusiastically adopted by Japan's militarized elite for boys, showing the admirationfor the Imperial german Army. There is an underlying admiration for hierarchy and recognition of authority obvious in Japans uniforms. The extreme shortness of uniformed boy's shorts during the post-World War II era with no concession to cold weather being only the most obvious example.


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