School Uniform Rentals and Japanese Imperialism

Authored by:
Chase E.

Chase E.

Recently, I did as all Korean expats eventually do, and took a pleasant trip to Lotte World just south of the Kang river. The weather was perfectly sunny and still pleasantly warm. Despite this, I can’t say I had an amazing time, given how many rides were closed due to Covid-19, the expensive food and childish atmosphere (I found the park mascots more creepy than cute). But I did enjoy a haunted (actually frightening) house and the nearby aquarium! 

Regardless, that day, my friend Sam made a reservation with a school uniform…rental? I had never heard of such a thing. I had worn a uniform throughout my four years of high school. Did I really want to relive those days of practically authoritarian law during which I couldn’t even dress how I wanted? I was more than skeptical. My unamused self told her, “Really? 진짜로? Not happening.” But alas, I had to appease her wishes. I was going to pay money to wear a uniform: tie, school emblem, suffocating pants. The whole shebang. 

We found our way past a few other school uniform rentals before arriving at our destination. Past the front desk were cute couples posing in front of large mirrors, pink and purple walls and decor all around, and, of course, formal school attire of all kinds lining the walls. There was a collection of neckties along the far wall, as well as a line of professional-looking makeup booths.

Needless to say, I was a tad overwhelmed. We made our way over to the racks of matching girls and guys section and picked out a grey plaid color scheme with pink highlights (an absolute winner, in my opinion). After completing our looks with matching ties and pants, we set out to Lotte World in our matching attire. Sure, the pants were a bit tight and the tie a little short, but this is understandable given I was wearing a highschool uniform as a college student. I will say, it was a little disappointing to see the lack of options for someone with larger proportions. This is not the first time clothing items in Korea were not inclusive of bigger frames, though.

Lotte World was very different than I was expecting: not enough rides, too many unsettling mascots. Fortunately it was spooky season (Halloween haha) and that means haunted houses! The instructions were all in Korean in these places, and at one point I was running away from a guy with a chainsaw without any hint as to where to go! I must say, the aquarium which we visited after was more enjoyable. Here’s a picture of an adorable Axolotl:

After this memorable experience in my 교복 (school uniform) I could not help but share my day with one of my close Korean friends. Soeun (소은) endured my seemingly endless stories from my Lotte World trip. When I mentioned I had worn a 교복, though, she seemed slightly annoyed. She told me, “I would never wear that, especially as it continues the legacy of Japanese Imperialism.” 

Little had I known I had hit a nerve which many South Koreans resonate with. It turns out that the type of school uniform I was wearing was introduced during the colonialist period, an unpleasant memory for the South Korean nation and its people. I had not realized that wearing such a thing would upset people, but alas, there are so many things in Korean society that serve as a reminder of that time period. There are monuments, touching stories (such as those of comfort women), Japanese elements in the Korean language, and so on. I was just so surprised my school uniform was yet another remnant of such a horrible period. My perspective on the craze for couples matching in school uniforms changed immensely after doing some research on this subject, but I nonetheless still enjoyed wearing the 교복 for a day!

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