There are lots of ways to celebrate your first step into the adult, work-a-day world. You could buy yourself a fine suit and head to a fancy French dinner. Or you could dig out your old high school uniform and head out to Tokyo Disneyland.
“I heard some classmates did it, so I wanted to try myself,” says Akiko Shimizu, who last week marked the end of her four years in college with a pilgrimage to the Tokyo Bay theme park, dressed in the sailor uniform of her high school days. “It’s something I probably couldn’t get away with any later from now.”
Call it cosplay, but there’s something else behind the phenomenon called “seifuku (uniform) Disney,” which sprung up the past year Tokyo area campuses such as Waseda University, Aoyama Gakuin University and Shimizu's alma mater, Keio University.
Disneyland, already Japan’s most popular theme park, earned major points with the public last year with its conduct during and after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11. As the ground shook, staffers there soothed the crowds, providing food and temporary shelter for those unable to make it home when the traffic system halted. Despite some serious damage, the facility reopened on April 15--providing not only diversion but also an example of back-to-normal fortitude to people still dealing with aftershocks and radiation fears. Despite its temporary closure, the park still drew 25,347,000 visitors the past fiscal year, according to operator Oriental Land Co., slightly less than the year before. Still, it set a record of 14,608,000 guests in the second half of the year alone.
For Shimizu and her four friends last week, revisiting the park in uniform was one way of returning to an ideal time, far removed from the black “recruit suit” outfits and impersonal interviews that college students are put through in order to land a job.
“When you’re a high school girl you’re treated like a treasure,” says the 22-year-old. “Your skin is smooth, you’re cute, and you’re special in a way no adult can be.” The cultural fixation comes through clearly enough in many a manga and anime. Shops meanwhile such as Harajuku COMOMi in Tokyo's trend-setting Harajuku district,, offer mix-and-match school uniforms. Amidst the usual clientele of teenagers who feel their own school uniforms lack flair, many visitors are adults wanting to relive their adolescent glory days.
“I really got to see how differently high school girls are treated,” says the collegian who, because of her uniform, managed to get into the park on a cheaper ticket. “I didn’t even need to show an ID, and staff in the shops seemed much more attentive.”
Instead of bringing back memories of cram schools and petty club rivalries, says Shimizu, the uniform brought back the giggles that she and her friends had nearly forgotten about as they prepare for the corporate grind and adult life.
“I think my friends and I realized just how narrow and limited our view of the world was back then, and that was fun” she says. “Exactly because it was so small, we were able to laugh at the littlest things.”
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