$730 Giorgio Armani uniforms spark controversy at Tokyo public school

This undated photo provided by Taimei Elementary School shows new school uniforms designed by Italian brand Armani. (AP Photo)
This undated photo provided by Taimei Elementary School shows new school uniforms designed by Italian brand Armani. (AP Photo)

A Tokyo public school has adopted Giorgio Armani uniforms for students, triggering criticism in a country where hefty school tuition is already burdening young parents.

Taimei Elementary School in Tokyo's upscale Ginza shopping district has announced plans to introduce the optional uniforms, which cost more than 80,000 yen ($730) for a full set.

Government education officials said Friday that school principals are free to set school rules and uniforms, but that this case didn't have the consensus of parents.

While the school says the new uniforms are not mandatory, critics said parents would feel compelled to buy them to ensure their children were not left out.

Kyodo news agency said the local education board had received a string of complaints from parents, unconvinced by the school's explanation that the designer uniform would be good branding.

In a letter announcing the uniform, the administration reportedly said the outfits were a bid to tie the 150-year-old school to the upscale Ginza district where it is located.

But that did little to sway public opinion.

"This shouldn't have been about designer brands, or tradition. The officials should have thought about the children and made a decision after holding discussions," one parent, who did not wish to be identified, told national broadcaster NHK.

"This is outrageous, kids' sizes change," one disgruntled commentator wrote online.

The uniform features sharply tailored blazers as well as add-ons like bags that can push the total set's cost to around 90,000 yen, a price another commentator described as "just too expensive for uniforms for fast-growing children."

Opposition lawmaker Manabu Terada even raised the issue during a parliamentary session, questioning the logic of such an expensive uniform at a public school with students from a range of backgrounds.

Asked to comment on the issue, Finance Minister Taro Aso, known for his own tailored Savile Row-style suits, acknowledged that he thought the planned attire was "expensive for an elementary school".

"It might be problematic if only one student cannot afford it," he said.

Italian brand Armani retains a particular nostalgic prestige for some in Japan, who associate it with the boom years of the economy.

But with those days long past, the pricy uniforms appear all the more incongruous to some.

"These uniforms are far more expensive that the suits I'm wearing," one commentator grumbled.

In Japan, where a sense of belonging and conformity are valued, uniforms are considered durable and thrifty and worn at most secondary schools. Critics say uniforms are part of rigid school rules that could infringe on diversity and children's rights.

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