Japan school stirs debate over hairstyle rules after boy with cornrows separated from class

‘I felt like I was being told, “This is not your special day”,’ says 18-year-old of graduation ceremony


Strict rules on hairstyles at schools in Japan have attracted criticism after a mixed-race teenager was separated from other students at their graduation ceremony because he had plaited his hair into cornrows to pay tribute to his Black heritage.

The student, who has not been named, was made to sit alone at the back of the hall during a graduation ceremony at his school in Himeji, western Japan, and told not to stand and respond when his name was called out.

The 18-year-old, who has an African-American father and Japanese mother, said he had plaited his hair, which is naturally curly, to make it look neater for the ceremony, adding that he had learned about the cultural significance of cornrows online and from his father. “I wasn’t able to create happy memories to mark the three years I spent at the school with my friends,” he told the Mainichi Shimbun. “I was frustrated because I felt like I was being told, ‘This is not your special day.’ The hairstyle represented my father’s roots and culture in the Black community.”

The school’s vice principal told the newspaper that the student had been segregated simply for failing to observe the rules on haircuts. The boy reportedly left midway through the ceremony but returned later to collect his diploma. He was made to wait in an empty room, however, and was followed to the toilet by a teacher who later told him to leave the school premises as he waited for his friends.

The school’s regulations stipulate that hairstyles should not be “trendy” but should be “clean and appropriate for a high school student”. Students are not permitted to dye or bleach their hair, or style it with a hairdryer, but the rules make no mention of braiding.

The incident occurred as lawyers warned that teachers at an elite boys school in Osaka who regularly check and even trim students’ hair were violating their human rights, but stopped short of labelling the staff’s actions as unconstitutional.

The Osaka Bar Association’s letter, published at the end of last month, was prompted by complaints over the enforcement of hairstyle regulations at the school, which requires all 1,780 students to keep their hair short around the ears and neckline, and forbids fringes that are long enough to touch their eyebrows.

The rules, apparently inspired by a Buddhist teaching that people “see what they should see” and “hear what they should hear,” have been in place for around half a century, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun. A photograph of the desired hairstyle appears in the school’s student handbook, and teachers carry out checks every month, the newspaper said.

The bar association acted after several students from the school contacted it last year to complain about the way teachers were enforcing the rule, including pulling and cutting their hair. The teachers’ actions “infringe on freedom of hairstyle by exceeding the scope of socially acceptable guidance, and are not based on justifiable reason,” the association said, according to the Yomiuri.

More Japanese schools reviewed their rules on uniforms and hairstyles after a female student launched a lawsuit in 2017, claiming that her high school had told her to dye her naturally brown hair black or face expulsion.

Other cases have centered on bans on regulations requiring students to wear white underwear, in some cases enforced by teachers who pulled up female students’ bra straps or deliberately walked in on them while they changed for PE classes. In response to the controversies, the education ministry told local education authorities in 2021 to regularly review their regulations and to adopt a “common sense” approach to “changing times”.

Last year almost 200 public high schools and other educational institutions in Tokyo said they would drop five regulations, including one requiring students to have black hair, although some said they would continue to demand that students show proof that their hair was naturally curly or a color other than black.

This year, a public high school in western Japan said it would introduce gender-neutral school rules from April, including allowing boys to grow ponytails, local media reported. Education authorities in Fukuoka in the country’s south-west said it would end requirements for gender-specific hairstyles at dozens of junior high schools in the prefecture.

The Guardian

Posted by on Apr 13 2023. Filed under Artcultainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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