National | Regional Voices: Kyushu

Students and teachers have mixed views on Japanese schools' strict dress and hair codes

Nishinippon Shimbun

Many high schools often have regulations on student attire and hairstyles. But in some cases, students as well as teachers are skeptical about the rigorous rules and their strict enforcement.

Proponents argue that such rules are necessary to maintain discipline. But what also lies behind the strict guidelines are concerns that sloppy student behavior would tarnish a school’s public image.

Regulations vary among schools with some being more detailed than others, regulating such things as the color of socks that are permissible and the length of skirts female students can wear (knee length or longer, for instance). As for hair, some ban bleaching or wavy and curly styles done at salons.

“School regulations are minimum rules that we, as an educational institution, want students to abide by,” said a former principal of a private high school in Fukuoka Prefecture.

The former principal emphasized that high schools are a place for students to learn, not a place to play around, adding that there would be chaos without a certain amount of discipline.

Student behavior also affects the public image of the school, the former principal said.

“Even if schools have a high level of after-school activities, English language classes and information and communications technology programs, they will only be praised if students behave respectably,” said the former principal. “That’s why schools place weight on how they dress and wear their hair. In the end, it will be for the sake of the students.”

Another teacher in his 30s who works at a Fukuoka Prefecture-run high school agrees that rules benefit the students.

“When many students were coming to school dressed in an irregular manner, they performed poorly” in getting into a university or landing a job after graduation, he said.

When Nishinippon Shimbun conducted a survey on hairstyle regulations on 95 prefecture-run high schools in Fukuoka Prefecture, many said the rules were instituted so they “wouldn’t negatively affect” a student’s chance of being accepted into a university or in a job hunt.

Regulations vary by school. High schools with technical, commercial and other specialty courses, in which many seek a job after graduation, tend to have stricter regulations compared to other high schools where more students aim for higher education.

Some of the rules implemented at the schools with special courses include mandating the type and color of shoes and socks to wear, how students should wear their hair, and banning smoking or being around smokers.

One high school in the city of Fukuoka, well known for its high academic scores, doesn’t have school regulations, saying it simply asks students to dress properly.

“School is a place where students learn to act proactively and be responsible for their actions,” said one of the school’s teachers.

“We need to make sure students have a sense of social norms and discipline,” said another teacher at the school.

A vice principal of a commercial high school, where company recruiters often come to look for potential hires, says they need to make sure students have the skills and character recruiters are looking for so they can land a job after graduation.

When a student is found to have bleached his or her hair in violation of its rules, the school makes sure the student dyes it back to black, the vice principal said.

School regulations became stricter in the 1970s amid a time when it was alleged there was increased student violence.

Since then, some schools have eased their regulations, including abolishing a rule obliging male students to shave their heads, after lawsuits were filed. But in recent years, some point out that rules have become more detailed and stricter.

A teacher in her 40s who works at a high school with special courses in Kagoshima Prefecture admits that regulations help teachers take the same approach in supervising students.

She also recalled a school staff meeting in which members called for more detailed regulations, including the appropriate shape and color of belts to be allowed and how long they can wear their bangs.

“At that point, there is no way teachers can say that regulations should be eased,” she said. “There is massive pressure to follow suit.”

But the disciplinary approach takes a toll on students.

In an online post, a Fukuoka Prefecture woman in her 40s shared her discontent over a hair inspection at a public school her son used to attend in the prefecture.

One of the teachers told her son to get a haircut. He failed in the subsequent inspection because his hair on the side was still too long. He failed the third time because his bangs were too long and another one for wearing his hair too long in the back.

Frustrated, the mother asked how short the hair should be, only to be told to have a proper haircut.

He finally passed after he practically shaved his head.

“He had to go get a haircut four times” to pass, she said. “The hair inspection criteria seemed to vary teacher by teacher.”

The student later entered a university but eventually dropped out and stayed at home, claiming he can’t trust adults anymore.

This kind of oppressive approach is not limited to high schools.

A male teacher in his 30s who works in a junior high school in Fukuoka Prefecture recalled a case at a school where he used to work. At the school, teachers would provoke them to attack in order to manhandle them and hold them down.

“Many staffers just followed what veteran teachers told them to do,” the teacher said. “But using force would only lead students to rebel and hurt them emotionally.”

An online survey by consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Japan K.K. showed that about 70 percent of junior high school and high school teachers were skeptical of their schools’ regulations on hairstyles.

The survey, conducted in February on 600 junior high and high school students and 400 teachers, also showed that 87 percent of them believe that rules should be revised in line with the times.

In their replies, 69 percent of the students said they should be allowed to wear their hair as they liked. Only 9 percent of the students had asked teachers why they have rules on hairstyles.

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishi-nippon Shimbun, the largest newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published on April 22 and April 29.

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