Japanese School Regulations: What Is The “Correct” Hair?

By Leslie Lee | Translated by Ayşe Haruka Açıkbaş

After a student was forced to dye her hair black to comply with school years, she sued Osaka Prefecture and won. However, the court maintains that the school regulations are not illegal. Voice Up Japan talks to Beverly Kiyomi Boyd about Japanese school regulations and its strict hair rules.

There is a common saying about Japan: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” While this platitude is often applied across all aspects of Japan, many schools across Japan have strict rules on students’ appearances, and those who disobey face dire consequences. One such case was a brown-haired student in Osaka, who was forced to dye her hair black when school officials at Prefectural Kaifukan High School demanded that her hair was black, after checking her roots. The student initially dyed her hair black, but stopped after the hair dye caused damage to her hair and teachers continued to retain that her hair wasn’t dark enough. After refusing to comply, her desk was removed from the school, she was excluded from the school trip, and eventually could not return to school due to emotional trauma.

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”

In 2017, when the student was 18, she sued Osaka Prefecture, alleging mental distress caused by the strict hair rules. Last month, discussions about future changes to school rules started when the local government had been ordered to pay her 330,000 yen in damages. The plaintiff originally sought 2.2 million yen in compensation. 

However, the court did not find the school regulations illegal, and the government stated that school regulations have a “legitimate educational purpose, since they are intended to restrict gaudy hairstyles and thereby direct students’ interests toward studies and sports and prevent them from committing delinquent acts.” (Asahi Shimbun). The plaintiff maintained that her hair roots are naturally brown, and it was an excessive action for the teachers to force her to blacken her hair.

School Regulations on Appearance

Across Asia, many schools have strict regulations on appearance, which not only includes hair, but also uniform, accessories, makeup, nails and others. Many schools maintain policies that ban dyed or permed hair, makeup, and nail polish. Voice Up Japan sat down with Beverly Kiyomi Boyd, who went to a public international high school in Hyogo Prefecture. At her school, there were many foreigner students, including mixed-race students, so she stated that the regulations at her school were “pretty flexible,” and teachers did not impose very strict regulations on appearance due to the diverse student body.

While Beverly was not personally affected by her school’s hair regulations, she stated in Japan, some people assume that she had curled her hair on purpose. They would ask, “Why don’t you straighten your hair like us?” She said that such school regulations that require black, straight hair makes those with naturally non-straight hair feel “alienated,” due to being born with different hair. The assumptions that everyone is born with straight hair is “correct,” and that those without straight hair are not “normal,” will lead to further alienation of students with non-straight hair. 

Beverly expresses that the strict regulations need to be changed in order to prevent wrong assumptions and discrimination. “If there wasn’t such a rule,” Beverly said, “people wouldn’t make such assumptions about us.”