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Patriarchal… Unnecessarily

At a time when the Russian invasion of Ukraine attracts the global attention, Japan has triggered a controversy by introducing a rule that is extremely conservative and reactionary by nature. The Japanese schools have banned ponytails among female students, claiming that this particular hairstyle sexually excites males!

In the second week of March 2022, public broadcaster NHK reported that nearly half of Tokyo high schools asked students, with wavy hair, to submit certificates, confirming that their hair was not artificially altered. In the traditional and highly patriarchal Japanese society, the school administrations have introduced absurd rules, time and again. In the past, the size of the socks, the colour of the undergarments and various other restrictions were imposed on school children. Many schools have strict rules about hair colour, accessories, make-up and uniforms, including the length of skirts for girls. This time, 79 of 177 high schools, run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, have asked the girls not to tie ponytails inside the schools. The School Administration has also asked the girls not to expose the nape of their necks, as it could sexually excite boys!

Former middle school teacher Motoki Sugiyama told VICE World News: “They are worried boys will look at girls, which is similar to the reasoning behind upholding a white-only underwear colour rule. The students are compelled to accept these norms because there is very little criticism against this.” He stressed: “I have always criticised these rules, but because there’s such a lack of criticism and it’s become so normalised, students have no choice, but to accept them.” Sugiyama continued: “Because if the two-block (undercut) is OK, then some students might start saying the mohawk should be OK. Many schools ignore notices that aren’t legally binding or that don’t have penalties.

As per a survey carried out in 2020, one out of 10 schools in the southern prefecture of Fukuoka had banned ponytails three years ago. Surprisingly, the bob hairstyle is allowed in Japan, although it reveals about as much of the neck as a ponytail does. However, an undercut is strictly prohibited. Also, the School Administration does not allow female students to dye their hair. In case their hair is not black or straight, the students have to prove that it is the natural colour, or style of their hair.

Schoolgirls in Japan

Asao Naito, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Meiji University, is of the opinion that these rules may vary from school to school, and across the generations. However, these rules are aimed at ensuring that no one stands out from the crowd.

The strict (read harsh) regulations, popularly known as buraku kōsoku (black rules) have their roots dating back to the 1870s when the Government of Japan had established increasingly restrictive system of education for the first time in order to reduce bullying and violence in schools.

It may be noted that similar absurd rules have also been imposed on students in neighbouring North Korea by its leader Kim Jong-un. The North Korean leader has imposed a ban on so-called non-socialist hairstyles, like the spike and mullet, along with dyed hair. As per the new law, North Korean men and women can only keep one of the 215 authorised hairstyles.

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