Changes to Japanese school uniforms are coming – Quartz

The new school year is going to be different in Tokyo, as school uniforms are undergoing a significant and symbolic change for the first time in decades.

From April 1, nearly 200 public schools in the Japanese capital will abolish regulations that dictated the color of students’ underwear and the type of haircuts they are allowed to get. The Tokyo School Board made the updates after a recent survey revealed that the majority of parents, students and teachers believe current school uniforms are outdated and impractical.

Several schools also changed their disciplinary methods and eliminated the practice of putting students under “house arrest” as a form of punishment.

Reuters/Issei Kato

Similarity vs self-expression

In one Press statementKaori Yamaguchi, a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Board of Education, said she hopes developments in school uniforms will inspire the public to question other outdated traditions in Japan. “Japanese people were brought up to believe it’s a virtue to just play by the rules,” she said. “I hope this will be an opportunity for people to discuss what we should be doing, to create a society where the rules are respected in a way that is convincing for everyone.

Tokyo is among several Japanese regions that are examining a school uniform pattern that dates back to the early 19th century. Several progressive high schools have adopted “gender neutral uniforms” allowing students to choose between pants and skirts. The schools of Mie Prefecture allow students to wear Uniqlo as a type of informal uniform.

The importance of black hair in Japan

The font of hairstyles, in particular, has become a contentious issue. Prior to this school year, male students in Tokyo were prohibited from obtaining a “Two K-Pop Style Blocks” cut. In 2020, a politician challenged the education body’s reasoning this prohibit undercuts aimed to protect students from “being involved in incidents or having accidents”.

Another rule requiring students to use chemicals to achieve a straight jet black mane has been challenged in court. A high school student won a case against the Osaka school system for health issues resulting from having to periodically dye their hair in accordance with school standards. Manure atama (pudding head) – the state where its natural roots begin to show – was forbidden.

Critics say the obsession with black hair is based on a past fantasy about the Japanese image. Jet black hair, or kurokamievokes an idealized Japanese woman equated with submission, order and cleanliness, as language researcher Mami Suzuki explains in the culture blog Tofugu.

The Family Mart convenience store chain banned employees with naturally black hair from altering their color. When he retired from politics in 2018 in deference to foreign workers, the retailer learned that some customers perceived dark hair as “friendly” and light hair was seen as “dirty.” In 2019, Pantene launched a #HairWeGo Campaign explore facets of the restrictive Japanese norm. The campaign resulted in a petition calling on schools to abolish restrictions on hair color.

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