Japan’s school system faces backlash for ponytail ban over fears the hairstyle could ‘sexually arouse’ men

The Japanese school system is filled with strict rules about what students can wear, from their socks to their hair.

But one rule is now drawing growing backlash for the reasoning behind it: Female students are forbidden from wearing their hair in ponytails because men might find the back of the neck arousing.

Former teacher Motoki Sugiyama takes a stand on Japan’s strict school rules, diving deep with VICE World News on the reasoning behind the strict regulations.

“They’re worried about boys looking at girls,” Sugiyama said. “I’ve always been critical of these rules, but because there’s such a lack of criticism and it’s become so normalized, students have no choice but to accept them.”

Students in Japan face a multitude of strict rules. Credit: Kirk Treakle/Alamy Stock Photo

Sugiyama taught at five different schools during his 11-year career in Shizuoka Prefecture, an area about 90 miles southwest of Tokyo.

All schools in this area have banned female students from wearing ponytails.

The ponytail ban is one of many rules known as buraku kōsoku or “black rules”.

These regulations have been commonplace in the Japanese education system since 1870, but were tightened in the 1970s and 80s in an effort to address school violence and bullying.

Some schools use the rules to prohibit non-traditional hairstyles like the undercut.

“If the two blocks [undercut] is OK, then some students might start saying mohawk should be OK,” Sugiyama said.

But now some people in the country are pushing back on tradition and calling on schools to drop outdated or sexist rules.

In 2017, a student in Osaka caused a stir when she sued her school for repeatedly pushing her to dye her dark hair black.

The hair is preferably black and smooth.  Credit: Photo Japan/Alamy Stock Photo
The hair is preferably black and straight. Credit: Photo Japan/Alamy Stock Photo

She sued for mental distress after the school continued to check her roots, removed her desk from her classroom and removed her name from the class board.

In the city of Fukuoka, research found in 2021 that 57 of 69 municipal high schools dictated the color of students’ underwear.

If students disobeyed the rule, they were required to remove their underwear and notify their parent or guardian.

Some schools, however, are abandoning the old draconian rules.

Hosoyamada High School in Kagoshima Prefecture changed its dress code following student complaints, a school spokesperson told Vice.

Ponytails and pigtails are still not allowed, but Hosoyamada Junior High has relaxed its stance on underwear, which can now be black, navy or gray.

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