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Hi Blog. We are still hearing about Japan’s overzealous enforcers of Japan school rules, particularly when it comes to hairstyles, in what Debito.org has long called the “Hair Police“. This phenomenon particularly affects NJ and Japanese of diverse backgrounds, who are forced by officials to dye and/or straighten their naturally “Non-Asian” hair just to attend school and get a compulsory education.
Bullying is rife in Japanese education, but when it’s ignored (or even perpetuated) by officialdom, this feeling of powerlessness will leave children (particularly those NJ children targeted for “standing out“) and their families scarred for life. (As discussed at length in book “Embedded Racism“, pg. 154-5.)
It’s happened in Yamanashi to Debito.org Submitter Senaiho, who after many months of fruitless investigation has lodged a formal criminal complaint against his daughter’s school officials. Read on for his report. This issue has appeared in about 45 articles in Japanese media. Here’s hoping this blog entry helps attract attention from the English-language media too. Dr. Debito Arudou
December 17, 2018
By Y&D Senaiho
Everyone’s child is unique, at least most parents think and rightly so. All children are all unique in their own way. We felt no different when our fourth child was born. A beautiful baby girl who took the most honored place among three older brothers and we were constantly filled with joy as we watched her grow into a young woman. Little did we suspect after putting three boys through the difficult early-teen years of middle school in Japan, what we were going to experience when our little bundle of joy began her middle school enterprise.
Her first year of middle school began pretty much as her elementary school years in the Japanese public educational system finished, she would wake up every day more or less eager and looking forward to the days activities of classes, meals, meeting and playing with friends, and she would come home in the late afternoon bubbling with stories of the days events and happenings. We began to notice a dramatic change when she was no longer looking forward to going to school, or would leave reluctantly with a dire look on her face. Inquires about what was wrong only got short answers: “Nothing” or ominous silence.
We finally discovered the reason for her distress from her home room teacher. The cause was that she was being teased by a group of female classmates on account of her “Gaijin smell” or what we later came to know as “body odor”. I put it down to active hormones caused by puberty. Being the child of an Asian and western marriage, there was the scientific fact that she most likely has a larger than average (for Japan) number of sweat glands that secrete the proteins that causes body odor. No big deal, I thought, nothing a little deodorant would t fix, right! How naive I was.
We requested and got a C.A.R.E. package from my mother in the US in short order, filled with a wide assortment of feminine deodorants and fresheners. Along with these, daily baths, regular changes of underwear, and any other regimen we could think of, we tried. I have to say I never noticed any remarkable body odor in her presence, just the usual teen aroma that wasn’t any more or less fragrant than some of the odors I have noticed while teaching large groups of university pupils, and early adults. Our efforts were apparently not sufficient enough to relieve the offense of those in her class who were so nauseated. The teasing and complaints apparently continued for several months and into my daughter’s second year of middle school. She became less and less careful about things in general, and began showing signs of depression. Professional counseling seemed to help a little, but didn’t alleviate the root cause; Bullying for being a smelly half-gaijin!
Things seemed to have gotten out of control about the middle of the first semester of her second year, in order to try to reduce the teasing, her teacher decided that she needed to have her hair cut. We made an attempt in the evening of that day’s request by the teacher, but the next day on arriving to school my daughter’s haircut was deemed insufficient. The teachers decided to take matters into their own hands and decided to cut her hair in full view of other students and without our consent or even contacting us to ask permission.
That evening our daughter came home so traumatized that all I can say is that she has not been to school since that event. It was hard for me to understand how having ones hair cut could be so traumatic, but combined with all the other harassment that had been going on up till that point, it seemed to be the last straw. This was when the big cultural divide between the Japanese school system and my upbringing in the American school system came into full raging view. I vividly remember being in the third grade of elementary school and for some reason one day decided I wasn’t going to go to school anymore. My mother who happened to be an elementary school teacher herself, told me about the wonderful Truant Officer who would pay us a visit and force me to go to school. “He might even put your father and me in jail if you don’t go to school” she said. I decided I really didn’t want to see my parents go to jail; it would affect meals, Christmas presents and so on, I reasoned thankfully. The next day I reluctantly announced that for the good of all I will agree to return to school. I expected the same outcome with my daughters truancy. How could anybody just refuse to go to school? ‘This will not continue’ I remember thinking, after all it is “compulsory education” right? How wrong I was.
When my daughter’s absence went from a few days to several weeks I became alarmed. I got quite an education on where the burden of an education lies within Japanese society. Suffice it to say that it seems the entire burden is on the legal guardians of the child as to what constitutes an acceptable educational environment as far as the school system is concerned. On the other hand there are all kinds of educational laws on the books as to what and how the school system in obligated to make a safe and acceptable learning environment, especially with regard to compulsory education up through middle school. Cutting a child’s hair is not acceptable, as is allowing an environment of bullying and/or harassment, physical or mental. We spent the next year and six months trying to get the school to accept the responsibility for the trauma my daughter has suffered and to make a safe environment for her to return to her studies. All to no avail. Not only would they not even consider our issues, they branded us “Monster Parents” and tried to ignore that they had any responsibility whatsoever. However according to Guidebook of School Dispute Resolution by Kamiuchi Satoru, pg 216-217, The legal responsibilities of compulsory education in Japan are:
There shall be:
1. No provision of reasonable consideration based on developmental disability support law, disability discrimination prevention law
2. No response to bullying, contrary to the ordinance such as bullying prevention measure promotion law, Yamanashi city bullying countermeasure contact council, etc.
3. No School accident judgment incompatible and not pursuant to the “Ministry of Education, Culture, Administration” guidelines on response to school accidents.
What this legalese means in real life, is that the onus is legally completely on the school to make it safe and secure for every student to attend, including making any accommodations for special needs like attention deficit disorder, special training, or bullying awareness, really anything that would hinder any student from being able to participate in their education. In actuality, at least as far as the school system in our part of Yamanashi is concerned, they are still operating according to pre-Meiji era standards of education. According to Sakata Takashi (School Legal Mind: p. 3) This system assumed that the parents, neighborhood, and school would work together informally to solve any disputes. In fact, what has happened is that Japanese society has changed, within the past couple decades or so, so quickly and completely that Japanese compulsory education has failed to catch up. In fact modern Japan with the collapse of the economic bubble and dramatic decline in the number of child bearing couples finds itself at odds with an educational system stuck in the past. Parents are bucking heads with school officials demanding more and better legal responsibility and dispute formal resolution on the part of the schools their children attend.
For the parents of children born and/or being raised in Japan, who come into educational issues with school officials, this will require a willingness to choose a more legalistic route in settling disputes with school officials and even on occasion, parents of classmates. Changes come to all eventually, even Japanese education.
Satoru Kamiuchi, “Guidebook Of School Dispute Resolution” (Nihon Kajo Publishing, 2016) 216-217.
Takashi Sato, “School Legal Mind,” (Gakuji Publishing 2015) Introduction.
Update January 9, 2019
Since writing this article in the spring of last year, there have been several developments in our case. At the end of 2017, we submitted a petition to the Yamanashi board of education requesting they do an investigation into the bullying, and reasons for the trauma experienced by our daughter. As a result of this experience she has been absent for almost the entire last two years of her middle school education.
Over the course of 2017 with the help of our local Ombudsman, we managed to collect over 1500 signatures requesting that the school board do an internal investigation into the causes and responsibilities of the incidents regarding our daughter. The school board agreed to do an investigation. At the end of 2018 after reports of monthly meetings of the school board (in which we were not allowed to participate), we were informed that the results of this investigation completely exonerated the teachers and any public officials of any misdeeds or responsibility regarding the treatment of our daughter. It was all our fault as incompetent parents that our daughter was bullied and suffered such trauma that she was not able to attend school. Shame on us. We have requested to see a copy of this report, but have been informed that will not be allowed. The reason given is that it contains the names of private individuals involved whose privacy must be protected. Bullspit! We tried to be civil and it got us nowhere.
As of January 8, 2019, we have filed with the Yamanashi Pref. Police a criminal complaint naming the school principal and three teachers as defendants. Later that afternoon we also held a press conference. As of this writing articles regarding our case have appeared in several newspapers across the country. Since it is still early in the criminal case, I am sure there will be many developments over the next several weeks and months. I will strive to keep you informed as these occur. — Y&D Senaiho
(January 8, 2019, Yamanashi Nichi Nichi Shinbun. Click on image to expand in browser.)
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34 comments on “Senaiho on criminal complaint against Jr High School “Hair Police” in Yamanashi”
That is hard reading. If someone cut my granddaughter’s hair without permission in front of her classmates I’m not sure what I would do.
Hope your daughter finds peace and happiness.
Same actions – different country – different result:
“..A US teacher is facing criminal charges after footage showed her forcibly cutting a student’s hair during class while singing the national anthem….” *
This is so painful to read. That poor kid… I’d be so angry and at a loss as a parent.
One of the most important blog posts on here I feel. Thank you.
I stated that we filed a complaint with the Yamanashi Pref.police. While they are in the same building, we actually filed it with the Kofu city public prosecutors office. Sorry about the confusion.
well, aren’t you supposed to have a barber license to cut one’s hair in japan? how bout you file a separate case on this topic, try researching this. i mean, it’s not a bullying it’s an armed assault.
We filed a “criminal” complaint which by definition is assault. Unfortunately the bar is quite high for a chance at a conviction. The bullying will be addressed at a later date in civil court after the criminal and include my daughter’s former classmates.
Seems to me that the home room teacher was just victim blaming. The proper course of action would have been to pull the bullies aside and put them on notice from the get go. But rather than risk having several groups of bully’s parents get upset and become monster parents, the homeroom teacher sought (in typical Japanese problem solving style) the path of least (apparent) resistance; X number of bully’s V’s 1 child and all associated parents. Maybe the home room teacher thought that ‘gaijinness’ would give them the edge in justifying their laziness in carrying out their duty? Maybe the home room teacher was worried about standing up to the ‘100% Japanese’ kids and damaging their in-group status for the next two years, along with having to control the now resentful bullies?
Path of least resistance.
Or maybe the home room teacher is a racial bigot who doesn’t believe the bullies opinions and actions are wrong in any way?
It doesn’t really matter which, they should do their goddamn job properly.
Public shaming and humiliation? Yeah, that ought to solve the problem right? In true Japanese cultural fashion.
No wonder people don’t want to get married, don’t want to have kids. No wonder so many kids kill themselves. No wonder there’s so many unhappy, angry, mentally ill people about. But hey, ‘unique culture’ right? ‘We Japanese’ (insert some banal untruth about exceptionalism here) and they’ll gaman ANYTHING.
Stand by your family. Stand up for what’s right. You won’t go far wrong. Respect to you.
One of the most encouraging things I have heard.
This is so disturbing. I just couldn’t believe that school representatives and board committee are normalizing this kind of abuse. It sends a message like: “if you are foreign, bi-racial, or a child born to naturalized Japanese parents, you are a thug, you are a free-older, and you are a trouble-maker! You don’t deserve the same protection as other Japanese students because you are different. Your experience of pain is of no concern to us.”
Next step may be sending a letter of complaint to a mayor, a governor, and an education minister for neglect of duty by Kofu school board. Hope this will bring social justice for the daughter and her parents. This is unacceptable. Perpetrators of need to be put into public shame for the consequence of their wrong choice.
We did all that, wrote letters to everybody we could think of including local and federal politicians, nothing worked. That is why we had to resort to what we have done as of now.
You did the right thing by submitting that criminal assault complaint to the Kōfu city public prosecutors.
You might want to also contact Ms. Hitomi Horie: a politician who surprisingly went to bat for a Non-Japanese citizen by publicly criticizing the Nagasaki Board Of Education (due to the Nagasaki Board Of Education refusing to take proper action about the non-Japanese citizen’s complaint.)
Ms. Hitomi Horie’s office address and phone number are listed at the top of her political party’s official home page:
Perhaps going to meet this honorable Ms. Hitomi Horie in Nagasaki might lead to her introducing you to a similarly honorable person in Kōfu who might go to bat for you.
I can’t see the connection between the two incidents.. Apples and oranges.
Student forcibly haircut by teacher at school vs. ALT forcibly touched by ALT in his apartment: nobody is implying those two very different incidents “are the same.”
The point being made is: it’s VERY rare to find a politician / city council leader in Japan who has the courage to strongly publicly (as clearly shown in that youtube link) criticize the head of a Board Of Education for ignoring a criminal complaint, and it’s even RARER to find someone in Japan who will do that when the victim happens to be a Non-Japanese citizen. So this Ms. Horie is an extremely rare positive find.
Perhaps (as you seem to be implying, Scipio) Ms. Horie’s reply to Senaiho MIGHT be along the lines of: “The Board Of Education ignored the criminal complaint made by a woman who got sexually assaulted by an ALT in the apartment of another ALT, I care about that, but I don’t care about a Board Of Education ignoring the criminal complaint of a girl who got haircut assaulted by a teacher.”
Yes Scipio, there of course exists the CHANCE that Ms. Horie might respond negatively like that, namely: “That’s apples and oranges, that’s totally different, I only care about the BOE ignoring sexual assault against women, I don’t care about the BOE ignoring haircut assault against children, besides I only care about what happens in my district in Nagasaki.”
But, there also exists the CHANCE that Ms. Horie might respond more positively, for example: “The Boards Of Education are ignoring criminal complaints and this problem in general makes me justifiably very angry, I want to help you get justice Senaiho, I’m going to immediately contact some of my rare like-minded justice-seeking political friends in the Kōfu area who are also fed up with various past bad decisions made by the Kōfu Board Of Education, my contacts might do for you exactly what I did here recently, namely: strongly publicly criticizing both the Board of Education and the Public Prosecutor for ignoring a valid criminal complaint.”
Either reply is possible, so it wouldn’t hurt to try to contact her.
Instead of simply posting “that’s apples and oranges”, how about contributing more positively: please find and post on this thread as quickly as possible a rare leader in Japan who has shown the courage to strongly publicly criticize the head of a Board of Education for ignoring the criminal complaint of a Non-Japanese citizen, because such a helpful post might actually increase the chance of Senaiho’s family seeing a tiny bit of justice.
If we can find just one leader in Japan to privately speak with (or if needed, to publicly speak about) the Kōfu public prosecutor, it might be enough to lead him towards making the right decision: PROSECUTING the Kōfu teacher who committed the assault and the Kōfu Board of Education members who ignored and covered up the assault.
1. As if some Japanese dont reek.
2. Quite a few Japanese kids I know no longer attend school due to bullying, in one case it led to drug dependence.
3. “We tried to be civil and it got us nowhere.” Its a waste of time in Japan. If it is a course of action that is compulsory, better to delegate to a Japanese friend of employee, and then minimize your involvement in the process. E.g. my claim of unpaid earnings from a former employer.
4. I am sorry to say I am amazed at your naivety about the Japanese school system (not blaming you). It is why I decided not to have children with a Japanese spouse and split up for that reason. As an individually minded person with a problem when “authoritah” (Cartman) is wrong, there was no way I was going to get my offspring be brainwashed or more likely, bullied as they fought conformist rules.
While we’re on the subject of hair police…
Osaka subway drivers win court case over right to grow beards
…and so everyone lives happily ever…oh…wait…
(Mayor of Osaka: “What’s up with this verdict?!” Appeal to be lodged in the lawsuit concerning prohibition on beards)
I suppose the silver lining to this story is that NJ and Japanese of diverse backgrounds can take comfort in knowing that they’re not alone — Wajin are subject to the hair police too.
I feel for your family Y&D Senaiho. If there is anything we can do please ask.
There was a similar case here in Osaka of a girl suing her school for being required to continually dye her hair. Byut I haven’t heard any further news of the issue so I don’t know whether the matter has been heard yet or not.
Best of luck to you!
A family sued the BOE here in Miyagi while I was working there for the same thing and won, resulting in a change in the BOE policy.
Thank you. My hope in submitting our story to Debito was to bring some pressure from the outside world onto the situation here. I am sure everyone who reads this blog is aware that change almost never comes from within Japan, almost always from outside. While I am aware that bullying and racism is not “news” in Japan, the blatant disregard for legal statutes by public officials who are charged with upholding them, is unique I feel. Also in most of the cases I know of, parents choose the path of least resistance. They change schools, areas of residence, even leave Japan for better educational opportunities. We chose not to do this but have instead decided to stand our ground and fight for our rights. If this is newsworthy, it is a sad reflection on Japanese society.
If anyone would like to assist, we hope to make awareness in the English media not so the worldl will bash Japan, but in the hope that it will bring pressure on officials in this country that likes to think of itself as civilized, but often isn’t.
Japan society has to ask itself whether perverting nature in order to achieve the goal of unrealistic physical conformity is worth ruining even one child’s life.
If your answer is “yes”, then you do not belong to humanity and you certainly have no right to be calling yourself a ‘teacher’.
A Borg teacher, perhaps? You will be assimilated!
Wrote a blog post about this: https://www.retirejapan.com/blog/problems-in-japanese-schools/
— I saw that. Well done. Thanks for sharing. Pleased to see that Debito.org has been helpful in igniting a discussion about this very important topic.
I just read your blog post.
The ‘Serious Bullying Incident’ is terrifying, not only in the sense that the bullies exhibited some disturbing violent behavior, but more so because the school appears to have conspired with the bullies to intimidate you into not taking action to protect your daughter, by unprofessionally giving your address out whilst protecting the bullies.
Yeah, I was very disappointed with the school leadership. It was pretty clear that the school reputation and student academic achievement were priorities.
This is shocking:
“..Japanese teacher punches high school boy in face; social media on his side…”
I think these ‘what social media thinks’ articles have very little substance to them: they just grab some Twitter screenshots and make up a story.
— I would agree. Don’t fall for lazy reporting. Let’s see if we can’t let Debito.org Readers know about better-sourced articles.
Update February 3, 2019
We received word from our Ombudsman that the report I referred to in the previous update (that we were not allowed to see) that the Yamanashi city office decided and ruled that it was illegal to keep this report redacted and sealed and that it will be made open and I assume available to us. This is important because it verifies that the investigation was flawed and biased against us, at least we think that is what it will show. Anyway we have been fighting for transparency from the beginning so that we know what the officials and others are doing and who is doing it. We assume this development occurred because of the criminal complaint filing. A small victory for light into the dark corners of Japanese bureaucracy!
Here is the link to the notice from the Yamanashi city hall to our Ombudsman.
Great first victory Senaiho! I hope it continues in this vein!
Congratulations on that successful small step Senaiho, and we hope it helps lead to greater victories towards justice for your family.
By the way everyone, please note that posting any long link will cause one’s message to become partially unreadable (namely: the right side of one’s message will become cut off) so before posting a long link one might want to shorten it by using a “url shortener” site, for example: tinyurl.com 🙂
Here is a translation of an article that appeared in the 2/6/19 edition of the Yamanashi nichi nichi shinbun.
The third party investigation committee was ordered to reveal the names of the committee. In the Eastern area of Yamanashi-Futtouko-truancy or absence from school. The review board ordered the disclosure of the administrative documents from the board of education report.
East Yamanashi area middle school concerning the hair cutting and futoko female middle school student. By Feb 5th, The board of education should reveal the members of the investigation committee ‘s identities. The directive was issued on the 30th of January. In June the supporting Ombudsman requested that the board of education open the list the names of the investigation committee. The board of education argued that if the identities of the committee were made public they would become subject to outside influence, so they kept them secret. The Ombudsman filed a counter claim. The third party investigation stated that if the identities of the investigation committee were made public, the investigation committee would probably not be able to operate in a calm manner, but this was ruled a small possibility. The third party investigation committee requested that the identities of the board of education investigation committee should be made public. The head of the board of education received the report and responded “the report has been received, it will be studied and appropriate action taken.” The parents of the female student filed a criminal complaint on Jan 8 on three teachers and the school principal.
In another related case in Hoku city, Yamanashi pref. in Nov of 2017, the third party investigation committee ruled in the case that the parents of the bullied student would be able to know the identities of the investigation committee. In this case only the parents would have knowledge of the identities.
End of Article
I can add that we went to the city office on 2/4 to claim the documents. and all we got was a mealy mouthed bureaucrat who didn’t know where the documents were and said he had to have a meeting to discuss it with his superiors, blah, blah, blah. He gave us forms to fill out. We recorded everything.
How utterly dreadful! I am so sorry to hear that your daughter has gone through such an ordeal! I must admit that my husband and I are considering moving our family (we have two children, 10 and 5) to Japan but I am really worried about the schooling system. We come from a private school background in the UK (we had a terrible time with a state run school for our daughter so we felt that private was our only way forward) and I’m really worried that our children just won’t adjust to life in Japanese schools.
I really do hope that you get some justice and closure for you and your family and I also hope that your daughter recovers from her awful experiences.
Japan can be a fun and interesting place to live, but things would have to be pretty bad at your own schools to have to start thinking about putting your 5 and 10 y/o kids through the Japanese schooling system. Do they look Japanese and speak Japanese? What is the motivation for bringing them to Japan?
Bringing your 5 and 10 yo children to Japan is NOT a good idea. It’s not even a good idea for you or your husband. It’s hopeful that you found debito.org, but please read more than the the first page of a Google search on living in Japan before you make a big mistake.