REPORT: Immigrant children and Japan’s Hair Police


Hello Blog. Just got back last night from speaking at a corporate human-rights retreat for the Mitsubishi keiretsu (more on that in a separate posting). Also from a fact-finding mission in the backwoods of Shizuoka, where internationalization is continuing so apace, the education system cannot keep up. That’s the subject of this report:



By Arudou Debito (,
May 22, 2007

(NB: This has become the subject of a Japan Times article: “SCHOOLS SINGLE OUT FOREIGN ROOTS: International kids suffer under archaic rules” (July 17, 2007), available at

INTRODUCTION: During one of my recent speech tours, I was told by a Nikkei Brazilian student (I will call her Maria) that her sister (call her Nicola) had been victimized by a Japanese high school’s rules. According to Maria, Nicola had been forced by her school to dye her hair weekly because it was not as dark as her peers’. Maria said she herself escaped the Hair Police (she looks more phenotypically “Japanese” than her sister), but Nicola was subjected to periodical and frequent hair root checks. Nicola was then told to darken and even straighten it. Although graduated from the high school, Nicola still has not only mental trauma from the ordeal, but also damaged hair which to this day has not recovered. This was narrated to me as an example of how Japan’s cookie-cutter educational rules are doing a disservice to Japan’s imminent internationalization.


BACKGROUND: After Japan opened the floodgates to cheap foreign labor under its “Trainee” and “Researcher” Visa programs in 1990 (more on these programs blogged at, the number of South Americans, Filipina, and Chinese etc. have rocketed; Brazilian residents of Japan now stand at more than 300,000, the third-largest foreign minority in Japan. Many are working for less than half regular wages and with no social benefits (such as pension or unemployment insurance, and in some cases, health insurance) under the conditions of their visa. They have kept Japan’s domestic industries domestic and competitive (Toyota, for example, has become the world’s number two automaker due to foreign labor (

They have also suffered the indignity of their children not having guaranteed access to education. According to the Asahi Shinbun of Feb 12, 2007 (, between “20 and 40%” of all Brazilian children in Japan are not attending school. Japanese schools are even turning away foreign children because, they claim (legally correctly) that “only citizens are guaranteed an education in Japan”. Meanwhile, according to the Yomiuri Shinbun evening edition of May 21, 2007 (, 20,000 NJ students in Japanese schools are not sufficiently capable in the Japanese language to follow classes. There are no clear remedial measures being taken by the national government; some local governments and NGOs are trying to fill in the gap, see, and there are some fledgling ethnic schools, but they are underfunded, expensive to many at these wages, and ministerially unaccredited (which means graduates cannot enter many Japanese universities).

Thus the biggest losers in this dreadful state of affairs are the immigrant children, some of whom are growing up uneducated, illiterate in any language, and sentenced to become an economic underclass (and members of youth gangs; I anticipate more NPA fingers being pointed at NJ youth for causing crime, of course). Thus as Newsweek Japan headlines in its Sept 13, 2006 issue ( English version “Japan is still shutting its eyes regarding its dependence on immigration”.

Even those who beat the odds and stay in school have to suffer the indignities of what is tantamount to officially-sanctioned ijime: Being pointed out for their differences assigned from birth, and told to somehow “correct” them, for the sake of rules that refuse either to acknowledge or to update themselves to a changing state of affairs.

We now turn this report to finding out what was on the mind of Maria and Nicola’s high school, and why they received different treatment just because one looked more like one of her parents…


May 22, 2007, 1PM
Address: Shizuoka ken Ohmaezaki shi Ikeshinden 2907-1,

Getting to Ikeshinden was neither quick nor cheap. A 40-minute bus ride from the nearest JR station (Kikugawa), it took me six hours round trip (and more than 10,000 yen) from my speech venue and back. The area boasts many tea and farm factories, not to mention chemical, biochemical, filtration and even fishing rod factories attracting cheap labor. Still, Ikeshinden could be any generic town in Japan, not clearly full of NJ residents, save for the occasional Brazilian restaurant, liquor store, or person with South American features on public transport.

I made an appointment at Ikeshinden the day before with a Mr Okada, a middle-aged man with the energy and drive of high school teachers worldwide. I was directed to him because he is in charge of what I will affectionately call the Hair Police–a group of teachers (who rotate this duty every few years) who go around checking the neatness and appearance of Ikeshinden’s students. Okada had been working here for six years and through two HS principals (every single one of them honored in black-and-white photos mounted respectfully on the wall on cushioned tasseled pillows; they glowered down on us in the conference room we talked in), and was very helpful in explaining what is behind these kinds of systems.

Okada: “We have the kids follow the rules as listed in the Seito Techou (Students’ Guidebook) 2007.” He cited the rules regarding hair and allowed me to transcribe them:

–will not perm, straighten, dye, bleach etc their hair.
…are not allowed to have extreme (kyokutan) hairstyles, or shave their temples etc.
…will not let their hair fall over their eyes (and will not let their hair grow down to their collars).
They will have a refreshing style as befits a high school student. (koukousei rashiku sawayaka ni suru)

–will not perm, straighten, dye, bleach, or add extensions etc to their hair.
…will not let their hair fall over their eyes
Girls with long hair will pin it back in a way that does not interfere with classroom instruction.

I noted that some directives were a bit vague. (Then again, I thought, if rules got instead too specific, it would feel militaristic…) Who was the final arbiter in case there was some, pardon the pun, grey area? Okada said that for the time being, he was entrusted with that duty.

I asked about the mindset behind enforcing these kinds of rules.

Okada: “It’s important to get the students to understand the importance of following rules in society (kihan ishiki).” He also noted that it was important that students look proper for job and college interviews, as the school’s reputation was on the line. “It’s also important for students to stop thinking selfishly, and have an awareness of society (shakai ishiki).”

That’s when I raised the question about who these rules are for. If the student wants to control his or her own image, that is their business, no? The rules seemed more for the school’s benefit than the students.

Okada: “Probably. But about a decade ago, our rules were much looser and our school was one of the worst in the area. So our principal tightened them up, and now our reputation has gotten much better. It’s still tight to this day.”

I asked how many NJ students they had. “Nineteen, mostly Brazilian. Some Phiippine, Chinese, and Peruvian too.”

So then I raised the issue of Nicola (whose name and nationality I did not mention), and how she still felt traumatized by the enforcement of these rules. “Her sister said that she was forced to change her natural hair color and style regardless. Isn’t this unaccommodating?”

He said that in his six years of teaching there he had never heard of someone having to dye their natural hair color to black. Or straighten. In fact, he noted, straightening hair was specifically against the rule book. “We might have some people whose hair lightens due to exposure to the sun during sports, but even then we don’t tell them to dye it back. The fundamental rule is: ‘Don’t mess with your hair.'”

I then asked how they determined whether someone’s hair was in fact “natural” or not, and how they conducted the follicular search.

Okada: “It starts from the first week of school. We check everyone in assembly and see if they have any attributes which run foul of the rule book. If so, they are called in later as a group and searched more closely.”

You mean you look for black roots?

“We can usually tell if they’ve done something to their hair. People who curl or otherwise fiddle with their hair end up lightening it. Hair which differs from root to shoot is suspect.”

But look at my hair. I have dark brown roots but light tips. Would I be suspect?

“You would be called in for a closer look. It’s pretty clear–you can see a straight line between old dye and fresh growth in a hair.” He then explained in quite exact detail how the inspection goes. My barber would applaud. “But if it’s declared natural, we leave it as is, of course.”

So what happens if somebody is rumbled with fake coloration?

“We tell them to get their hair dyed back to black in a week. If they don’t comply, we take further measures. We will check every week for a few weeks, and their homeroom teachers keep an eye on them in future.”

And what if they still refuse to comply? How far would you go? Suspension?

“Truth be told, it hasn’t come up. The students have always eventually complied.”

So I returned to Nicola’s case. She said that she wasn’t judged as natural and you know the rest. Could there be a flaw in the system?

“I’ve never seen anyone with natural hair color being forced to dye it. I can’t say more without knowing the specific individual case.”

That was where Nicola’s issue ended. Since it is my wont, I concluded with advice:

“Okada-sensei, I understand the need for uniforms and order in schools. However, uniforms does not necessarily mean uniformity, and uniforms and hair are different. You can change your clothes when you go home, it’s pretty easy. It’s not as much part of your identity. But having to change your hair, that goes much deeper. Require everyone, male or female, to shave their head and see if it doesn’t matter–to students, parents, and teachers alike. I bet nobody would agree to that.

“So let’s think about what these hair checks mean. I remember in my third-grade class in the US, we had a lice outbreak. So every morning our teachers gave all of us a lice check. I still remember how intrusive the procedure was, especially when my teacher actually plucked out one of my hairs, put it in an envelope, and had me wait outside the nurse’s office for an hour or so for her to get back and check it. False alarm–no vermin egg was found. But I still remember how traumatizing it was when I hadn’t actually done anything or had anything done to my hair.

“Same thing with your international students. Your rules still assume the ‘natural’, ‘normal’, default hair color is black. That’s not true in this world, and as Japan’s immigration increases, this is going to become even more apparent. As it stands, and as I believe happened in Nicola’s case, your system is open for abuse. And it led to someone getting hurt. As Japan’s schools are fast becoming the cutting edge of Japan’s internationalization, please be careful.”

He agreed, and that was where our conversation basically ended.


are inconclusive at this time. Until have direct photo evidence from Nicola (as in before entering Ikeshinden and during her education there) verifying a change in hair color, it’s a case of he-said, she said. I am grateful to the high school for opening their doors a bit and taking the time to explain their system, moreover lend an ear to my opinions. This is an issue that affects me personally since, as many readers know, my younger daughter is practically blonde. As she starts junior high soon, it’s very important to me that she not be similarly traumatized by banal officials following the rules without considering her feelings.

Chances are, probably few of these teachers were ever on the receiving end of this follicle search. It’s always very hard for the agent to understand the victim when he or she has never been a similar victim himself. By dropping by the school and making my case for a little less stricture, let’s hope it helps raise awareness of the needs of Japan’s future students.

Thanks to Maria and Nicola for their assistance.

This has become the subject of a Japan Times article: “SCHOOLS SINGLE OUT FOREIGN ROOTS: International kids suffer under archaic rules” (July 17, 2007), available at

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan,
May 22, 2007

17 comments on “REPORT: Immigrant children and Japan’s Hair Police


    It happens beyond HS. My daughter, now 22 and recently graduated from
    university, decided she wanted to get certified as a clinical nutritionist
    and is now at a senmongako in Fukuoka-shi specialized in hospital services.
    Her department is the only one of four at the school that requires students
    to wear uniforms (a little like HS ones), and as soon as orientation week
    was over, she and as few other young women were called into the department
    head’s office and told they had to dye their hair black. My daughter’s hair
    is a natural dark brown, not black, but she felt forced to dye it black to
    meet the moronic department head’s rule.

    I told her she shouldn’t, since her hair was its natural color, and that if
    the guy wanted to make a case of it we’d be happy to sue the bastard and his
    school, but her Japanese mind mode of not rocking the boat kicked in and she
    went along. She’s a lovely brunette, and I must let her know that continual
    dying will wreck her hair.


    Gene van Troyer

  • Hi Debito-san,

    Interesting, as always…

    Our four children vary in hair color, dark for our sons, reddish for our daughters. All four went to Japanese schools. The only one who ever had trouble regarding appearance was the youngest, who (without our permission) dyed his hair and was then told to dye it back…

    I was somehow under the impression that the schools had given up on this sort of thing. I see (but try not to look at) the teeny boppers at Chiba-eki, who seem to be straight out of trashy manga and wonder how they ever get away with it. I’m talking about school uniforms.

    Personally, I don’t care if kids have green hair, as long as they respect their fellow human beings and the heritage of civilized learning.

    Last night I heard a talk by Robert Eldridge of Osaka-dai about former PM Miyazawa, whom he has interviewed for many hours. Very interesting. Miyazawa is the grandson of a farmer who wanted his children to be educated, and so Miyazawa’s father wound up in the 法学部 of 東大, as, of course, did the son. But they were poor, even though his father was a politician…In those days, education was a remarkable equalizer. Today I wonder…It seems to be an unequalizer, with “education” overlords using it to increase their own power….


    Debito- just type in “hair coloring organ damage” or “hair coloring kidney
    damage”, and you get lots of bad shit that hair dye can cause.

    Some cut/pasted examples. Sorry, don’t have the time to organize all the
    info, but you get the idea that high schools should not be forcing
    unnecessary chemicals on children (especially).


    Increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma linked to hair dye
    WARNING: The prolonged use of hair dye, especially permanent black, brown
    and red, may be hazardous to your health. That’s the conclusion reached by
    Yale researchers in a study published on January 15 in the American Journal
    of Epidemiology. The scientists found that long-term users of hair-coloring
    products have an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a
    cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, part of the body’s immune system.
    “We found that people who used permanent dark hair dye for more than 25
    years and started before 1980 will have more than twice the risk compared to
    people who never used hair-dye products,” said Tongzhang Zheng, Sc.D.,
    associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health. Zheng said the
    study was prompted by an unexplained jump in the number of non-Hodgkin’s
    lymphoma cases in the last 40 years. In the early 1970s, there were about 10
    cases out of every 100,000 people in the United States. By 1990, that number
    had increased to 19 cases. Today it’s still increasing in the United States
    and around the world.

    The health risks of hair dye have been explored for years, but Zheng says
    previous studies have been contradictory and inconclusive. He and his
    research team conducted a six-year, case-controlled study of 601 Connecticut
    women between the ages of 21 and 84 diagnosed with varying subtypes of
    non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The women were asked about the type of hair coloring
    they used, the length of time they used the products and their age when they
    stopped. The study included a control group of 717 healthy women matched by
    race, age and other factors with the case group.

    Researchers found the highest risk among users of darker permanent dyes,
    rather than among those who used semipermanent or temporary dyes. Zheng says
    that’s because darker dyes may contain higher levels of chemicals, and
    permanent dyes use an oxidizing process that creates new, potentially
    harmful chemicals.

    The good news is that researchers didn’t find any increased risk of
    non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women who started using hair-coloring products
    after 1980. This could be because the contents of hair-dye formulas may have
    changed and become safer, or it could simply mean that not enough time has
    passed to evaluate the effects on this group. Zheng said further studies
    would have to be conducted to determine whether post-1980 hair dyes are
    indeed safer.

    Noting that hair color is directly related to image-“how people are
    perceived and how they perceive themselves,” Zheng said that the study
    results need to be duplicated in different populations. Meantime, users of
    hair dyes should consider the trade-offs and alternatives, such as
    semipermanent dyes.

    -Jennifer Kaylin

    Rauscher GH, Shore DS, Sandler DP. Hair dye use and risk of adult acute
    leukemia. Amer J Epidemiol 160:19-25, 2004


    A group of 200 people using hair dye were compared with controls. Eye
    changes were observed in 89% of the dye users, compared to only 23% of the
    controls. The degree of change was related to the length of time and the
    amount of dye used. Follow-up experimental studies in rats and rabbits
    demonstrated a definite cataract- producing effect of hair dye. (Annals of
    Ophthalmology 11(11)1681-1686, November 1979)

    Ammonium Persulfate
    Found in hair color and bleaching kit sensitizer – can instigate immune
    system response that can include itching, burning, scaling, hives, and
    blistering of skin, lung sensitizer – can instigate immune system response
    that can include asthma attacks or other problems with the lungs and

    Immune system toxin, respiratory toxicant, skin or sense organ toxicant,
    classified as toxic in one or more government assessments.

  • As a member of MIJ (Married in Japan with over 800 members) as well
    as AFWJ (Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese with over 600
    members) and after some 25 years in Japan I can say that I have
    never heard of a member’s children being forced to dye their hair
    black from their natural color. Of the people I personally know with
    blondish bi-racially children in the JR high and High school system
    none of them has been forced to do this, nor has it ever even been
    an issue. This goes as well for two of my children, both in HS now.
    Years ago a doctor’s certificate was required to substantiate a
    claim to naturally curly hair or light hair (this for was for
    your “pure” Japanese) . This requirement I do hear of occasionally,
    but not often. JR highs often also required boys to shave their
    heads, as you suggested, few do these days. I think Japan has come
    a long way in improving it’s conformity rules over the years.
    However, a Japanese friend’s daughter with extremely curly hair was
    permitted to straighten it so as to “fit in and look like her
    classmates” even though this goes against the “No perm” rule at her
    school. Conformity is the ideal, but it is not shoved down your
    throats as harshly as it once was.

    It is interesting, the way personality is connected so strongly with
    hair here. Just a few years ago you couldn’t get a decent job if you
    dyed your hair and any mother with dyed hair was regarded with
    suspicion. These days though it is rare to find a woman who doesn’t
    dye her hair. Doing so has become much more main stream and
    acceptable. It is also interesting that high level public high
    schools are often much freer on these issues. They have no uniforms
    and no hair or dress requirements, allow jewelry, make-up, mustaches
    and beards. If a kid is smart enough, it is thought that they have
    enough sense to decide their own appearance. I know of at 3 HS
    schools like that here in Saitama, there may be more. My son attends
    one. It is fun to go to school and see the permed, blond haired,
    body pierced kid applying to and getting into top universities.

    My gut feeling is that this case with Nicola is not common, and is
    not a big worry. I have doubts about it too. A visit from her
    parents for a straight talk with the principal assuring the school
    that the girl’s color was her true color should have put a stop to
    any request to dye it black. Did you ask the girl about the parent’s
    involvement in the whole affair?? You talk of your talk with her
    sister, but did you speak to Nicola?? Your entire argument seems
    based on hearsay and nothing the principal you interviewed said
    sounded unreasonable to me. Your “report” lacks basic fact finding
    and substantiation of those facts.

    There is without a doubt a number of issues which you site that need
    to be addressed in regard to the large influx of workers to Japan
    and their their cival rights and their children’s struggle to get a
    good education here. I think this one however is a non-issue.

    Madeleine, Saitama

  • I had a Japanese student who was naturally a dark brunette; one day she told me she would be dying it black for a job interview. Whether this came by request of the employer or her idea of what would be acceptable in this job, I’m not certain.

    This was the first time I heard of someone changing her appearance just for the sake of being superficially Japanese. I don’t even think she balked at or hated the idea, she just thought of it as being absolutely necessary to work under certain conditions.

  • sendaiben says:

    There was a fairly well-publicised case last year (a couple of years ago) in Miyagi Prefecture, where a student who was forced to dye her natural hair black sued the board of education and won several million yen in damages.

    I assume that this legal precedent is going to affect future decisions on this matter.





    School forced girl to change hair color
    The Japan Times Weekly April 16, 2005

    A 16-year-old girl with chestnut-colored hair filed a damages suit April 8, claiming she was forced to drop out of a Miyagi prefectural high school after a teacher sprayed her with a dye to make her hair black.

    In the suit filed with the Sendai District Court, she is demanding that the prefectural government pay her 5.5 million yen in compensation.

    After entering Zao High School in April last year, she was repeatedly told by the teacher to dye her hair black. The teacher sprayed her with dye in November and eventually suggested she should drop out, according to the complaint.

    The girl is scheduled to attend another high school this month, outside Miyagi Prefecture.

    Shoji Hidetoshi, the assistant principal of the high school, said, “We recognize that the teacher reacted excessively, but we didn’t force her to drop out.”

    The Japan Times Weekly: April 16, 2005

  • Hello Debito,

    Hajime mashite. My name is Junko, I am living in Aichi. I am an English teacher for kindergarden students, and a Japanese teacher for foreign students at an elementary school in Komaki. I read your report about “Japan’s hair police”, because my Brazilian friend sent me it. I’d like to write my opinion about your report.

    This problem (Japanese stupid hair rules in Japanese schools) is not only for Nikkei-brazilian or foreign students, also many, many Japanese students are facing this problem.

    (1) how to escape from this hair problem generally.
    If she (Nicola) went back to her junior high school or elementary school and get the proof that her hair is naturally “Curly hair” or “brown hair” from the teacher who was her teacher in charge and hand it to the high school, SHE COULD escape from the problem!!!!! If it is impossible for her to get the proof from her elementary school or junior high school, she could get it from a beauty parlor. To change her hair color or dye her hair is “School regulations violation” in the school rules, right? Why did teachers recommend her to break the school rules? She could point it to teachers!!!

    (2) to raise this problem to “Gakkyu Iinkai”(classroom meeting)
    If she could suggest her problem to Gakkyu iinkai and share her hair problem with her classmates, some classmates would start to speak, “I want to change my hair color or dye like Nicola, because she is allowed it by teachers, right? Why can’t I change my hair color like her?” If a movement is started by the class party or students’ parents, the school and teachers couldn’t ignore it.

    (3) how to escape from this hair problem irregularly.
    When my brother(Japanese) was a public high school student, his hair was “Blond(yellow)” by coloring for 3 years. Of course, he was breaking the school hair rules, but he never obeyed them because he knew how stupid these rules were and his blond hair was the proof of resistance to the school and teachers. Of course, he was always scolded by teachers and my mother was often called by school teachers and she was also scolded by the principal and teachers of school guidance in the principal room. But, my mother respected my brother’s will and she gave up to persuade him to change his hair dark or black at the same time. Of course, he was hated by school teachers, BUT he could enter an university that he wanted to enter and he had no problems about it and he is now a good business man, and he could have many, many good friends at the school, because his attitude was “cool” for other students. School regulations of schools do not have a legal tie power, so DON’T worry!!! Be strong and keep her will was important. I know many Brazilian students in Japan don’t have strong identity…it might be a problem too.

    Yes, I can guess how Nicola was damaged by it mentally…so sorry. My good friend faced to the same problem too when we were junior hight school students. She was Japanese, but her hair was very curly and many teachers said her to take a straight permanent to her hair for obeying the school rules. She had a proof that her hair was naturally curly from the elementary school teacher, so she could escape from it , but, so many times, every time of hair check day, she had to explain about her hair to Seikatsu shido sensei….that was so hard for her and as a result, she could not be proud of her hair and herself. She always said to me, “I envy your straight hair, Junko…..I hate my curly hair, because all teachers always say me that my hair is strange.” She was REALLY beautiful, kind, clever and pretty, but she was looked so sad always and couldn’t be proud of herself….she was also mentally damaged by the stupid hair rules in the school. So I always said to her, “NO!! Your hair is beautiful!!! And you are so pretty!! I envy your beautiful curly hair and I love it!! Be proud of yourself, be proud of your beautiful curly hair!!! You are beautiful and I LOVE you!!” If you can contact with her, you can cheer her up and give your power to make her strong.

    When I was a high school student, my school was also very strict about school rules and we had to accept “teachers’ hair check” once in a month. One time, my hair was a little bit longer than the school hair rule, so the checker teacher pointed it to me and he was going to cut my hair at the place by his scissors…in front of other teachers and many students!!

    So, I hit the teacher’s hand very hard and shouted to him, “Don’t touch my hair!! I don’t think my hair is longer than the hair rules!!!” I was really angry to him at that time and I showed him I was right!!!! Then, the checker teacher stopped to cut my hair and said to me, “………ok, you can go now.”

    In my case, I knew my hair was a bit longer than the school hair rules, but I persuaded him forcibly by my power.(LOL) So, I want to say all Brazilian students who are facing this problem, “Be strong and insist your rightness!! And never obey these kinds of stupid rules!!! And don’t be afraid to fight with the school and teachers!! School rules have no power outside of the school!!!”

    IKESHINDEN HIGH SCHOOL, OHMAEZAKI CITY…..ok, I will check it later. I hope I can help something for foreign students and Japanese students about this problem.

    Thank you,


  • Gene van Troyer says:

    The common belief among many Japanese–most especially those with a “waga nihonjin” mindset (a mindset in which the speaker believes that because he or she is Japanese and therefore can speak for all Japanese)–is that all Japanese uniformly have naturally black hair. This, of course, is not true. Japanese are sufficiently mixed racially that there are common occurrences of auburn, chestnut, and brown hair (not to mention hazel, green, and tawny eyes and, from time to time, blue eyes).

    My daughter mentioned above also ran into this problem when she was in Junior HS. A homeroom teacher was trying to force her to dye her hair black. When I pointed out that my daughter was born a brunette, he as much as called me a liar (not in those words, but that was the implication) because genetics dictated that she had to have been born with black hair because the gene for black hair is dominant. I asked him where he got his degree in genetics, whether he knew squat about dominant and recessive genes, and what the phenotypical characteristics of the Ryuukyuan people were and the geographic range the phenotype generally covered. He shut up and the subject never arose again.

    While I firmly believe that school regulations are necessary for our young people, and that they should be made to follow them, too many Japanese educators take it upon themselves to behave inflexibly and autocratically and leave no room for anything that does not conform to those educators’ narrow views. Especially in the case of non-Japanese or mixed race Japanese, educators should know without having to be told that there are distinctive and natural physical differences between people (even among pale-skinned Asians) with regard to hair color and eye color.

  • A Japanese female friend of mine who works for Disney in Japan naturally has slightly brownish hair and must dye it black to fit in with the Disney “all natural” grooming policy. Kind of ironic, I thought.

    But, just goes to show that this is not necessarily a race-related issue, stupid as the rule may be.

  • Marilyn Higgins says:

    This issue, and especially Junko’s response, reminded me of an incident that occured when my own blond, blue-eyed daughter was in elementary school in Yamaguchi some years ago.

    Generally things went well although she was obviously “outstanding” as a blond in a sea of dark-haired children. But when she was in 5th or 6th grade and teachers were starting prepare students for Jr. High, one teacher mentioned that she might have to dye her hair to fit in. My daughter simply pointed out that dying hair was against the school rules. It would also be against her human rights, she said. And, she pointed out, even if she did so, they would still have a hard time finding a way to recolor her light skin and blue eyes or change her personality if their idea was to make her the same as Japanese students, so they could just as well learn to see her as a different colored flower in their garden — and that was that. (I still envision the poor teachers probably standing their agape at this 11-year-old’s firm response.)

    She did so well at defending her human rights, that I was not even informed of the issue until later. I also learned that it led the teachers to a new path of thinking about the diversity of hair color even among Japanese students. I was very proud of my daughter, and very happy that we had educated our kids very early about human rights and the principle of unity in diversity as expressed in the Baha’i teachings.

    I think it is very important for teachers and parents of Japanese and non-Japanese children to teach them about their human rights early as a protection against tyranny of petty authoritarians they are bound to meet along the way. (Alas, such people exist in all cultures.) We should help children to embrace their universal identity as human beings first; nationality and culture, ethnicity, color of skin, hair, etc. should be viewed as secondary features of their being. When humanity is viewed as many-colored flowers in the same garden, diversity is to be appreciated rather than discounted.

    Of course, uniforms do have a practical and useful place in schools. Team-building and sense of belonging are definitely important especially in the middle years of childhood. But archaic, authoritarian policies based on “foolish consistency” (the “hobgoblin” of the “little minds” of those who think unity exists only in uniformity), should be viewed as silly, unnatural, and relegated to the dust bin of history.

    Anyway, the Brazilian girl can turn this lemon of an experience into lemonade by changing this victimization into a victory for the human spirit as she (and we) champion the rights of others who may face similar untenable situations.

    Keep up the good work,



  • Hi Debito & all,

    I find it offensive and a violation of personal freedoms that schools have hair codes of any kind. This may come from the fact that back in the 60s I was suspended for having hair deemed to be too long. The year after I graduated the rule was removed.

    What I find equally repulsive is watching my students who are off to do their practicum in junior highs schools being forced to dye their hair black and don all black business suits as thought they were attending a funeral. I believe it sends the incorrect message to students, but one that is at the core of the system in Japan; appearance is more important than reality. It makes me uneasy that al of the prospective teachers are in a virtual uniform and are not permitted to reveal their own personality through thier personal choices of clothes and hait style. It is all image and no substance once again.

  • Jonathan Knight says:

    Im Half Zainichi Korean and Half English. I speak English as a first language, Japanese as a second. When I was young, My mother wanted me to go to a Japanese Elementary School over the summer. However, As I have black hair from my korean side, I was not forced to endure the disgusting practise of hair-dyeing, but every lunchtime I was chased and kicked in the shins by what it seemed like the whole year group. The other Half Japanese Half “Gaijin” students were shunned, but not directly insulted or beaten like that. When I shouted a question as to why, the answer was “I was not true japanese”. My mother does not speak korean and is born in Japan, and the same goes for my grandmother. Many Zainichi face a dilemma, To be shunned or to forgo their nationality. My situation is more compounded by the fact I am a British passport holder.

  • My stepdaughter (both parents Japanese) works for a large electronics retail company now, and she was being hassled by her manager to dye her hair, as it is slightly brown. She protested that it was her natural hair colour, but he insisted that she had to dye it black.

    She ended up calling the main office for clarification, and a couple of days later the manager apologised to her.

    Also, when I was working for the Miyagi Board of Education, they lost a big lawsuit where a girl had been forced to dye her natural hair by her school. There is legal precedent for this and society seems to be slowly getting used to the idea that variations in hair colour exist.

  • I know I am very late coming to this, but anyway. I was an AET/ALT at Ikeshinden High School during 1991-93. In those days some of the students did dye their hair, though there used to be occasional check-ups by the hair police and finger nail police. There was a very blonde foreign student from Hungary at the school for a few months. She was not required to change her hair. (The teachers noted that it was the same colour as mine (i.e. not black). Mine was a mix of brown and a little bit of red.)


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