Japan Times satirical piece on Gunma Isesaki bureaucrat beard ban


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Hi Blog. Here’s an excerpt of a satirical piece that appeared in the Japan Times Community Page earlier this week. On the Gunma-ken Isesaki City Bureaucrat Beard Ban. Thought it very funny. Especially when it brings up the nationality of my own beard! Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Gunma city does battle with beards
Local government’s hairy-chin ban sets example for nation


I would like to draw readers’ attention to the outstanding work of the municipal government of Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture. After receiving complaints that citizens find bearded men unpleasant, Isesaki — just as all levels of Japanese government often do — took decisive action to address an important public concern: The city announced a ban on beards for municipal workers.

Isesaki deserves our thanks for recognizing that allowing beards is the first step along a slippery slope. If we let government workers get away with improper grooming, the next thing you know they will start being creative and ask inappropriate questions like, “If we are actually trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, maybe we shouldn’t make expressways toll-free?” or, “Why don’t we budget more to ease the national shortage of child-care facilities instead of giving parents a per-child payout every month?”…

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has been quick to point to surveys that show government workers with beards are more likely to be supporters of voting rights for non-Japanese residents than clean-shaven employees. Excessive facial hair could even be used to mask an individual’s foreign roots, meaning that many of the hirsute could be naturalized citizens or children of naturalized citizens…

A legal defense committee led by human-rights advocate Debito Arudou (of course he has a beard) and law professor Colin P. A. Jones is looking into whether Isesaki used off-budget secret funds to operate a barbershop in the basement of City Hall and provided free haircuts and shaves to public employees. Arudou reportedly tried to enter the barbershop but was refused access because his beard didn’t look Japanese, even though he insisted that his beard did, in fact, become Japanese several years ago.

Professor Jones has apparently filed a freedom of information request for documents detailing whether, and how much of, taxpayers’ money was used for the secret project. In response, the city said that no such documents could be found, no such barbershop exists, and furthermore it would be a violation of the privacy of the barber to say anything more…

Rest of the article at

14 comments on “Japan Times satirical piece on Gunma Isesaki bureaucrat beard ban

  • Ouch! Razorburn here 😉

    “Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has been quick to point to surveys that show government workers with beards are more likely to be supporters of voting rights for non-Japanese residents than clean-shaven employees. Excessive facial hair could even be used to mask an individual’s foreign roots, meaning that many of the hirsute could be naturalized citizens or children of naturalized citizens…”

    — Didn’t this “cut it a bit close” Debito?

    The sad, or funny thing about this is that it seems not beyond the bounds of Ishihara’s reality to say something like that.

    (Debito, please cut this if you feel it’s necessary)….

    BTW, thinking of Ishihara- a while back during hanabi season, we were enjoying the blossoms in Aoyama Reien and we came across a the big plaque erected to thank the gaijin who helped build Meiji Japan, with comments from Ishihara thanking them. I was quite pleased about that, but then I thought, hang on…
    …this is the gaijin bochi section of the cemetery where the foreigners are separated from the Japanese. Well in the context of Japan over a century ago, I suppose, realistically, it was nice of the authorities to have plots of land opened in Tokyo’s most elite ashyard for the gaijin who gave so much to help turn Japan into a “modern” (industrialized warmongering racist empire-building) country in the U.S. and UK models of the time.

    But then I thought erecting the plaque suits Ishihara’s agenda fine- gaijin are fine as long as there are not too many of them, and they give their lives to make Japan strong, and that they remain permanently segregated from the Japanese even after death, for “eternity.”

    Or perhaps I am being a bit cynical. I’m really lucky in my family- they don’t mind gaijin ash in their / our plot at all. But as regarding the authorities, well…I don’t exist…back to the old koseki issue.

  • Funny! Reminds me of the time I got done for having the beginnings of a beard in my present employment, unfortunately not in Japan. Was told if I ever did it again I’d be sent home! I now have a beard and was at work today! What will happen to the civil servant who dares to have a single hair on his face? Sent home to shave?! Funny, but Isesaki needs to think about real issues if this is sourced from “reality”!

  • The other side of this issue is the further empowerment of citizens into thinking that they have the right to change anything that doesn’t suit their personal tastes.

    Having experienced Japan’s civil servant work environment first hand, it was shocking to see, day in and day out, the sheer number of people who would come into our offices to voice their ‘concern’ regarding countless, pointless issues. This was a colossal waste of time for the employees, but every nut-job and self-righteous blowhard had to be listened to and treated with respect. There were people who would come in every week just get their bullying fix but, alas, the term ‘servant’ in civil servant is taken a little too literally here and often the whims of these people had to be examined and commented upon with the utmost seriousness.

    When things like this idiotic beard policy take effect (think of the countless hours of meetings that must have gone into this) it can only reinforce this distorted sense of entitlement that these complainers must feel.

  • I think this may have more to do with the large Muslim population in Isesaki. Some of those men in that city may have large beards and I guess that’s considered unclean in Japan?

    — I don’t see. This rule governs civil servants, not civilians.

  • We all know about the debeardo – but does Colin P. A. Jones have a beard as well?

    — No. He’s only bearding the issue instead of facing it head on! Gotta take it on the chin!

  • In Britain a law making crash helmets for motor cyclists compulsory was forced into a compromise because Sikhs, for religious reasons, refused to remove their turbans.

    I d like to see someone with a beard make a similar stand. Maybe in Gunma inaka this is a non starter, as its considered remote and backward by even other Japanese (“They eat horses, don’t they”), but try bringing that in in Tokyo and I m sure a lot of beardies would object, especially consudering the popularity of goatees with young Japanese men.

    — Hey, what do the Tokyo youth care… it doesn’t affect them.

  • I suppose then that less cool young men with goatees are going to be applying for government or local official jobs. Squares only need apply?

  • I lived in Isesaki from August 2008 to April 2010, and I too wonder if it has anything to do with the Pakistani community. The Pakistani restaurants were the best non-Japanese restaurants in the city, but they always seemed to be empty.

    — Fine. But again, I don’t see the connection. Make one please or further speculative posts like these will not be approved.

  • No one has mentioned it, but I think it was just a couple of employees who were lazily unshaven that brought this ban down on the entire staff. A beard trimmed nicely can hide a weak chin and other facial irregularities, but scruff is just scruff.

  • official announcement just in: “Its the Japanese way not to have beards” (^-^)

    — And I thought “hige” was a form of deference…!

  • Interesting. You know that this is (now) the same city that prohibited foreigners from entering the public swimming pool back in 98-99? Then it was called Azuma-mura (Sawa-gun) – I lived there at the time but was actually vacationing in the US during that hubub. Later it (with surrounding towns) merged into Isesaki. Interesting connection.

    Knowing the folks that used to work in the civil government back then, I’m not surprised by this move.

    Thing is, they really should have just made it a move to document and write up those specific unshaven, unkempt smelly workers that were annoying the populace (likely there were a few generating bad stories about the shiyakucho or something) rather than issue such a large-sweeping edict. Especially throwing it under the guise of “Green”: How much water, consumables etc are required to shave every day?


  • Another article on the issue has been written:


    Workplace bans on beards raise hairy questions

    Kyodo News

    MAEBASHI, Gunma Pref. — The issue of men with facial hair in the workplace has recently prompted serious discussions as well as actual bans based on “decorum.”

    In May, the city of Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, banned all male municipal employees from sporting beards in the office on the grounds that public servants should look decent. The city took the action after some residents complained about its bearded workers.

    In response to the news, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said it had never heard of any municipality introducing such a rule.

    Isesaki’s move, however, is nothing new. A growing number of Japanese, including athletes, are being prohibited from turning up for work unshaven so they won’t “offend” the public.

    Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is particularly strict about the appearance of its employees and says it won’t hire men with beards.

    “We might fire workers growing beards regardless of whether they are regular staff or part-time workers,” a public relations official said.

    Oriental Land Co., owner of the Tokyo Disney Resort, also bans beards, like its U.S. counterpart.

    “It’s important that workers serving our guests maintain an immaculate image,” an official said. “But the rule doesn’t apply to the man playing the role of Captain Hook in our park.”

    The manufacturing arm of razor maker Kai Corp. tests the quality of its products almost every month on its male workers. They grow facial hair until the monthly test date arrives and get back to work cleanshaven after the tests.

    Some men take issue with the bans.

    An employee of Japan Post Service Co. sued the firm to protest a pay cut imposed because of his beard.

    In March, the Kobe District Court ordered the company to pay him ¥370,000 on grounds that a person’s appearance is a matter of personal freedom and a uniform ban on beards is unreasonable.

    In sports, the Yomiuri Giants baseball club is well known for its ban on beards. When he left the Nippon Ham Fighters for the Giants in December 2006, infielder Michihiro Ogasawara made his fans gasp by shaving his trademark beard.

    The baseball star said abiding by his team’s rules was a matter of manhood.

    No regulations exist regarding facial hair in the world of sumo, the most tradition-bound of sports in Japan.

    According to the Japan Sumo Association, some non-Japanese wrestlers have taken flak in the past because they tend to be more hairy than most Japanese and some fans found their bushy facial hair unseemly. By and large, not wearing a beard is a tacit rule.

    The association, however, is rather flexible regarding the issue.

    “We work in the world where luck counts a great deal, so some wrestlers don’t shave during a winning streak” because they fear it would change their luck, an association official said.

    “It is said that growing a beard or not should be a matter of personal freedom and left to each individual to decide, but organizations fail to function well if they lack a certain measure of discipline,” said Mitsuru Yaku, a cartoonist and commentator on various social issues who himself sports a beard.

    “A beard is a symbol that is the polar opposite of a virtue associated with a serious-minded adult, and many people equate beards with decadence or moral laxity,” he said.


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