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Forced hair-dyeing case at Osaka Pref. school sparks large reader response

Reader postcards and email messages to the Mainichi Shimbun about the issue of a student being forced to dye her naturally brown hair black are seen. (Mainichi)

Following the news of a third-year high school girl who sued the Osaka Prefectural Government for damages after she was forced to dye her naturally brown hair black, the Mainichi Shimbun received a wide variety of thoughts and opinions on hairstyle guidance in schools and will present the experiences of a high school student, a mother, and a future teacher with schools' 'black hair' policies.

A 17-year-old, third-year student at a public high school in Saitama Prefecture wrote about her school trip last November. Just before the trip, she was told out of the blue by the school guidance counselor that she had to either dye her hair black or cut it very short. Her hair was naturally a dark brown and her mother had the same shade, and she had never once dyed, bleached or used a hair iron on it. Because her school had a brown-hair registry upon matriculation, she consulted her homeroom teacher, but they said that it wasn't a problem.

Even then, the guidance counselor said, "This is to avoid problems with other schools at our destination. Because you corrupt public morals, we can't have you participate in the school trip as you are." She was repeatedly warned, but resisted until the very end and was able to attend the trip with her natural hair color. However, her actions were closely monitored by teachers and others, and she said she ended up not being able to enjoy the trip.

"When you are forced to dye your natural hair black, it tears your heart apart," she says. "I was saved because I had friends and teachers who stood up for me, but at the time it caused substantial psychological strain. Reading the news (of the girl in Osaka) made me clearly recall what had happened to me and it made me sad."

"If dyeing your hair is against school rules in the first place, why make children dye their hair black?" That was what one 48-year-old mother from Osaka Prefecture thought when her now 24-year-old daughter was told to dye her hair black in her third year of public high school. At the time, the student was to attend a summer tennis tournament when a teacher acting as an adviser to her club asked her to dye her hair, which appeared brown when hit by sunlight.

"I know you aren't the type of student to dye your hair," the teacher said, "but everyone in the community is watching," and told her to dye it. Both mother and daughter didn't agree with the school, but they thought not being able to attend the tournament would cause problems, so they reluctantly did as they were told.

When her daughter played at the tournament with her dyed hair, sweat turned black by the dye ran down her face. "I don't have any ill feelings toward the school itself, but I wonder if this idea that everyone's hair has to be black is unique to Japan," her mother recalls. "We were left with some feelings of confusion."

The same confusion was felt by a 23-year-old university student when he witnessed classmates being told to dye their hair black when he was a third-year student at a public high school in Gifu Prefecture. This led him to conduct an interview survey of his classmates, and given the situation, decided to share the results with the Mainichi Shimbun.

His classmates told of experiences such as being forced to cut their natural hair after it was deemed brown by the school; entering the brown-hair registry when they started at the school but were still warned about their hair color twice; and dyeing their naturally brown hair black voluntarily in "self-defense." He considered each case he heard to be discrimination based on physical traits that impinged upon his classmate's human rights. In March 2014, he says he submitted a petition containing a summary of the interview results to the legal affairs bureau and the board of education.

"Outrageous hairstyle guidance has thus far been largely ignored, and it worried me," he says. He is now attending university outside of the prefecture to become a teacher himself. "With this lawsuit (in Osaka), I felt like it is finally out in the open." He will start teaching at a school from next spring, but he's not sure what to expect when he gets there. Even then, he wants no part of unreasonable guidance concerning hair color.

"For whom does school education exist?" he asks. "I think we need to seriously rethink that question."

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