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Petition seeks end to forcing Tokyo high school students to dye hair black

A representative of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, right, is seen accepting the written request from Hiroki Komazaki, center, and people who experienced being told to dye their natural hair color black as students, at the board of education's offices in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on July 30, 2019. (Mainichi/Akira Okubo)

TOKYO -- With some metropolitan high schools in Tokyo still instructing students to dye their hair black despite it naturally being another color, a group has presented the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education with 19,065 signatures backing a written request to stop the practice.

Up until now, the board of education had verbally asked school principals to stop forced dyeing, but it has now announced it will be carrying out more thorough measures.

The campaign to collect the signatures was launched by five people including Hiroki Komazaki, 39, the head of a nonprofit organization called Florence, and a 19-year-old first-year university student who was made to dye her hair when she studied at a private high school in the capital. They opened a website for people to contribute to the campaign in May.

In their petition, they call for the board of education to notify metropolitan high schools to end forced dyeing. Additionally, because students could unwittingly apply to schools which enforce the rule due to the schools not explicitly stipulating they advocate the practice, or because forced dyeing could be implemented without appearing in a school's rules, the message calls for more information on the issue, such as by having schools publish regulations on their websites.

While momentum is increasing on the side of those looking for a change in enforced dyeing, some educational institutions continue to uphold old-fashioned standards. The petitioners said they took steps to get their request seen by the metropolitan board of education ahead of next year's Olympic and Paralympic Games in the capital, which embraces diversity.

The former high school student who was told to dye her naturally brown hair black by her school in 2018 is seen in Tokyo on June 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Akira Okubo)

In response to the requests, the head of the section for high school education at the education board, Seiichi Sato, said, "We will not instruct uniform measures to make students dye their natural hair color black."

But, on the publication of school rules online, he just said, "We are proceeding with initiatives to improve pages that show the characteristics of different schools."

At some schools, beliefs that hair must be black are firmly rooted, with cases of trouble concerning students who are instructed to dye their hair occurring frequently.

One 18-year-old student who studied at a metropolitan high school in one of Tokyo's 23 special wards until this spring was ordered by a male teacher to dye her brown hair black at the beginning of her third year in April 2018.

For reasons including that her hair became damaged from using a hairdryer, she refused to do it. She says her teacher responded by saying, "If you won't cut or dye your hair, then don't bother coming to school."

After venting her frustrations with the teacher on Twitter, she was told to study from a separate room at school for slandering him. For around a week she didn't have lessons. Instead, she received "special guidance," which amounted to her being told to write a diary and essays.

Her guardians expressed their objection to her treatment to the board of education. The school apologized, saying, "The teacher's words and actions went too far in this case."

But the school didn't back down from its position, saying that her hair could be subject to dyeing instructions on the grounds that hair with burns from a hairdryer could not be regarded as natural hair.

Even now having graduated from the school, she still has questions about the way they instructed her to dye her hair, saying, "It's my hair. Why did I have to dye it?"

In western Japan, a woman who was forced to dye her natural brown hair as a third-grade student at an Osaka Prefecture-run high school launched a suit in 2017 for some 2.2 million yen in compensation. The case is pending at the Osaka District Court.

Household goods multinational corporation Procter & Gamble Japan (P&G) carried out a survey on 600 people, including 400 junior high and high school students, in February. According to their results, around one in 13 people said they had experienced being told to dye their natural hair color black.

Komazaki said, "With black hair encouraged as a symbol of social conformity, there is an aspect in which teachers are telling students to dye their hair out of thought for students' job hunting prospects. Companies and society have to change too."

(Japanese original by Akira Okubo, City News Department)

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