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80% of public junior high schools in Japan city have rules on underwear color: lawyer group

A group of lawyers and others are seen announcing the results of their investigation of municipal junior high schools in the city of Fukuoka, at the Fukuoka Bar Association's headquarters in the city's Chuo Ward, on Dec. 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Keisuke Muneoka)

FUKUOKA -- More than 80% of municipal junior high schools in this southwest Japan city have rules on the color of students' underwear, and a majority also exercises rules pertaining to hair and eyebrows, it has emerged from the results of an investigation conducted by the Fukuoka Bar Association released on Dec. 22.

    In response to its findings, the group of lawyers said that in some cases the disciplinary measures taken when students have violated these rules constituted "infringements of human rights." Their report describes students being told they will be forced to remove offending underwear while at school, and be made to wash their hair if styling products are found in it.

    The Fukuoka Bar Association plans to hold a symposium in February 2021, and intends to offer proposals to schools on how they can revise their current rules. The bar's investigations came about from a freedom of information request to the Fukuoka Municipal Government, in which they asked for details on all 69 of its junior high schools' rules.

    As an additional part of its investigation, it also carried out interviews with a number of students, guardians, and teaching staff to hear about their experiences and confirm whether or not there are other rules being enforced which aren't described in student handbooks and other documents.

    Among the written rules found in handbooks and other papers from the 69 schools, 62 were found to have regulations on the style and length of students' hair, 58 of them have rules on what color their hair could be, 57 have regulations on what color underwear can be, and 56 have rules about eyebrows.

    In some cases, the rules state that an offending person will be "made to wash their hair in the event that hair products are found in it," that "until eyebrows grow out they may be drawn on," and also that "students will be made to remove the underwear at school," among other punishments.

    A remarkable number of schools had rules that underwear must be white. Unreasonable regulations were also apparent, including banning hairstyles like the undercut, a cut in which the sides of the head are trimmed short while the top is left long.

    Lawyer and Fukuoka Bar Association member Tami Sagawa said, "It's problematic that even though students themselves may have doubts about the school rules, they can't do anything because they're being told by teachers, 'It will affect your school report.'"

    The Fukuoka Municipal Board of Education commented, "We are advising each school to review unreasonable and irrational rules. If there are school rules which constitute human rights infringements, we will instruct them to revise them."

    (Japanese original by Keisuke Muneoka and Sayo Kato, Kyushu News Department)

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