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Southwest Japan junior high school apologizes after checking 40 students' undershirts

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SAGA -- Around 40 male and female first-year students at a public junior high school in this southwest Japan city were subject to dress code checks on Sept. 2 to confirm whether they were wearing undershirts, the Mainichi Shimbun learned from the school on Sept. 10.

    Yamato Junior High School in the city of Saga said it has rules relating to wearing undershirts, and that teaching staff of the same gender as students checked them by having female students turn up their shirts of sailor-outfit uniforms, and having male students open their open-collared shirts at the collar to confirm they were wearing undershirts. Following the reporting of the practices, the school has said it "wishes to review" it in future.

    According to the school's vice principal, the undershirt checks held on the day in question were done per homeroom class. In the hallway in front of the classroom, the boys and girls were put in separate lines about 10 meters apart and made to face the wall while teachers inspected each student visually.

    On the morning of Sept. 10, the school's principal issued an apology to the students via the building's broadcasting system. A letter of explanation was also issued to pupils' guardians. On the same evening, teachers discussed future points for improvement. It was reportedly decided that from hereon, students will have to self-declare whether they are wearing undershirts.

    In response to a request for comment from the Mainichi Shimbun, the Saga Municipal Board of Education stated: "We have instructed Yamato junior high to give consideration to their students' human rights." A notification advising consideration of students' human rights during dress code checks was issued on the same date to all of the city's municipal elementary and junior high schools.

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takahashi, Saga Bureau)

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    Commentary by professor Takehiko Yoshioka, Saga University Faculty of Education

    It is anachronistic that school rules pertaining to undergarments remain. In the 1990s, rules on close-cropped hairstyles and other issues became problematic, and while they were briefly relaxed, detailed rules governing clothing and hairstyles have actually become stronger since the 2000s. These days, "black rules" like this are criticized, and amid movements to review them taking place across the country, it must be stated that appreciation of the issue has been low in educational circles.

    Male or female, being forced to show another person (an educator) your underwear is harassment and consistent with human rights violations. When considering the diversity of gender identities, too, it's not an issue which is fine to have checked so long as the teachers are of the same gender as the students. Whether students are wearing undergarments, what color it is and other such questions, are all fundamentally within people's own right to self-determination. Rules relating to undergarments should be eliminated.

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