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Japanese court dismisses man's claim he left school due to head-shaving 'tradition'

The plaintiff's parents are seen during a news conference in the city of Kumamoto's Chuo Ward after the Kumamoto District Court ruling on May 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Kurisu)

KUMAMOTO -- A district court here on May 30 dismissed a damages suit against the Kumamoto Prefectural Government, in which a 20-year-old plaintiff claimed he quit high school after he was forced to shave his head for a "school club tradition" and subsequently developed depression.

    The man, who attended Kumamoto Prefectural Seiseiko High School in the city of Kumamoto, had demanded the prefectural government pay him 1 yen (less than 1 cent) in compensation. Presiding Judge Yuichiro Nakatsuji at the Kumamoto District Court rejected the plaintiff's claim, saying that the head-shaving was "nothing more than an autonomous arrangement made among club members" and "cannot be called inappropriate based on social norms." The plaintiff plans to appeal.

    According to the complaint and other sources, after he entered the school in April 2017, the man was summoned to the school rooftop by the cheerleading club along with other new students and forced to sing the school song at the top of his lungs. He also claimed that after he joined the school's soft tennis club, senior members shaved his head saying that it was a "tradition." He said he quit the club in May that year after one month. He then developed depression and stopped attending class before he was finally driven to leave the school entirely in May 2018.

    Judge Nakatsuji maintained that the act of having students sing the school anthem was "legally sound" and acknowledged no illegality over the head-shaving, saying that the plaintiff himself "asked a third-year student to shave his head, which cannot be called forcible." He denied the plaintiff's claim that the school failed to fulfill its responsibility to ensure students' safety, and also judged that the plaintiff stopped going to school not because of the school anthem or head-shaving incidents, but due to his poor performance in mid-term exams.

    The man's attorney told a post-ruling news conference, "It's absurd to say that there was no illegality because a student voluntarily had their head shaved even though he was practically forced." Meanwhile, the prefectural education board's school safety promotion department released a statement saying, "We understand that our claim has been recognized."

    On the ruling, Nagoya University graduate school professor and sociology of education specialist Ryo Uchida told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I'd hoped the court would look at how the student felt (about the incident) rather than looking at the case as a mere formality to see whether there was a violent act. It should've taken into consideration that the school song training and head-shaving were done under peer pressure, in an environment where underclassmen could not resist upperclassmen's demands." Uchida added, "The school should not try to justify these acts using tradition as an excuse, but review them in the context of changes in society and the circumstances that children face."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Kurisu, Kumamoto Bureau)

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