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Japan pref. schools ditching hair rules, but many still regulate underwear: survey

The Kumamoto Prefectural Government headquarters is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Hayato Jojima)

KUMAMOTO -- None of 78 public schools surveyed recently by the Kumamoto prefectural education board were demanding students submit documents proving they had naturally wavy or non-black hair, but nearly half still had dress codes regulating underwear.

    Following a June 2021 notice from the education ministry, in December that year the Kumamoto prefectural education board requested schools to review their rules so that they would conform with "the spirit of valuing human rights," and that they are within "a scope which can be recognized as reasonable by social norms." The board asked that changes be implemented from April this year.

    The education board then surveyed 78 schools, including prefectural high schools and 19 special needs schools, and examined the rules at the 72 that had official rulebooks. While 13 schools required students without black hair to submit natural hair color certificates as of June 2021, none still had this rule on the books as of April 2022. However, the number of schools with rules on hair alterations increased from 49 to 55 during the same period.

    Meanwhile, underwear rules -- which have drawn widespread controversy -- were retained at 34 schools, or 47% of those with a rulebook. This was only five schools fewer than the previous year. The prefectural education board believes that this suggests that "instead of making rules stricter, schools revised their rules flexibly."

    Furthermore, the number of schools where rules were reviewed and set only by staff fell from 46 to zero, while the number of schools that included the student council, guardian representatives and others in discussion rose from eight to 59. Though only one school had posted their rules on their website in 2021, all schools with rulebooks had adopted the practice by the beginning of academic 2022.

    A prefectural education board official commented, "We'd like schools to continue reviewing their rules with students, guardians and other related parties at least once a year. We'd also like to closely examine the specific nature of the revised rules."

    (Japanese original by Kenji Noro, Kumamoto Bureau)

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