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65% of municipalities in Japan prefecture have 'white underwear' school rules: survey

Members of the Chiba Bar Association's children's rights committee present the results of their school rules survey in the city of Chiba's Chuo Ward on Sept. 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Naganuma)

CHIBA -- Some 65% of municipalities in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, have public junior high schools with rules on underwear color, a survey on controversial school rules has revealed.

    The Chiba Bar Association's children's rights committee surveyed the prefectural government and 54 municipalities beginning in October 2021. The committee collected public junior high school rules through information disclosure requests and direct interviews with staff, and asked the education boards and schools about the purpose of enacting rules of questionable rationality.

    According to the recently released results, 36 municipalities (65.5%) disclosed rules demanding students wear white underwear. The committee is calling for these to be reviewed as they are "unreasonable." When asked for the reasons for the rules, the responses included, "To prevent influence by fashion trends and minimizes the financial burden on families," and that "public morals may be disrupted" without them.

    In addition, rules prohibiting certain hairstyles were in place in 45 municipalities (81.8%). In some cases, braids and "two-block" undercut hairstyles were banned. The reasons given included "to maintain an appropriate appearance for interviews at entrance examinations and other occasions," and "good manners."

    Other rules included designating the color and length of socks and tights as well as hair length in 54 municipalities (98.2%), and the color and design of hair elastics and hairpins in 41 municipalities (74.5%).

    The committee also conducted an online survey of junior high school students and their guardians. More than 190 people responded, of whom over 90% said they are skeptical about the current school rules.

    Based on the survey results, the committee recommends that every school make its rules public, and that they be reviewed annually through discussions between schools and their students. Proposed revisions to the student guidance handbook for teachers and staff, compiled by the education ministry in August, would also require each school to publish its rules on its website, clarify how they are set and procedures to revise them.

    The committee stated, "Some of the school rules were deemed to be imposed for the convenience of adults. We must not forget that children have rights-based freedoms."

    After receiving the prefectural bar association's findings and recommendations, Chiba Gov. Toshihito Kumagai stated at a Sept. 8 regular news conference, "It's desirable to respect the autonomy of children and review school rules that have difficulty gaining social understanding." Recognizing the need for student councils and other groups to speak out and, in some cases, discuss the issue with school officials with the support of guardians, he said, "I would like to maintain my support for voluntary efforts."

    Prefectural education board superintendent Masako Tomizuka told the press on Sept. 8 that "school rules are not made with the intention of violating children's human rights," and that "we should listen to the opinions of students and review rules that are not in line with the times."

    (Japanese original by Tatsuya Naganuma, Katsuyoshi Ishikawa and Yoshitaka Yamamoto, Chiba Bureau)

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