Parents and pupils are pictured on the way to school in Tokyo on April 22. (Photo: AFP)
Besshitsu touko is a form of discipline used in many Japanese schools where students who break a rule are required to complete their schoolwork for the day in a separate room, away from the rest of the class, essentially serving as an in-school suspension.
A recent case involved a 17-year-old girl who was forced to leave class because she had shaved her eyebrows. It happened again recently at a school in Fukuoka where a 14-year-old student was not allowed to participate in a soccer tournament for the same reason (his mother had shaved part of the boy’s eyebrows because he was ashamed of his bushy brows).
Parents have asked the media to talk more about such irrational policies, which make the schools that practice them burakku kosoku – “black schools.” Burakku is an adjective used to define places that practice terrible harassment. But can these rules be considered harassment?
Rules at the aforementioned Fukuoka public school include the following: students cannot dye, color or perm their hair. And no kibatsu na kamigata, or eccentric hair — which, of course, is a very subjective interpretation. They cannot shave their eyebrows or have any piercings.
The rules for both genders say the fringe must not reach the eyes and the side hair must not reach the ears while the back hair must not touch the shirt collar for boys and the shoulders for girls. If a girl’s hair is even a few centimeters longer then it has to be fastened into a ponytail, but they can only use a navy blue or black hairband. And hairpins must not be colored or “unusual.”
Shirts have to be white and skirts have to hide the knees. Boys’ belts must be black, navy or brown and must not have any decoration.
"Students from the opposing team complained about his 'scary look'"
The head of the school commented that these rules are not unique as there are at least 10 other schools in the area that follow the same regulations.
The regulations stipulate that if you break the eyebrow shaving ban "you cannot participate in a sports tournament for at least one month" in consideration of the period until all of the hair grows back.
But when we learn how this particular rule came about, we are taken aback. Forget the stereotypical image of Japanese rules as a benchmark of uniformity. It all started because a second-year soccer club student had shaved his eyebrows and students from the opposing team complained about his “scary look.”
A school policy was immediately formulated with the purpose of not upsetting the aesthetic sensibilities of the young students. This is not a storyline for a manga comic as you might have thought, this is the reality of Japan in 2022.
Japan needs to reflect on how these unreasonable policies applied with martial inflexibility affect children’s minds and ultimately what kind of society they are going to shape.
Do we really want to deny that the low self-esteem, the lack of individuality and the well-known dread of anything new and “untested” by Japanese youth isn’t somehow related to their years spent in schools where they are literally bullied into passive submission and actively repressed for their own unique qualities and idiosyncrasies?
"There have been efforts in various schools to preach an understanding of differences among people"
Just as with the face masks, people keep wearing them even after the health minister said they are no longer needed. I recently spotted an adolescent wearing a mask while playing basketball by himself in a huge deserted park.
When people interpret a general health instruction as an imperative to be blindly followed out of fear of shame and embarrassment, there is plenty of grounds to suspect that the population is either being hypnotized or is simply not using critical thinking anymore.
Recently there have been efforts in various schools to preach an understanding of differences among people, regarding foreign students or mixed-race people.
If the education system forbids you from expressing yourself through even the slightest difference in hair, it robs you of the experience of having your own voice heard.
It instills in students the attitude of giving up trying anything new that makes them stand out from the crowd. And it’s funny that showbiz rewards this type of behavior. The so-called “talents” are always people with unique individuality. Take for example the famous transgender TV show host Matsuko Deluxe, or Ryucheru, a male model with long blond hair.
Japanese kids see these examples and wonder why they are only allowed to be average looking. This is a huge contradiction that we imagine all Japanese students realize but cannot voice out for fear of standing out.
Children have the inherent right to express themselves freely; this is how they learn — by trial and error. If you take away their chance to err, they would not know which is the right decision for them. And what should education be if not to figure out one’s own place in the world, ideally as soon as possible.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.