Japanese school pupils told: dye your hair black to fit in

Danielle Demetriou
Critics say the rules reflect a deeply homogenous Japanese society where collective uniformity is valued over individuality - REUTERS

Japanese school rules that force children to dye their hair black so they fit in with their classmates are facing a growing backlash, fuelled by a viral video campaign and a fast-growing petition.

Some 60 per cent of public schools in Japan require that all pupils submit a document called Natural Hair Certification, which confirms the natural colour and degree of curliness of their hair.

A new survey shows one in 13 schoolchildren had subsequently been “urged” by their school to dye their naturally brown hair black. 

The survey of  1,000 children and teachers accompanies a new campaign masterminded by P&G’s Pantene shampoo brand, which also sells hair dye, to challenge the expectation. 

Nearly 10 million people have watched the campaign video. 

The issue of draconian hair rules in Japanese schools was highlighted two years ago when a pupil sued Osaka Prefectural Government for damages after being continuously forced to dye her naturally brown hair a more uniform black.

Critics say the rules reflect a deeply homogenous Japanese society where collective uniformity is valued over individuality.

“I was told to cut my brown hair or dye it black,” says one schoolgirl on the video. “Even after submitting a Natural Hair Certificate, I was still told to cut or dye it. I wondered why I need to do this.”

Another added: “My school makes everyone submit a Natural Hair Certificate. We have to write down what colour, how curly our hair is. I want to make sense of why this is necessary.”

The survey also found that more than 90 per cent of teachers were keen for school regulations “to change with the times”, with one speaking on the video: “I feel like the school says this to make sure you won’t have to deal with more trouble. I personally think it’s unnecessary.”

Japanese schools do not monitor pupils’ hair colour alone but also styles and lengths in some instances: earlier this year, there were media reports that teachers at a school in Toyama Prefecture forcibly cut the hair of 44 students after their styles were deemed too long and in violation of school dress codes.

The debate was fuelled further last month, with the launch of a new petition offering a high-profile opposition to hair rule restrictions on schoolchildren in Japan.

The petition, which was reportedly inspired by the Pantene campaign, attracted more than 10,000 signatures in the first few weeks, with plans to present it to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

Pantene Japan, a hair-care brand, is owned by Proctor and Gamble, an American firm.