The prohibition of ponytails is one of the many draconian rules that some Japanese schools enforce. Photo: Shutterstock
From the length of students’ socks to the color of their underwear, Japanese schools are infamous for their strict requirements on what students can wear. But one rule has drawn criticism not only for its absurdity, but also for the reason behind it.
Motoki Sugiyama, a former middle school teacher, said school administrators told him girls shouldn’t wear ponytails because exposing the back of the neck could “sexually arouse” male students.
“They’re worried about boys staring at girls, which is similar to the reasoning behind maintaining a white-only underwear color rule,” Sugiyama told VICE World News, referring to how most of schools require girls to wear white underwear to win. t show through their uniforms.
“I’ve always been critical of these rules, but because there’s such a lack of criticism and it’s become so normalized, students have no choice but to accept them,” he said. declared.
There are no national statistics on how many schools are still enforcing the ponytail ban, but a Survey 2020 suggests that about one in ten schools in the southern prefecture of Fukuoka prohibited hairdressing.
Sugiyama had taught at five different schools for 11 years in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 90 miles southwest of Tokyo, which banned all ponytails. And he’s made it his personal mission to speak out against unreasonable demands placed on students, joining a growing call for schools to drop rules that are dated, outright sexist or hinder a child’s self-expression.
In June, outcry from students and parents over the rules prompted the Japanese government to ask all prefectural boards of education to revise the draconian school rules. Some institutions have indeed changed their ways, but many decades-old practices are slow to fade.
The ponytail ban is just one of many draconian rules, known as buraku kosoku, imposed on students in Japan. The long list of restrictions also dictates the shade of students’ underwear and socks, the length of the skirt and the shape of the eyebrows. Hair color is another contentious issue – some schools require students to have photographic proof of their natural hair color if it is not strictly “black and straight”.
Sugiyama, who makes videos on ICT Tac on the Japanese education system and buraku kosoku, said students rarely receive an explanation of these rules.
Often the reasons behind the imposition of such rules were arbitrary. For example, schools that ban ponytails often allow bob hairstyles, even though they expose the neck about as much as ponytails.
But other times it was ostensibly to avoid a domino effect of wild hairstyles. The undercut, a hairstyle that shaves the sides but leaves the top long, is also prohibited.
“Because if the two-block (undercut) is OK, then some students might start saying the mohawk should be OK,” Sugiyama explained.
Buraku kosoku dates back to the 1870s, when the Japanese government established its first systematic regulation of education.
In the 70s and 80s, the rules have become increasingly restrictive in an effort to reduce bullying and violence in schools.
Exactly what is prohibited differs from school to school and generation to generation, but the desired effect is the same – no one stands out, said Asao Naito, associate professor of sociology at the Meiji University.
Naito recalls his days in primary and secondary school around 40 years ago, when long skirts were worn by sukeban (delinquent girls). “For this reason, long skirts were banned and made shorter,” he told VICE World News. “But now schools don’t allow short skirts and make them longer.”
Critics of the rules say the restrictions make students feel like their bodies are being policed.
“Sexuality does not become something that belongs to the individual, but an element or thing that can be controlled,” Naito said.
Sugiyama, the retired teacher, said he constantly receives complaints from students that their schools simply ignored the Japanese government’s request to change their rules.
“Many schools ignore notices that aren’t legally binding or don’t carry penalties,” he said.
But some schools have taken this into account.
A spokesperson for Hosoyamada High School in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima told VICE World News that it changed its rules on student clothing last year after students complained.
Ponytails and pigtails are still banned, but their underwear no longer has to be white. It can be grey, black or navy blue.