japanese student
A
Japanese student in a classroom from in Ofunato city, Iwate
prefecture.

Kyodo/Reuters

In the US, dress-code violations might include an offensive
t-shirt or a mini skirt. In Japan, a dye job can do you in.

According to
a new survey
published by Tokyo news outlet The Asahi
Shimbun, 57% of public high schools in the city require students
to prove that their hair color is natural.

The measure is designed to uphold strict Japanese standards
regarding physical appearance: In addition to prohibiting
students from perming or dyeing their hair, many Japanese schools
mandate crisp, respectable dress and don’t allow overly long or
unkempt hair.

According to Asahi Shimbun, 98 of the 170 schools surveyed
by the paper had such a policy in place. The number of children
who’d been made to prove their hair color was real ranged from a
few to a few dozen during the most recent school year.

“Some students insist that their hair is natural even
though it is dyed,” one teacher told Asahi Simbun. “We ask their
parents to confirm these claims as their responsibility.”

Unlike the US, Japan’s population is fairly homogeneous. As
a result, the culture often places
a premium
on uniformity — even slight deviations from the
norm tend to stand out, and provoke criticism in more
conservative circles.

Natsuko Fujimaki, a Tokyo-based entrepreneur, says this is
where the Japanese concept of majime comes into play.
The term refers to a preference for order, tidiness, and often
perfectionism. It tracks closely with a desire to stay reserved
and sensible in comportment.

“They try to follow the rules for everything,” Fujimkai
tells Business Insider.

In order to prove that a student’s hair is natural, schools
will often ask parents to submit childhood photos depicting the
kid’s hair color. In less extreme cases, parents only need to
verify in writing (with a signature) that their child’s hair
hasn’t been treated in any way.

The practice is not new. Even a decade ago, some schools
required students to prove they hadn’t dyed or curled their hair.
In extreme cases, schools would even require
foreign-born students to dye their hair to conform to the
rest of the student body as part of a forced assimilation
process. 

“Every week teachers would check if Nicola was dyeing her hair
brown,” a Brazilian-born student named Maria
told Japan Times
of her sister, Nicola, in 2007. “Even though
she said this is her natural color, she was instructed to
straighten and dye it black. She did so once a week. But the
ordeal traumatized her. She still has a complex about her
appearance.”

Hair dye and perms aren’t the only beauty choices subject
to Japanese dress-code standards. Many male students can’t wear
spiky or messy hairstyles, allow their hair to cover their eyes,
or let it grow past their collars. Some schools require female
students to pin their hair back “in a way that does not interfere
with classroom instruction,” as
one school’s code
put it.

According to Asahi Shimbun,
Japan’s falling birth rate
plays a role in these rules. With
fewer students to fill the schools, public and private schools
have started competing for parents’ attention. One strategy
they’ve adopted: Highlight their strict hair policies to show how
majime they are about education, in hopes parents will
be impressed by the rigor.

Some critics say the requirement that students prove their hair
is natural violates their privacy.

Meanwhile, advocates allege it does the students a favor, since
one verification process can prevent headmasters from constantly
asking whether a child’s hair is real. They say asking for
initial proof
ends up sparing kids
even greater psychological harm.