Japanese society is orderly, governing citizens via established norms and prescriptive customs. Nevertheless, progressive residents are increasingly pushing back against excessive guidelines constricting their freedom of expression. The latest battleground in this revolt against the rules are policies specifying students’ underwear color.
“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This familiar adage points to the importance of conformity in the land of the rising sun. In this homogenous society, eccentricity is not taken lightly, and "rocking the boat" is actively discouraged.
Indeed, Japanese residents seek to maintain societal harmony. Confrontations rarely occur face-to-face, and group consensus is meticulously established and maintained. Company and school policies outline the minutia of everyday life while being religiously enforced. Yet, it is possible to go too far.
Leave it to the Japanese Communist Party to push back. One of the largest non-governing such parties in the world, this political organization is standing up for the rights of school-children. The group is leading the charge to end the draconian rules controlling the color of a pupil's panties and other human-rights infringing measures.
Uniforms are the norm in Japanese schools. Their distinctive style, inspired by western naval uniforms, are easily recognizable and an icon of the culture. Schools rely on this fashionable attire to attract students and impress parents. In this image-conscious society, a presentable appearance is paramount, with some upscale districts opting for designer brand uniforms.
However, dress-codes are often heavy-handed and arbitrary. Several institutions limit the color of students' underpants to white. In some situations, male teachers reportedly enforce the rule requiring female students to submit to underwear checks.
According to the Japanese Communist Party, a political party closely associated with the education system, such rules clearly violate students’ rights. In 2019, leaders of the organization audited school rules. After several of the 191 Tokyo schools (184 of which cooperated with the audit) were found to have “underwear rules,” the party is demanding that such over-bearing restrictions be repealed.
As a result, the metropolitan board of education has sent notices to schools to discourage the practice. While some are revising the draconian rules, others are still arbitrating on the matter.
The Japanese school system is increasingly coming under pressure for over-reaching rules, known colloquially as “black rules.” In 2017, a female high school student sued her school for causing mental distress. The student, whose natural hair color is brown, was repeatedly told by her school to dye it black. The school had strict rules against hair coloring and bleaching and imposed the typical Japanese hair color of black on all students.
The student was barred from attending school activities and field trips. Even after dying her hair black, she was told it was not black enough and that she would have to repeat the procedure. Eventually, the student stopped attending classes. The case is widely considered as harassment.
Unfortunately, this overreach is not uncommon in the school system. The Project to Eliminate "Black" School Rules, a group formed in reaction to the incident, surveyed 2000 individuals tracing the evolution of unreasonable rules.
The list was detailed. Many respondents reported rules limiting appearances. This list included skirt length limits, hair product bans, eyebrow shape prescriptions, ponytail prohibitions, and of course, set underwear color. Others focused on relatively innocuous behaviors barring romantic relationships, political activities, and outlining when and when not water could be drunk. Even health products like sunscreen and lip balm were banned in some instances.
Online Cries to End Black Rules
In Japan, "black rules" originally arose from necessity. As early as the 1970s, a string of violent stories involving bullying and harassment made headlines across the nation. The problems developed into widespread social issues, and school systems understandably tightened their control of student behavior.
Yet, it seems educators have overstepped their bounds. Netizens clearly agree. Here are some online reactions ridiculing ridiculous rules:
“Rules like ‘tie your scarf from the front,' 'the long end of your scarf should not pass your navel,’ ‘report anyone with outlandish hairstyles' need review. Schools with these types of rules are absolutely overreaching. It’s complete nonsense.”
“Teachers can’t decide these rules themselves. We should collect a variety of opinions. We should listen to the student council, give questionnaires to students, involve the PTA as well as students’ guardians to determine the appropriate rules.”
"These teachers never learned about human rights. They’re obviously harming the students."
“Are there really rules mandating white underwear for students in my town? I feel so embarrassed.”
“I've said this many times before: my school has almost no rules, and there is no problem. Students and teachers treat one another as equals."
"What will happen with these 'black rules' in the future? [A certain teacher] told students it didn't matter at all what they thought about the rules. How is this allowed? The education system is messed up."
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