Japanese schools tend to be very particular about student conduct and appearance. In recent years, we’ve seen a gradual loosening of some of the stricter rules, but that doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared entirely, as shown by what happened at a school in Fukuoka Prefecture.
In April, a public junior high school in the Fukuoka town of Kurume was conducting a check to see if students were complying with the school’s rules regarding hairstyling and dying. But while the hairs on the head of one third-year student passed inspection, the school had a problem with her eyebrow hairs, or, more specifically, the eyebrow hairs she no longer had.
The school’s rules prohibit the students from cutting or shaving their eyebrows. However, the 14-year-old girl had been removing hairs at the edges of her eyebrows to give them a more groomed appearance. The school ruled this to be an infraction. She was punished with three days of besshitu toko, “separate-room schooling,” a form of disciplining in Japanese schools where students who have broken a rule must do their day’s schoolwork in a separate room, away from the rest of the class, essentially a form of in-school suspension. She was also made to write an essay reflecting on her transgression.
Miki Hata, Kurume’s 55-year-old director of education, was asked about the incident, and she said “I believe the school may be worried that, being at a developmental age, children may become distracted by overly focusing on their eyebrows and hairstyles, and neglect essential aspects of their education and lifestyles.” But while it’s easy to see how, say, teachers might think hair dyed bright pink or spiked into a mohawk could be “distracting,” what sort of problems could they see arising from students’ eyebrows?
There are two likely explanations. The first is that the school may see styled eyebrows as being effectively the same as using makeup, something most schools in Japan have rules against under the philosophy that students should be spending their energy on learning, not trying to look good. The second is that shaved eyebrows have an association with juvenile delinquents and street gangs in Japan, thought it’s a bit of an old-school look and usually involves completely, or almost completely, shaving off the eyebrows.
On the other hand, though, Japanese etiquette stresses the importance of a neatly groomed appearance when going out in public, and excessive hair on the face or body is often considered to look unkempt.
The major point of contention seems to be between at what point removing errant or excessive hairs goes from “grooming” your eyebrows to “cutting” them. 61-year-old Kurume city councilwoman Mutsumi Kaneko, though, feels that the school went too far in punishing the girl. With the incident getting national attention in Japan this week, Kaneko said “How is it wrong for he to groom her eyebrows? By not letting her study in her regular class, and making her study in a separate room, did they think that was going to make her eyebrow hairs grow back? This school’s eyebrow rule is outside the bounds of logic.” Perhaps her words will spur the school to reexamine its policy.
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