Ostensibly, school dress codes are supposed to be about eliminating distractions, and so it’s common for Japanese schools to prohibit students from dying their hair. However, problems can occur if schools rigidly assume that no one dying their hair will always result in everyone having the same hair color.
Though the vast majority of ethnically Japanese people, who make up the vast majority of students at schools in Japan, have naturally black hair, some Japanese people’s hair is instead a dark brown. This can lead to situations where a school tells a brown-haired student that they have to dye their hair black, often predicated by their not believing that the student’s natural hair color is brown, and that they’re trying to get away with dying it.
That was the case for a teen attending Kaifukan Prefectural High School in the town of Habikino, Osaka Prefecture. The girl enrolled in 2015, and was repeatedly told that she had to dye her brown hair black. The girl insisted that brown was her natural hair color, but the school says that three different teachers examined the roots of the girl’s hair and found them to be black, which they took as proof that she had been coloring her hair.
Eventually the girl, who is now 21 years old, claims she was told “If you’re not going to dye your hair black [i.e. back to black, in the school’s opinion], then there’s no need for you to come to school.” Feeling pressured and distressed, the girl did indeed stop attending classes, and the school then removed her name from her class seating chart and student roster.
But instead of seeing the school’s administrators on campus, the woman decided to see them in court, and in 2017 filed a lawsuit over the incident, asking for 2.2 million yen in compensation.
On Tuesday an Osaka district court handed down its ruling, finding neither side to be completely in the right. Presiding judge Noriko Yokota recognized the validity of the school to set and enforce rules relating to coloring hair, saying “Such rules have been established as having a reasonable and legitimate educational purpose, and so maintaining student discipline is within the discretion of the school.”
Yokota also declared “It cannot be said that the school was forcing [the girl] to dye her hair black,” seemingly taking the school’s word that the girl’s roots were black, and that the administrators were only requiring her to return to her natural hair color.
However, the school isn’t getting off completely free. The court also ruled that the administration’s actions after the girl stopped coming to class, such as removing her name from the roster and removing her desk from the classroom, were unacceptable, and has ordered Osaka Prefecture pay damages of 330,000 yen to the woman.
The amount is far less than she had been seeking, and the lack of any legal condemnation for the school insisting her hair should be black is likely to leave the plaintiff less than satisfied, and her lawyer expressed disappointment that the court took at face value the teachers’ assertation that the girl’s roots and natural hair color were black. This was likely a critical point of contention, as certain educational organizations, such as the Tokyo Board of Education, now have policies against pressuring students with naturally non-black hair to dye it black.
Meanwhile, Kaifukan says it has no plans to appeal the decision and attempt to avoid sanction entirely, and the school admits that it could make greater efforts to earn the understanding of students and their guardians regarding school rules. “We have not changed our standard of having students who have dyed their hair return it to black, but this case has been a learning experience, and we will be giving greater thought to how to better guide our students.”
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