Schools in Japan have a reputation for being particularly picky about students’ appearances, and one of the clearest examples of how detailed dress codes can be is that some have rules in place saying that students must wear plain white underwear.
This isn’t a regulation that all schools in Japan have, and even among Japanese people there are those who think the rule is going too far. But it does exist in some educational institutions, and to find out how many, the Nagasaki Prefectural Board of Education conducted a study of public high schools and junior high schools within the prefecture, and found wear-white-underwear-when-you-come-to-class rules are surprisingly common.
Out of 238 schools examined, 138, or 58 percent, have white underwear listed as a mandatory part of the dress code. However, that number may be dropping in the near future, as the board thinks this is cause for concern, and believes that by maintaining such policies schools may be leaving themselves open to complaints of violating students’ rights.
Considering that Japan is the same country where a district court recently upheld schools’ authority to prohibit students from dyeing their hair in the interest of maintaining discipline, one might assume educational institutions need not worry about challenges to their authority to dictate underwear color, since white is ostensibly specified so that girls’ bras won’t be visible through their uniform blouses.
However, the specific wording of the dress codes is not “underwear must not be visible,” but “underwear must be white,” and so it requires a check for compliance, regardless of whether or not the student’s underwear is otherwise visible. At some schools this has been done by a teacher periodically pulling female students’ bra straps up through their collars to check the color, and one Nagasaki junior high school girl reported that a female teacher would come into the room while the girls were changing their clothes for PE class (in Japan, boys and girls change for PE in separate classrooms, as Japanese schools do not have dedicated gym locker rooms).
By focusing on the choice of color, instead of the resulting visibility or lack thereof, schools are in effect granting themselves the authority to look at students’ underwear, and also in effect forcing students to let teachers, classmates, and school staff know what color of bra and panties they’re wearing on school days. These are the sort of things that the board is concerned about, and so at the start of the month a notice was sent to schools throughout the prefecture asking them to reexamine not just their dress codes, but their student conduct policies in general, and look for rules that need to be reconsidered or revised in light of how they impact students and emerging societal values.
“The schools that have rules about white underwear generally enacted them a long time ago,” admits a spokesperson for Nagasaki’s Department of Education. “As beliefs about individual rights change, it’s necessary for schools to actively reexamine their policies.” The board’s notice also asks that necessary revisions be made after discussions and surveys with students and parents, taking into account their opinions on the issues.
Source: NHK News Web via Otakomu
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