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  • Juju Kurihara

Are Japanese School Rules Too Strict?

I have come across to an article about a Japanese school system which was written by a German born author (Link below, the first one). The title “'Sude de benki soji’ ga bidan ni naru Nihon no okashisa” (Strangeness of Japan where “cleaning toilet with bare hands” becomes a great episode) has caught my attention. It reminded me a particular episode of a famous TV drama in the 90s which was known for precisely toilet cleaning.

Cleaning the classrooms is a very common activity at Japanese schools. I also did it during my school life from the primary school to the high school. We cleaned not only our class room but also the entrance hall of the school where we kept our shoes, corridors, staircases and the toilets. As I was doing it since small, I didn’t really think why I was doing it. I don’t think any teachers explained us either. I’m sure it has given us some benefit in many ways but I agree that small children scrub the toilet floor on their hands and knees can be unnecessary.

The author of the article expresses her feeling of creepiness over the news about the school pupils clean the toilets as a beautiful story. Her concern is the hygiene. The children could get infections by cleaning the toilet, especially with the bare hands while there are professional toilet cleaning companies exist in the outside society. What surprises the author more is the belief behind it. Many schools think that cleaning toilet cleans the spirits or even “clean the country”. She suggests the tendency of right wing mentality.

This article triggered the memories of my school life. Almost all Japanese schools have uniforms and there are lots of rules to follow, such as no accessories including hair pins, no comic books, no music devices, no snacks, no coloured socks, no beard, no long hair for boys, no modifications on the school bag, no other bags apart from the school bags and so on. There were many rules during the school life. It was even funny to see the teachers get really heated up catching us possessing a chewing gams or coloured hair bands.

In my high school, I remember one or two teachers would wait for us at the entrance gate with rulers to check the length of the skirts. We had to bring up our jumpers or shirts to show them if the top of the skirts were tucked in to make the skirts shorter. In some countries, this could be considered as a sexual harassment.

Every month or so we had a hair colour check. The teachers checked our hair to see if the colour of the roots and the end were the same. We were not allowed to dye the hair in brown (blonde is out of the question). One classmate was taken to a separate room and had her hair dyed in pitch black after she had been warned a few times not to dye it in brown. The rumour said the teachers dyed her hair with a shoe ink and we were really shocked. The girl came back crying.

I had relatively brownish hair especially when I was smaller. Fortunately I was in a swimming club and everyone knew the chlorine in the water can bleach the hair and I had never had problems with the school. While school kids in the U.S. or in Europe go to school with all the accessories and different hair colours, Japanese teachers ARE (because this custom is continuing) preoccupied by slightly dyed brown hair.

I went to a girls’ school but I’ve heard that in boys school, there are rules like, no long hair, no hair band, no buns, no beard, no two different length of the hair (see the photo), no hair wax or gel and so on. Many public secondary schools even oblige the boys to have hair no more than 3cm. Are we still living in wartime?


An article laughs about this two different length of the hair showing a photo of the Emperor.

These School rules are still applied in the current education in Japan in the 21st Century. Some are even worse. The schools oblige the students to wear white underwear. I personally think they’ve gone too far. Now I think that all these extreme fashion may come from this oppression. This could be a reaction to these strict school rules.

Are any of you have an experience studying at a Japanese school? I like to hear your impression about it.

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