An 18-year-old student in Osaka, Japan, has filed a lawsuit against the local government after she says her public high school repeatedly forced her to dye her naturally brown hair black — or risk being kicked out of the school for good.
Local media sites report that students of Kaifukan School, in Habikino City, are required by school policy to have black hair, as many students naturally do. The Japan Times says that this rule led the student’s mother to contact the school before enrolling her daughter in 2015 to inform them that her hair was naturally brown, and had not been dyed, bleached, or artificially coloured in any way. But officials at the school continually ordered the student to dye it black to fit their guidelines — as frequently as every four days, according to the Tokyo Reporter. Even after following the initial order, the school reportedly claimed that it was “not enough.” The student says that the constant dyeing eventually burned her scalp and caused painful rashes.
Now, the teenager is suing the Osaka Prefectural Government for ¥2.2 million (about $19,000) in damages, on the grounds that she was forced to dye her hair so often that it constituted abuse. Her mother first lodged a complaint with the school, but it was dismissed, and the student stopped attending classes in September 2016.
When contacted by Reuters, Masahiko Takahashi, the head of Kaifukan School, declined to comment directly on the case or the resulting lawsuit, but confirmed that the school does have a ban on dyed and bleached hair; the prefectural education board maintained that rules regarding students’ hair are set by each school. And hair colour is only one factor in a long list of other strict guidelines — including skirt length and makeup — that are closely regulated by the school's staff.
A survey conducted by Osaka-based newspaper The Asahi Shimbun this past May found that nearly 60% of public high schools in Tokyo request that students with brown or light-coloured hair provide “proof” in the form of childhood or junior-high photos to verify that their hair colour is real. The publication says that this practice is in place to protect students by preventing schools from “scolding or humiliating” those whose hair is not naturally black, because it seems unusual and is therefore treated as strange. (Another way to protect students is to not scold or humiliate them by treating any physical appearance that doesn't fit mainstream beauty standards as unusual.)
This unfortunate incident is a particularly severe example of how rules are enforced to not only restrict self-expression, but also to create homogeny. As outrageous as it seems, it's not an anomaly.