Have you ever heard that Japanese school kids must wear white underwear and teachers actually check the color? Japanese school rules are known to be extremely strict and they are collectively referred to as “black school rules.” Here are the 10 most common and bizarre Japanese school rules based on the genuine experience of someone who was raised in Japan and went to Japanese schools – me!
In case you don’t believe what I’m going to write in this article, I added some supporting resources and tweets from the actual victims of the Japanese school rules to show that this is an ongoing controversy throughout Japan as of 2021.
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Your must wear white underwear
OK, let me give you the most shocking example first.
Some (not all) junior high and high schools in Japan require their students to wear white underwear.
Luckily enough, my schools didn’t force students to wear specific types of underwear, but some Japanese schools do actually check the color of their students’ underwear every morning when they come to school!
Sometimes it’s a male teacher that checks female students’ underwear. I can only imagine how kids in puberty would feel about such an inspection, but teachers think that they have to do it for a good cause to maintain morals of the school.
Let’s see some actual (ex-)students’ tweets and articles about this school rule:
— モス🥪 (@Cain_Sho) May 19, 2021
Quick translation: “In my school, the year-head (an old guy)” checked our underwear. Whenever he found anything that didn’t match his preferences, like colored or patterned, we had to take it off on the spot. It’s a bit bizarre, come to think of it now.”
— 007KeiKei🏹加害性あるグループメンバー刺客の標的꙳★野次将軍😑わきまえない誤字ッター🌠 (@007_Kei0909W) June 9, 2020
Quick translation: “What ‘black school rules’ reminds me of is ‘white underwear.’ A teacher checked my underwear using a mirror by surprise. Was it at all necessary… But you know what, it’s beige which is the least visible through summer clothing. Well, I changed schools because it was nonsense.”
— ミニメディア通信猫村記者 (@yuuzarmei) January 28, 2019
Quick translation: “15.8％ of teenagers experienced the ‘white underwear’ school rule in junior high school, 11.4% in high school. 2.5% of teens were checked the color of their underwear. Some say ‘my underwear was confiscated during school trip and I had to spend 3 days without bra,’ ‘a male teacher called me and said ‘your underwear is blue? It has to be white.'”
The Japanese news in the above tweet was published in 2019, so it’s not a story from the last century. This article translated into English also says that the white underwear school rule is still widespread in 2020. In this article, a girl who graduated from junior highschool in March 2021 claims that there were many unreasonable school rules in her school too.
The reason behind this rule is this: Some people believe that non-white underwear can be seen through shirts and students might get in trouble because their underwear might get others aroused. In order to make students’ underwear less visible and prevent them from getting in troubles, teachers make their students wear white underwear.
This is no exaggeration nor a made-up story. I know how unbelievable this is, but this is the reality of Japan in 2021.
On a side note, a recent study by an underwear manufacturer proved that white underwear was more visible through shirts, but it hasn’t been convincing enough to make teachers change their minds:
— BODY FOCUS (@body_focus) August 22, 2018
Quick translation: “We see many articles saying that students are required to wear white underwear by school rules because other colors can be seen through. But as an underwear manufacturer, we had to say something and did a quick experiment. Lighter colors than your skin are very visible.”
No hair bleaching allowed, your hair must be black
This is one of the most common black school rules in Japan. In most Japanese schools, nobody is allowed to dye or bleach their hair unless there is a specific reason I’m going to mention later.
There might be some exceptions, but as far as I know, every school in Japan forbids their pupils/students to dye their hair unless their natural hair color is not black. In my high school, some students secretly dyed their black hair brown and told their teachers that their hair was naturally brown, but if teachers found out, they would force the students to dye their hair black.
However, this rule only applies to dyeing black hair another color. If your hair is not black by nature, your school will either force you to dye it black or submit a “proof of natural hair” to your school with a photograph from your childhood. My sister, who has bright brown hair, had to submit such a proof to her school to prove that her hair was naturally brown.
This is because every single Japanese is supposed to have black hair and everybody without exception, even if you are non-Japanese, has to follow the belief. In short, it’s not “dyeing hair” that is prohibited, but it’s “having non-black hair” that is prohibited in Japan.
The same goes for perms. As well as dyeing your hair, getting a perm is also prohibited by Japanese schools.
Once I heard about a case where a teacher yelled at a half African, half Japanese student with curly hair saying “your permed hair is against our school rule!” But considering his background, it’s no surprise that he has curly hair, right? What the heck was the teacher expecting?? Unfortunately, things like this happen daily in Japan. Unfortunately I lost the link to this case, but you will find tons of similar cases if you google it in Japanese (try “ハーフ 髪 校則違反 -ハーフアップ” for example and you will see a lot of half Japanese banned from having their natural hair).
There is another bizarre and outrageous case where a half Japanese student’s brown hair was filled with black ink in her year book! See this article translated into English for more details. I don’t know why her school did such a thing, but it’s probably because they thought that having brown hair was not a right thing and they “corrected” the mistake. Looks like this happened in 2007 or so and not recently, but things like this still happen very often in the 21st century Japan.
By the way, most schools don’t bear the cost of blackening or straightening hair.
No two-block haircut (undercut) allowed
Recently, some public high schools in Tokyo forbid two-block haircut and the news went viral. Two-block haircut is an improved version of undercut, and it’s considered to be a hairstyle of delinquents.
Students with this haircut might be targeted by other delinquent students and they might be involved in unwanted accidents or incidents–This is the reason behind this school rule. Teachers introduced it in order to protect their students from troubles. In Japan, dressing up yourself or having a fashionable hairstyle is considered bad because it will cause troubles.
But so many Japanese adults, as well as students, made an objection against this rule because it’s nonsense to even think that a specific haircut could possibly put one in trouble.
Besides, the Emperor of Japan has two-block haircut! Has he ever gotten in trouble because of his hairstyle?
No pierced earrings allowed
Pierced earrings are not allowed in most schools in Japan because they are too flashy. I think the rule comes from the same reason as the two-block haircut rule. The Japanese think that dressing up oneself will put him-/herself in trouble, and this is why Japanese schools tend to require their students to dress and act as humble as possible.
I doubt if a pair of simple earrings is flashy in any way, but that’s the rule. My cousin who is from the US had to remove her earrings when her parents moved to Japan and she started going to a Japanese public school.
The same applies to other accessories such as necklaces or rings. Most schools forbid those accessories. Some elementary schools even prohibit their pupils from wearing a watch. I had to change elementary schools when my parents moved to a different city in my childhood, and one of my elementary schools allowed wearing a watch while the other didn’t. Both were public schools, but rules differ from school to school.
No romantic relationships allowed
Given the strict rules I have already mentioned, it might not be difficult to imagine, but many schools forbid romantic relationships between students.
One day, a female high school student was chatting with a male student from another high school. When the female student’s school found out the event, they made her compose an essay on her “misdeed.” The male student could have been her brother, but looks like it didn’t matter.
I’m not sure how many schools forbid relationships, but I guess quite a few schools do.
My high school was relatively generous compared to those high schools and they allowed “moderate and healthy” relationships.
Leaving school lunch not allowed
The majority of schools in Japan serve their pupils/students school lunch for a fee. As the school lunch program is a part of dietary education, kids are not allowed to leave any food provided from their school. Because of this, even if you can’t eat some food, your teacher will not allow you to finish lunch until you eat that food.
I can’t eat shrimps, but one day shrimps were served at lunch. Seeing that I wasn’t going to eat shrimps, my teacher forced me to eat them and she didn’t let me finish my lunch until the afternoon class began. My teacher finally gave in and I didn’t have to eat the shrimps, but she was murmuring about me to the end.
Also, as the Japanese have traditionally been taught never to leave food, they feel guilty about leaving food apart from the dietary education. This feeling of guilt makes teachers upset if their pupils leave school lunch.
Having to eat up your food without leaving is a beautiful teaching, but the problem is, what if you are allergic to a certain food?
Today, the understanding on allergies has grown to a certain level, but some teachers still force their pupils to eat the food they are allergic to because teachers think those who have allergies are spoiled and can’t live through them. With strong mind and guts, one can overcome anything–allergies or diseases–that’s their reasoning.
Only black or navy hairties allowed
Not only are students forbidden to wear earrings, but they are also not allowed to use colorful hairties.
The majority of schools only allow black and navy hairties and ban any other colors. The colors allowed differ from school to school and they can be black and brown in some schools, but many schools ban red or gold hairties.
The reason behind this rule is the same as earrings and other accessories: The Japanese think that dressing oneself overly flashy will put him-/herself in trouble.
Your skirt must not be more than X inches above your knees
This is another typical school rule in Japan: Most schools define the lengths of their school uniform skirts.
Many teenagers want to wear short skirts, but their schools forbid their skirts to be, say, more than 3 inches above their knees. But do you think teenagers that are eager to dress up will give in so easily? No, they won’t.
Those who still want to wear short skirts use a secret skill to fold their skirts. As teachers might suddenly inspect the skirt lengths and crack down on students that wear shorter skirts than allowed, students usually fold their skirts at the waist to make them look shorter and quickly unfold them when teachers start crackdown. Smart huh? I did this too when I was a student.
However, some teachers obviously know this and they want to crack down on folded skirts. Recently I read an article about a female student whose teacher suddenly flipped up her skirt in front of other students to check if her skirt was not folded. Her shorts were exposed, but she couldn’t do or say anything because she was too intimidated.
No stockings or tights allowed even in winter
The next school rule is “no tights or stockings allowed.”
Argh, I’m getting sick of describing all these details because they make me remember my school days in Japan. But I won’t stop because I want the world to know the reality of Japan.
Some schools make their students wear socks of certain lengths and colors, and anything other than that is not allowed. This means that students are not allowed to wear stockings or tights even if it’s cold in winter because those are not the types of socks defined by school.
I know the reasons behind most black school rules in Japan (not that I understand them), but I have no idea at all where this particular rule came from.
Some parents react strongly against this rule and insist on abolishment of it. As a result, some schools gave in and allowed students to wear stockings/tights in winter, but others didn’t and there is still ongoing controversy.
You must tie your hair if it’s longer than shoulder length
The last bizarre but common school rule is this: You must tie up your hair at all times if it’s longer than shoulder length.
Not only during gymnastics class, but students are also required to tie up their long hair whenever they are at school.
This is another rule I don’t know the reason behind. I guess teachers think longer hair could disturb students and distract them from classes, but this is not decisive. Maybe students with long hair are overly attractive (to teachers) and teachers think that the students might be in trouble? If I guessed right, the reason for this rule is the same as the “earrings not allowed” rule.
So… how did you feel about these rules? There are a lot more bizarre but common rules such as you are not allowed to talk to students from other classrooms or schools. Many of them are not always easy to understand, and many students are not happy to follow them.
Before I conclude this article, let me give some comments as an ex-student who experienced many of these black school rules for herself.
What the Japanese school rules are all about?
Some of you might be wondering what the Japanese school rules are all about, because there are no such rules in other countries like the US, UK or France but students live happily without them.
There are two major factors behind this.
One is that the Japanese think that students will become delinquent without strict rules. If you let kids do as they want, they will fall into sin. This is the Japanese way of thinking. Not only for kids, there are so many rules for adults to keep in Japan too. This is purely my personal opinion, but I kind of feel that the Japanese can’t live without making not necessarily reasonable rules, keeping them and monitoring each other by them. The validity of the rules doesn’t always matter as long as people can monitor each other. Again, this is purely my thought and some rules are essential in other countries too.
Secondly, school is not only a place to teach school subjects, but it’s also a place for parenting. Teachers are required to play the role of parents, and thus they are required to teach things that parents are supposed to. Because of this culture, teachers interfere in students’ personal lives and sometimes go too far.
What about human rights?
Many people would probably think “but don’t the Japanese school rules violate human rights?” The answer is yes, some of them obviously do.
In fact, there have been some lawsuits over violation of human rights by the black Japanese school rules, but surprisingly, the most claimants have lost because Japanese courts avoid messing with the board of education. The board of education is solely responsible for regulating schools, and even courts don’t have a say.
And the board of education don’t always control schools, allowing schools to come up with random rules that they can’t even logically explain for themselves. Well, the schools think their reasons are logical and they will say with confidence that their rules are necessary, but I, personally, don’t think any rules that override human rights just to maintain morals can be logical.
How do the Japanese feel about these rules?
So, don’t the Japanese feel anything about those rules but just obey then? Yes and no, they followed whatever rules blindly until a generation ago, but they are beginning to change.
While many people, younger or older, still think school rules are necessary to keep kids on the right track, others think that these rules are nothing but violation of human rights and they began to speak up.
Here are typical comments from both supporters and opponents:
Supporters of Japanese school rules
- Kids will take the wrong path without rules. Even if the rules seem irrelevant, there are reasons behind them and students must keep them.
- I don’t think the rules are always reasonable, but everyone keeps them. If my kid is the only one who doesn’t, he/she will stand out and will be bullied.
- When kids become adults, they will have to keep so many unreasonable rules anyway. Keeping school rules as a kid is a part of training.
Opponents of Japanese school rules
- Male teachers checking female students’ underwear? Sick! That’s nothing but sexual harassment.
- My kid is of Japanese nationality but half French with brown hair, and her school requires her to dye her hair black. It’s so humiliating that her school denies the way my kid was born.
- Schools are not military. They should abolish the old fashioned and meaningless rules immediately.
Those who oppose the rules and speak up, however, don’t always win because it’s extremely difficult to obtain help from either courts or the board of education. The only way to change the culture is spread the stories and increase awareness about the issue.
I hope this article helped raise your interest in the Japanese “black school rules” in 2021, not in the last century.
In summary, there are so many rules in Japanese schools such as your underwear must be white, but this is because the Japanese believe that dressing oneself overly flashy (including underwear) will get oneself in trouble. In order to protect students from troubles, there are strict rules in schools of Japan. However, while some Japanese agree to those rules, many oppose them and speak up because they believe that some rules violate human rights.
In order to change the situation, it would help if you shared this post on social media, blogs, news media or with friends to increase awareness. Any comments are welcome too! Let’s keep an eye on this issue.