Today is the closing ceremony for this school year at my high school, which means that a new year will start soon. Because the new year starts in spring, we only get a 2-week spring vacation between the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year. That means all of my new first-year students are already wandering around the school collecting textbooks, school uniforms, and books of information about the school. In one of their books, there is a map of the school and all of the rules for the students.
I stole one of the books of rules and read through them with a Japanese/English dictionary. Nobody ever actually told me the school rules when I arrived a few years ago. Every time I have heard one during my time here, I have been surprised at what the school restricts the students on. Here are a few of the surprising rules that my students must follow at my school.
On Their Appearance
1. Students must wear their uniform every day. You cannot attend school without your uniform. This includes school shoes, neck ties for girls, and the school crest (a pin on their uniform).
2. You may not change your natural appearance. For example, dying your hair, wearing makeup, wearing colored contacts, tweezing your eyebrows, painting your fingernails etc.
3. You may not wear any jewelry or accessories of any kind. For example necklaces, rings, watches, and earrings etc.
4. Students may only wear navy or black socks (boys and girls) and stockings (girls)
5. You may not wear a bright colored sweater or jacket over your uniform during winter. You may wear a tan, gray, navy, or black sweater or jacket only.
6. Boys must not have long hair or facial hair.
7. Girls cannot wear a scrunchie. Plain black, brown, or navy elastic hair ties only. Students can only wear hair ties in their hair and not on their wrist.
8. These uniform rules must be followed anytime students wear their uniform. Even while the students are not in school or at school, they must wear their uniforms properly to be good representatives of their school.
9. Students undershirts for their uniform must be a solid plain white gray or cream color.
On Their Activites Outside of School
1. Students may not work a part time job. If a student needs to work a part-time job during the school year or during long vacations the job must be approved by the school.
2. Students may not go to an arcade without their parents.
3. Students cannot go to karaoke without their parents.
4. Students must be home before curfew (10:00pm).
5. Students may not take extra classes at cram school without informing their homeroom teacher first.
6. Students may not have a sleep over at a friends house, even if their parents approve.
On Their Behavior At School
1. Students may not bring manga to school.
2. Students may not have their cell phones out while inside the school building. If they must use their phone between classes or after school they have to use it in the parking lot in front of the school entrance.
4. All students must be at school by 8:30am. If you are late 5 times you must come early for a week and do punishment cleaning before school.
5. If a student is going to be absent a parent must call the school to tell why.
6. Every student must sign up for and participate in a club activity.
There were many more rules that I think are common in every country’s public schools so I didn’t feel the need to write those out for you. It should be noted that every school in Japan, especially high schools, are unique.
When you talk about the school systerm in Japan it is important to remember that high school is not mandatory. Students choose which high school they go to based on what they want to do in the future. Therefore each school specializes in different things, have different types of students, and different rules and expectations. THere are schools for students who want to be office workers, students at prestigious colleges, students who want to study languages, and students who want to be farmers and mechanics.
My school situation is that I am teaching at a high level academic high school. All of my students want to attend a competitive university and, therefore, take school very seriously. Schools like mine tend to be stricter with students about the rules they must follow. I also live in the countryside, where things are more traditional. I know students in Tokyo and other large cities have far fewer restrictions.
I do see students sometimes breaking these rules, even as rural, traditional, and academic as my school is. There is always at least a few rebellious third-year students wearing a tinted lip balm and dark brown contacts that change their eye color only slightly. It happens, but it is rare.
As a teacher, you are expected to follow the same rules as the students. The only rule that my teachers don’t really follow is that female teachers do wear a minimal amount of makeup and can change their hair color slightly. Some teachers wear jewlery but nothing large or bulky. Other than that teachers generally don’t do anything that the students cannot.
I remember when I learned that students couldn’t wear hair ties around their wrists and being horrified that I had been doing it for a year and a half in front of them because no one had told me. I am almost never without a hair tie on my wrist so that was a really hard habit for me to break at school.
Next year my school will have its first long-term international foreign exchange student. I don’t want to write too much about her because I want to respect her privacy (i.e. what country she is from, her Japanese ability etc.), but I wonder how a foreigner will react to these rules. If she doesn’t have black hair and eyes she will very obviously stand-out. That could cause all sorts of problems for her and the other students getting along because of how strong the Japanese group identity is.
Here is an example from a friend of a friend of mine of the kinds of problems it could cause. This friend of a friend is a teacher in Fukui and she has been living here for over ten years. Her daughter has always been in the Japanese school system and, other than her appearance of blonde hair and blue eyes, she is very Japanese. She speaks fluent Japanese, was raised in Japanese culture and acts like her classmates.
Her daughter entered Junior High School a few years ago. Apparently the teachers of the school called her parents to ask them to please dye her hair black because it wasn’t fair that the other students couldn’t have blonde hair. Her parents refused. The other students cannot change their natural appearance and neither would their foreign daughter.
The teachers explained they were only asking this because they were worried that the jealousy of the other students would cause resentment and problems for her interacting with her classmates. I’m not really sure if she did end up having problems with her classmates, but I know that she kept her hair the natural blonde color.
The need to follow these rules and adhere to the group identity in Japan are really interesting to me. The students at my school are so well behaved that it’s hard to argue that the rules don’t work. When I hear about a situation like my friend’s daughter, I can’t help but think at what cost are these rules worth? personal identity? self expression? Individuality?
In Japan, the group identity is more important than the individual, which is a very different than the American values of personal freedom, expressing your opinion etc…
There are good and bad things to each way of thinking, of course. Growing up in America we only ever hear about the value of our freedoms and the greatness that comes with that. There is a freedom of expression, but there are bad things that sometimes come from being encouraged and raised in a culture with those freedoms. For example, there is also hate speech, entitlement, and some egotism.
While Japan is also a free country there are a lot more rules about freedom that are not enforced by laws but are enforced by culture. The bad things that come from that are like I said above, no freedom of expression, lack of individuality, loss of personal identity, and a lack of challenging old ideas and progress. But it is so hard to argue that their system is bad. The kids are so well behaved and polite. The society is safe and honorable. Japanese people have respect. Respect for each other, respect for their environment, respect for their families.
Anyways, these were just some of the things on my mind lately about rules… I hope this post was able to tickle your brain and make you think about something you hadn’t thought about before.