I’ve had black, straight hair since I was born.
High school prom, high school graduation, college graduation... On all occasions, I curled my hair and cemented it with hair spray, but by the time I got to the site, my hair was back straight. After watching various videos, I tried different ways to curl, but I failed again.
Some thoughts I’ve had as someone with straight hair.
How do people with textured hair in Japan do hair care? What do they do if they want to change their hairstyle? I see hair straightening and perm services, as well as hair products for straight hair, but what if people don’t want them?
Japanese companies release advertisements using phrases like “hair you can easily run your fingers through,” “silky hair that you want to untie,” and “poofy hair can be tamed” with models with black, straight hair. Personally, I drive all the way to Japanese supermarkets to buy Japanese hair products because American/Western products do not work for my hair. So seeing these ads, I thought, “I prefer Japanese products because my hair is straight, but Japan’s still lacking inclusivity just like makeup products.” And then I saw some interesting news.
It was about a high school student who had to participate in his graduation separately from his peers because the cornrows he wore to the occasion were considered to be “against school rules.”
I spent the majority of my student life with friends who did not have black, straight hair, so this news was simply shocking. In elementary school, I had a classmate who came with dread hair with beads: surrounding students were telling her how cute it looked, and I remember telling her how nice it looked with my broken English. In middle school, I learned that there is a variety of Black hair, so I had never seen hairstyles be an issue on school grounds or certain hairstyles be considered “inappropriate.”
“Your hair cannot touch your ears or shoulders.” “Your hair must be black.” “Girls’ long hair must be tied in a ponytail.” “Boys must not have long hair.” “Students who do not have black, straight hair must submit a certificate with a parent’s signature.”
School rules exist to protect students, so unreasonable ones should not be enforced. Because I believe following school rules is a practice before entering adulthood to follow rules and laws of society, I question the need for them to be applied to appearances. Designated hair color and texture, as well as length, is absolutely unnecessary to study. Even when one enters adulthood and goes into the “real world,” hairstyle, hair color, and texture never correlate to one’s productivity or efficiency.
This news not only revealed Japan’s unreasonable school rules but also Japan’s lack of entrenchment of different cultures.
In fact, Koichi Shintani, the director of the Board of Education high school education division in Hyogo prefecture, held a press conference and stated cornrows as “braided hair.” In addition, he made the following comments:
“[We heard that] He wanted to attend in this kind of hairstyle (cornrows) only for graduation. If we received any consultations about the hairstyle having racial history, we would have been able to respond in support of the student. This would not have happened if the communication between our school and the student went better.”
“The student not only went beyond ‘not cutting his hair,’ he came in a hairstyle that is not considered hygienic. Everyone is trying to graduate comfortably, but the student did not keep his promise of cutting his hair short.”
Only for graduation? If they’ve received consultations? Not considered clean? Not keeping a promise? Needless to say, Black hair, including cornrows, dread, and box braids, must be historically and culturally respected. Society is slowly changing for the better, but how is it that time has stopped in schools?
Why can’t a student wear a hairstyle that’s respecting his cultural background whenever he wants to, regardless of the occasion? Why does he need to consult the school?
Why is a hairstyle, not having any Japanese background, considered “unhygienic”? Why does he need to cut them short?
Why wouldn’t students be able to graduate “comfortably” if a student comes with Black hair? Can there possibly be any school rule or suggestion that must be respected more than the student’s identity that he wanted to value so much?
What’s considered a hairstyle for students? What’s considered a Japanese hairstyle?
Why do people think only black, straight hair is considered “Japanese” and “neat”?
Individuals with black, straight hair are not the only ones with a Japanese background. Furthermore, how can they insist that the students only value Japanese culture?
Even if you weren’t directly affected by this news, you can do a lot of things to contribute to making school, a society before adulthood, more inclusive.
If you find any hairstyle or clothes nice, try researching what they culturally mean.
If your classmates, friends, or relatives have backgrounds other than Japanese, try to see and think if there’s any hindrance in their lives that may be preventing them from valuing their cultural roots.
If any community, like a school or society, is enforcing any unreasonable rules, raise your voice.
It doesn’t matter the standards or identities that society enforces on you.
If you can be confident in yourself, it doesn’t matter if you have black, brown, straight, curly hair.
I hope we can change society into a safe place where people with different identities can become confident in themselves for who they are.
No matter what cultural roots you may have, it’s still an important part of that person.
You know your culture, tradition, and background best.
It’s yours, no matter what people say or do; no one else has the right to decide, but you.
I decide my heritage and identity.
I make those decisions, and so can you.
In hopes that beauty standards in Japan become more inclusive, to the point of extinction.
In hopes that everyone will be able to live the way they want to.
And most importantly, in hopes that people will be able to love themselves the way they are.
I am writing this series, “I Love Myself” with these hopes in mind.
Written by Emiru Okada
Graphics by Sarah Kai