“Ignore the rules and you’ll get jam in your sneakers.”

The teachers may not always know about them, but throughout schools in Japan there are a number of unwritten rules that have been passed down from school generation to school generation and must be obeyed. First graders may only use the old, “haunted” toilet block nearest to the gym; only third graders may wear their backpack with just one strap; the cute art teacher must never be gazed upon by anyone other than the boys from class 2-F…

Entering a new school and being told to obey these long-standing rules “or else”, many kids probably wonder why their seniors, or “senpais“, are such jerks. But as the years go by and they, too, slowly rise to power and reap the rewards of having aged a couple of years, few are in a hurry to abolish the “ura“, or “other side”, code of conduct.

According to a report by Japan’s Yomiuri Online, however, students at a school in Tainai City, Niigata Prefecture have taken the unusual step of openly discussing these rules and swearing to abide by them no more.

In an effort to create a more harmonious learning environment, the student council at Tainai Junior High School carried out a series of meetings and conducted surveys over the space of a year, gathering data and listening to students’ opinions regarding unfair practices and the hierarchies that exist within the school grades.

The council began by asking students whether they felt that the presence of these “ura rules” was a good or bad thing, and which rules they most disagreed with. Of 120 students surveyed, a whopping 99 kids said that they would prefer that the rules did not exist whatsoever, stating that they’d rather “enjoy a more pleasant” school environment, with many third grade students stating that they, too, had thought the rules unfair during their first two years at the school.

Not everyone agreed, however. As many as 19 students felt that, since they had suffered the same hardships, it would be wrong to abolish the student code at that point, arguing that the rules had made them the people that they are.

In a series of surveys carried out by the student council and committees staffed by teachers and education staff, a number of “ura rules” were identified and discussed openly.

Here is just a small sample of the curious codes of conduct that thousands of students have lived by, in some cases for generations:

– First and second graders (whose classroom are on the third floor) are forbidden to use the restroom located on the third graders’ (second) floor. Furthermore, first graders must go down to the first floor and use the toilets there out of consideration for the second graders with whom they share a floor. 

– First-year students may not use the staircase located closest to the main entrance.

– First graders must never leave their jersey sweater unzipped during gymnastics practice.

– First graders must only use plain, dark-coloured backpacks.

– During the summer term, first and second graders must wear a vest. Second graders may unfasten their top button. 

While some of the rules are startlingly detailed, articles referring to such things as the colour backpack a student may carry or the use of a simple zip betray the juvenile thinking of their creators. But the kids of Japan are growing up and have decided that enough is enough.

“I’m very happy that steps are being taken to tackle this issue and raise awareness,” said one student. “I’d like my seniors to do their best to someday make these kinds of rules disappear completely.”

Japan has struggled with issues of bullying, which have in some cases resulted in children committing suicide, for years now, and there has been call for closer monitoring of student behaviour and to create an atmospshere where students of all ages can coexist and study with minimal stress. Seeing young people like those in Niigata Prefecture – especially those who have already had these unfair ura rules imposed upon them and were most likely looking forward to becoming the top dogs – taking the initiative and actively seeking change, however, is nothing short of heart-warming and something that we hope to see much more of in the near future.

SourceYomiuri Online

Map courtesy of Google Maps

▼ Tainai City is located in Northwest Japan