Stereotypically, Japan really loves their sense of social conformity and the comfort of their unchanging rules. The socialization of Japanese children into upstanding and unobtrusive citizens starts young and is encouraged by the country’s educational system. Rules regarding clothing and classroom behaviors are necessary in any nation’s school setting, but the institutions’ attempts to control their students seem particularly far-reaching in Japan.

Still, there are some rules that even the people who grew up within the Japanese system find particularly confusing, if not downright misinformed. When asked in an online survey how many people felt that their school had some weird sorts of rules, 12.5 percent of respondents answered, “yes.” That may not seem like a very high number, but when asked to go into detail about these unconventional guidelines, the results were still rather surprising. Here’s a short list of weird guidelines upheld by some of Japan’s schools.

***Take note that all of the comments were made by Japanese people who are now in their twenties and anything in parentheses is my personal commentary***

The confusing requirements began as early as kindergarten and elementary school.

  • Kindergarteners should be barefoot. (Just indoors or all the time?)
  • You must travel to school in uniform and then change into your P.E. uniform upon arrival. You must wear a helmet when riding a bike. Still, you may not ride your bike on the streets, only in the park. (At least I agree with the helmet thing…)

In junior high school the rules crack down a lot more on appearance.

  • You must wear socks. (Wait, that’s not a given?)
  • Sweaters may not be worn on the way to and from school because they create a sloppy appearance. You must wear your jacket over the top of any shirt or sweater. (Can’t have kids looking warm on their way to school…)
  • Only third year students are allowed to carry school bags. (In that case, I have to assume that they’re the only ones assigned homework.)
  • A girl’s bangs cannot extend past her eyebrows. (But what if you’re trying to grow them out?)
  • A boy’s hair should be kept short enough in the back that it does not reach the nape of his neck. (No mullets at this school.)

Still, the majority of strange rules came from the nation’s high schools.

  • No romantic involvements. (Because banning relationships will definitely keep teenage kids focused on their studies rather than sex…)
  • Time for self-study can be taken at any point in the day. Ask a teacher and you may use a different subject’s class time to study on your own. (The kids only ever learn things at cram school anyways.)
  • You may not wear more than one good luck bracelet. (Two would be considered cheating.)
  • A boy’s hair must be trimmed close to his ears. Hair may not be cut to contain layers. And, no hair styling is permitted, specifically no hair wax. (Can we just get a diagram of all approved haircuts? It’d probably be faster than trying to list what’s banned.)
  • Shoes cannot have wooden soles. (Where would you even buy shoes like that in Japan?!)
  • There are no regulations. Personal clothing, shoes, accessories, and dyed hair are all acceptable. (So, this one’s basically like an American public school!)

I’ve got to say, a lot of the things on this list certainly do seem to move beyond common issues which might impede a student’s ability to learn. Though to be honest, what I find even more startling is just how many things don’t appear on this list!

When I worked as an English teacher for elementary and junior high school students here in Japan, the girls were not allowed to shave their legs, put on makeup, or even pluck their eyebrows, because their focus should be on learning rather than worrying about their appearances. If a girl’s hair was longer than shoulder-length, it had to be worn up in a ponytail or pigtails. Accessories and jewelry were strictly not allowed. Everyone was required to change into a separate pair of indoor shoes or hallway slippers to use inside, and every day, either around lunchtime or at the end of sixth period, the students were made to clean the school in the place of having janitors. As an American, I was initially startled, and it took me a while to adjust.

In the end, it just goes to show that every culture is different and adheres to different sets of values. We may poke fun at  those things that strike us as somewhat illogical, but the fact of the matter is that these “weird” rules and practices are what have shaped Japan into the country that it is today, a country that we just so happen to adore.

Surely, you’ve run into some obscure sorts of guidelines in your own time, whether inside the classroom or outside of school. Why not share your experiences in the comments?

Source: Nico Nico News via Hachima Kikou (Japanese)
Image: Wikimedia