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BY Francis Akhalbey, 12:00pm March 29, 2023,

Japan: Half Black student who attended graduation in cornrows segregated during ceremony

A half black high school student in Japan was made to sit separately at his graduation because he attended the ceremony in cornrows -- Photo Credit: Mainichi Shimbun

An 18-year-old Black student in Japan who attended his high school graduation ceremony in cornrows was made to sit separately from his classmates because of his hairstyle, VICE World News reported. A local newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, reported that the teen, whose hair is black and curly, decided to attend his February graduation in cornrows because it was a special ceremony.

The teen is said to have discussed the hairstyle with his father, who is originally from New York, as he planned to attend the graduation with “neat hair.” However, administrators at his Hyogo-based school separated him from his classmates and had him sit in a different section because his cornrows violated its rules. He was also told not to respond when his name was called.

Japan’s school rules, known as burakku kousoku, are known to be strict, draconian, and implemented without compromise. This recent incident reportedly stirred a debate about the rules, as well as the discrimination racial minorities endure. The Asian nation’s ethnic population stands at 98%.

“Braiding is a way for Black people to arrange their hair, the same way that Japanese people part their hair,” the teen’s father said. “It’s discriminatory to assume that a hairstyle with roots is a violation without any reason.”

Besides hairstyles, some Japanese schools also have rules surrounding skirt length, underwear color, and eyebrow shape for students. “I was surprised to see a response similar to the old U.S. racial segregation policy of ‘separate but equal.’ Why do you have to worry about the hairstyle? It’s a graduation ceremony,” leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, Yuichiro Tamaki, shared in a tweet. Tamaki also said Japan has to do more to embrace diversity in its schools.

An associate professor of sociology who has studied burakku kousoku, Asao Naito, told VICE World News that the school taking action against the student because of his hairstyle did not come as a surprise. Naito also said a student’s uniqueness does not supersede the overall image of schools in the country. 

“They strictly enforce obedience in the form of hairstyles, skirt lengths, underwear colors, and so on, as an act of showing that the human being belongs entirely to the school and is a servant of the school,” he said.

With regard to rules surrounding hairstyles, the teen’s school states that it must be “clean and appropriate for high school students, without being influenced by fashion trends.” Boys are not also allowed to have their hair cover their eyes, ears, or shirt collars. The school also bars the bleaching, dyeing, and drying of hair, but the rules do not clearly share details on braiding, per VICE World News.

Responding to its decision, the school said the teen’s hairstyle violated its rules. It also stated that he was still allowed to attend the ceremony – though he was made to sit at a different place. 

“This hairstyle is part of my father’s roots and is my culture as a Black man,” the teen said about the incident.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 29, 2023


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