Japan school stirs debate over hairstyle rules after boy with cornrows separated from class

Posted: 30th March 2023

‘I felt like I was being told, “This is not your special day”,’ says 18-year-old of graduation ceremony.

Strict rules on hairstyles at schools in Japan have attracted criticism after a mixed-race teenager was separated from other students at their graduation ceremony because he had plaited his hair into cornrows to pay tribute to his Black heritage.

The student, who has not been named, was made to sit alone at the back of the hall during a graduation ceremony at his school in Himeji, western Japan, and told not to stand and respond when his name was called out.

The 18-year-old, who has an African-American father and Japanese mother, said he had plaited his hair, which is naturally curly, to make it look neater for the ceremony, adding that he had learned about the cultural significance of cornrows online and from his father.

“I wasn’t able to create happy memories to mark the three years I spent at the school with my friends,” he told the Mainichi Shimbun. “I was frustrated because I felt like I was being told, ‘This is not your special day.’ The hairstyle represented my father’s roots and culture in the Black community.”

The school’s vice principal told the newspaper that the student had been segregated simply for failing to observe the rules on haircuts.

The boy reportedly left midway through the ceremony but returned later to collect his diploma. He was made to wait in an empty room, however, and was followed to the toilet by a teacher who later told him to leave the school premises as he waited for his friends.

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