If her claims are true, a third year female student at an Osaka prefectural senior high school is the victim of an egregious human rights violation.

We strongly demand that the school authorities involved take swift action so that she can attend school like any normal student.

The teenager, who has naturally brown hair, has sued the Osaka prefectural government for damages, citing the emotional anguish she suffered from the school’s repeated orders to dye her hair black.

According to her complaints, her teachers and other school authorities told her not to come to school unless she dyed her hair black, and they banned her from attending classes and going on school trips. Repeated applications of dye ruined her hair and caused rashes on her scalp. She is currently in no state to go to school.

The Osaka prefectural government is set to fight this in court. However, Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui has noted: “I don’t see why anyone has to alter their natural physical features. I find it really questionable.”

The prefecture’s board of education must explain why the student was forced to obey such an unreasonable order.

It is absurd to even remind ourselves that the color and type of hair vary from person to person. But at Japanese schools, it is not rare for authorities to tell their students, “Everyone must have black, straight hair, and no deviation is acceptable.”

A survey conducted in spring by The Asahi Shimbun found that about 60 percent of Tokyo metropolitan senior high schools required newly enrolled students with brown or wavy hair to provide “proof” that they were born with such hair.

People who insist on strict rules on how to dress and wear one’s hair would typically say: “Any school that gets a reputation for being ‘lax’ will have lower enrollment, and its students will be at a disadvantage in advancing to higher education or finding a job. Just one offender can cause inconveniences to all.”

We can fully appreciate the need for certain rules to maintain order at school, where students are expected to behave as members of a group. But it’s a different story if excessive discipline is being enforced around the nation.

The most important thing for any school to bear in mind is to ensure that the younger generation will learn what they must learn, by nurturing and respecting each student as an individual. The need for this attitude is all the greater today in this age of globalization, which is accompanied by growing numbers of children of diverse ethnic roots.

Schools that try to protect their reputations above all and deny the dignity of individual students have their priorities all wrong. They have lost sight of their mission, which is to “guide” each student, not “control” the whole group.

The tendency to prioritize the group over the individual and discipline over individuality is deeply rooted in Japanese society. And “peer pressure” is an expression that is heard frequently.

On one level or another, what is happening at schools can be considered a reflection of how adults think and behave. Rather than just be outraged by what the Osaka prefectural school did to its student, we should be examining ourselves.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 6