Ryoko Tasaki
Apr 16, 2019

Pantene challenges the hair police in Japanese schools

A new instalment in an ongoing campaign aims to spark conversation between students and teachers around the importance of self-expression.

A screenshot from Pantene's campaign featuring a student who wonders what makes her brown hair unacceptable to school authorities
A screenshot from Pantene's campaign featuring a student who wonders what makes her brown hair unacceptable to school authorities

In Japan, Pantene is pushing ahead with its efforts to break down the barriers to self-expression and help people build confidence in their individuality. For its spring campaign, the brand addresses archaic school rules for hair.

In some Japanese schools, students with brown hair (or hair of any colour that isn't black) are obliged to give proof that the colour is natural. In some cases, even if it is natural, they are ordered to dye it black.

Pantene’s initiative is based on student and teacher responses to a survey on the regulations, which formed the starting point of what is supposed to be an ongoing dialogue around their validity.

The research found some 90% of teachers see the rules as outdated. A short documentary, developed by Party, provides a look at the discussion that ensued between the different generations.

In the film, students question what’s wrong with their hair, and point out that not being allowed to dye their black hair a lighter colour while being made to dye light hair black constitutes double standards. They point out that individuals are all different and should be allowed to be. The teachers agree that the rules need rethinking.

In its first three days after launching on 8 April, the campaign drew 20,000 responses on Twitter under the hashtag #WhyIsMyHairUnacceptable.

The latest work follows an instalment that encouraged student jobseekers to challenge unwritten rules preventing them from wearing their hair as they would like to, and one featuring a baby whose abundant hair proved controversial.

Campaign’s view:

The work draws much-needed attention to unreasonable school rules, which also include a ban on drinking water and sunscreen, and designated colours for underwear. An earlier challenge to the system came in 2017, when a high school student in Osaka filed a lawsuit after being forced to dye his hair black.

More than 90% of students in the Pantene survey said they had never asked teachers to explain why these rules exist. A comment on the site noted that starting a dialogue was in itself a big step forward.

It’s unclear whether things will improve, of course. Comments on YouTube point out that schools could well just put up a wall and refuse to change. It’s not easy for students to stand up to rules that have become ingrained.

But the appetite is there. A volunteer project preceded Pantene’s campaign in 2007, calling for the abolition of unreasonable rules and launching a survey that yielded similar findings.

As a major brand, Pantene has the potential to take the issue further, and the response so far is encouraging, both for society and for the brand (which is of course the main point of the campaign). It’s good to see Pantene persevering with its theme of promoting individuality rather than falling into the trap of rolling out a one-off “cause”-related stunt.

Campaign Japan

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