posted by John Spacey, Japan Talk, August 01, 2012
In the early 1990s, Japanese youth started dying their hair brown. It was a full scale national controversy.
Chapatsu (茶髪 ~ literally tea color) hair was a trend amongst Japanese high school and university kids in the early 1990s.
Most Japanese people naturally have black hair. Light brown hair sticks out. Many schools reacted to the chapatsu trend by expelling students.
Dying Hair in Japan
In the past, dying hair was considered an extremely rebellious thing to do. It essentially signaled that you were dropping out of mainstream Japanese society. Like tattoos, it wasassociated with criminality (and a loser image).
The difference with the chapatsu trend of the 1990s was that middle class kids began to dye their hair in large numbers.
Conservative pundits in Japan speculated that chapatsu represented a racial inferiority complex. Japanese nationalists demanded that kids respect their Asian heritage with natural black hair.
Some chapatsu haired kids faced police harassment. A police chief in Hokkaido (Northern Japan) was fired in the mid 1990s for pouring a beer over the head of a brown haired boy (after poking fun at his hair).
Fashion Freedom in Japan
Japanese youth have a few short years of fashion freedom (University years). This helps to explain why Japanese youth fashion trends tend to be outlandish.
Most Japanese people are stuck with a dress code for most of their lives. From a young age, Japanese students wear uniforms. A strict dress code prevails until high school graduation.
As University students, Japanese are free to dress as they want. This doesn’t last long. In the last year of University students search for a job. In Japan, fashion conformity is key to securing and holding down a job.
Brown continues to be a common hair color in Japan.
Schools found their brown hair ban difficult to enforce. A small percentage of Japanese have naturally brown hair. Students all claimed their hair color was natural. Japanese parents often support their child’s right to change their hair color. Some schools backed down.
Companies haven’t changed their policies. Candidates with brown hair (or women who wear colorful nail polish etc…) have little chance of getting a job.
In modern Japan, a little rebelliousness as a youth is considered healthy. Adults are expected to be prim and proper.
Dark hair is considered a requirement for traditional Japanese ceremonies.
You won’t see sumo wrestlers or geisha with brown hair.
Brown hair is still considered somewhat rebellious and dangerous.