Athletes Facing Fashion Ban

Japanese Nail Art

It was huge news in Japan last week, when snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo was banned from the opening ceremony of the Olympics for his fashion style. Now Japan’s synchronized swimmers face a fashion ban.

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Even Japan’s Minister of Education got all upset when 21-year-old Japanese snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo sported dreadlocks and wore his Olympic uniform “slovenly” as he arrived at Seattle to compete in the Olympic Games. Kokubo’s tie was undone, his unbuttoned shirt was untucked, and he wore his pants below his hips, hip hop style. His dark glasses, double nose piercings and dreadlocks infuriated many traditional-minded Japanese even more.

People were upset because they felt Kokubo represented the nation and not himself at the Olympic Games. He therefore had no right to show any individualism. He had to conform to the national expectation for Japanese Olympians.

“It’s extremely regrettable that he dressed in a totally unacceptable manner as a representative of Japan’s national team,” said Minister of Education, Tatsuo Kawabata, at Japan’s parliament. “He lacks the awareness that he is participating in the Olympic Games as a representative of our country with everyone’s expectations on his shoulders. This should never happen again.”

Kokubo was forced to give an official apology, and even his father publicly apologized to the nation.

Not everybody shares this outdated backlash, though. There are also many who feel that Kokubo should have been evaluated for snowboarding, not for his fashion style. Unfortunately, he failed to capture any medals, so he will most probably face even more critics on his return to Japan.

Recently, Japan’s national soccer team got a similar treatment as Kokubo when they were not standing to attention during the national anthem.

Now Japan’s synchronized swimmers are getting the same dressing-down. Pun intended.

Japanese swimmers will not be allowed anymore to sport brightly decorated fingernails, dyed hair or piercings, Japanese officials have decided. The ban begins on April 1. After this date, if swimmers turn up for competitions sporting these styles, they could face a lifetime ban.

Nation and old-fashioned “discipline” clearly trump individual ability.

There is something terribly silly and contradictory in all this.

Japan is well-known and deeply admired for its creative and original street fashion. The Japanese government spends huge amounts of money to promote Japan as a country with a unique fashion and pop culture.

Cool Japan“ has become a mantra repeated by everybody wearing suits in Japan, from government officials to business people, to program makers at NHK, Japan’s staid national broadcaster.

These outdated fashion restrictions on athletes—who bring Japan to the eyes of the whole world and can actually strengthen Japan’s official policy to promote pop culture—now threaten to destroy this image of Japan. Somebody is sleeping at the wheel…

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

I do agree that the athletes represent their nation and not themselves as individuals, but this ban is rather ridiculous, because it’s true that Japan is know for it’s unique fashion, which makes this ban even more ridiculous – banning something you’re good at?
But then again, I guess Japan doesn’t want to be know only for it’s unique fashion and wants to be taken more serious, because let’s be honest, Japan isn’t really taken serious with it’s lolita/harajuku fashion and silly programmes… ):

Feb 20, 2010 (4663 days ago)

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year appointed three Cute Ambassadors: see Japan Times and YouTube.

I think the synchronized swimmers with their cool fashion sense were much better advertisement…

Kjeld Duits (author)
Feb 21, 2010 (4663 days ago)

You’re right, this is incredibly contradictory. Japan does have a strong “stick up for the group” mentality though… maybe they want to separate their pop culture “Cool Japan” from their more serious industry and sports? The times are a-changing…

Feb 25, 2010 (4659 days ago)

Interesting article. I don’t think that wearing a uniform ‘improperly’ or looking like a slob when representing your country at a world class sporting event (that was in VANCOUVER, BC CANADA by the way) has anything to do with style… it has EVERYTHING to do with RESPECT. In a very public situation where the eyes of the world are on you and you are representing your country…. I feel it’s very acceptable to ‘tow the line’ and wear the uniform as required in order to have everything about the team represent their country in a POSITIVE light. (besides… who’s paying for the uniform? just sayin…) One can have ‘individual’ style and still sport a ‘uniform’ proudly. Lets remember that it IS a ‘uniform’ and as the very definition of the word explains… to ‘look alike’! An athlete can be clean, wear a uniform smartly and still show their individuality in artistic ways with jewelry, hair, nails etc.

T. Mark
Mar 12, 2010 (4643 days ago)

@T. Mark: The Japanese government’s very point is that Japanese athletes are not allowed to show their individuality in artistic ways with jewelry, hair, nails etc.. As written above: Japanese swimmers will not be allowed anymore to sport brightly decorated fingernails, dyed hair or piercings, Japanese officials have decided. Not only when abroad, but also when competing inside Japan. It is a total ban.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Mar 12, 2010 (4643 days ago)

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