New recruits in Japan’s armed forces to be allowed to have longer hair

Tokyo: New recruits enlisting in Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (SDF) from April will no longer be forced to sport either buzz cuts for men or short hair for women.

The new hair regulations, which come into effect in the upcoming fiscal year starting from April 1, allow male recruits to have longer hair on top, although hair on the backs and sides of their heads will need to be cut short.

Women can now have long hair – although it cannot impede the use of a helmet or hat and must be tied up when they are in uniform, so that it does not fall on their shoulders.

The announcement from Japan’s Defence Ministry comes after officials said on an expert panel on June 28, 2023, that they were considering relaxing hairstyle requirements to promote diversity and inclusivity.

The approval of the new regulations followed a meeting by the panel in January, The Japan Times reported on Feb 17.

Defence Minister Minoru Kihara was quoted as saying: “As our nation faces a serious workforce shortage, we recognise competition with others, including the private sector, to secure talent has been intensifying.”
In 2022, fewer than 4,000 people signed up to be part of the SDF, or less than half of its recruitment goal.

The Japan Times reported on Nov 3, 2023, that the number of active personnel in the SDF has fallen by more than 7 per cent since 1990.

As at March 2022, there were 228,000 active troops – 19,000 short of the estimated 247,000 troops Japan was hoping to have.

The number of applicants has also fallen by about 30 per cent over the past decade, with Japan increasing the maximum age for new recruits from 26 to 32 in 2018 to try to stop the decline.

It is also considering scrapping a tattoo ban – implemented since 1954 when the SDF was established – to boost recruitment numbers, which have been hit hard by a sliding birth rate.