Japanese subway drivers are suing for their right to grow a beard

A beard sighting in Japan is an uncommon occurrence.
A beard sighting in Japan is an uncommon occurrence.
Image: Reuters/Toshiyuki Aizawa
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Rarely will you see government workers in Japan—particularly older ones—flagrantly disobeying their employer’s rules. But two fifty-something subway drivers in Osaka have been doing just that. When the city’s transportation bureau implemented grooming standards that banned beards in 2012, the drivers took a stand.

They refused to shave their beards. (The men have closely cropped, sparse facial hair, not bushy Brooklyn-style beards.)

Now, the men are taking it a step further. They’re filing a lawsuit against the municipal government. According to Osaka Bar Association, the odious rule isn’t merely a violation of their grooming rights—it’s a violation of their human rights. (For the record, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by United Nations does not specifically mention facial hair.) The association has urged the city to drop the no-beard regulation.

The mayor of Osaka is having none of it. The standards are “for letting passengers use the subway pleasantly,” he explained.

The lawsuit contends the men unfairly suffered financial losses, having received lower bonus payments because they refused to shave their beards, leading to poor marks on their personnel evaluations.

Yet a refusal to shave does not mean a refusal to groom, one plaintiff told reporters. “I have never neglected to groom my beard,” he said. “I just can’t accept to be told I am badly groomed just because I grow a beard.”

According to the lawsuit, filed yesterday (March 9) in the Osaka district court, “Growing a beard is part of individual freedom, just like choosing clothes or hairstyles. The city’s grooming standards violate this freedom guaranteed under the constitution.”

Each driver seeks ¥2.2 million (nearly $20,000) in damages to compensate for the decreased bonuses—and for their mental suffering.