Why Do Japanese People Have Black Hair?

If you’ve seen videos of the famous Shibuya crossing or photos from any event in Japan, you will have noticed one thing that unites most of the people featured: their hair. 

A considerable percentage of the Japanese population, if not all, have black hair unless they color their hair brown.

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How could that be?

Read on to find out why Japanese people have back hair and if it’s possible for them to have any other hair color. 

Why Do Japanese People Have Black Hair? 1

Why do Japanese people have black hair?

Hair color for any ethnicity is determined by eumelanin and pheomelanin (Leerunyakul, 2020). 

These are the two pigments responsible for hair and skin color. 

Eumelanin is the black or brown pigment, while pheomelanin is the red or yellow pigment.

Darker hair contains a higher level of eumelanin than pheomelanin.

People with dark hair, such as the Japanese and other Asian races, produce mainly eumelanin. This causes them to have black hair.

Can Japanese people have brown hair?

The factors that determine hair color can be thought of as being on a sliding scale. 

Just like siblings can have different hair colors, the amount of eumelanin or pheomelanin the body produces will vary from person to person. 

Japanese people mainly produce eumelanin, so naturally, they will have darker hair than someone who mainly produces pheomelanin. 

But how much their body produces will determine how dark their hair is.

Japanese people with lower production of eumelanin will have hair that is dark but not black. 

So yes, Japanese people can have brown hair.

What is less likely is for Japanese people to have naturally blonde hair. Blond hair has low levels of eumelanin, so this trait does not work for those with naturally high levels of eumelanin.

Globally, black or dark brown hair accounts for up to 85% of people’s natural hair color, with brunette hair in second place with about 11%. 

Following the global trend, black or dark hair is Japan’s most popular and natural color. Brown is the second most common natural hair color. It is rare for a Japanese person to have blond hair.

Why Do Japanese People Have Black Hair? 2

Is it trendy to dye hair in Japan?

Many schools and workplaces in Japan prefer the “natural” black hair look, so it is not common for people to dye their hair a shade that isn’t black.

People with hair that’s naturally dark brown may opt to dye it black to fit in more with their peers.

Some schools have forced students with naturally brown hair to dye it black so that they adhere to the appearance standards the school has set. 

Even those naturally curly-haired Japanese students must prove they were born with this hair type.

While some youth may dye or perm their hair for fun, it is prohibited in schools or more serious workplaces. 

Meanwhile, the older generation may prefer to dye their hair to look youthful and hide their grey and white strands. 

Observing a Transformative Shift

In recent years, I have noticed changes in Japan’s culture. People’s attitudes towards individuality are changing, especially in choosing hair colors.

Traditional views on conformity are being challenged, indicating a broader societal transformation. 

In July 2019, a group submitted 19,000 signatures to the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education. The group included the head of a nonprofit organization.

They advocated for ending forced hair dyeing in metropolitan schools. They emphasized the need to respect students’ rights to personal appearance.

In September 2019, the Board addressed concerns about inappropriate guidance.

They issued a notice that schools cannot tell students to dye their natural hair color black. This shows the importance of protecting students’ human rights. It also leads to positive changes in education.

Building on this momentum, a noteworthy incident unfolded in 2021. A Japanese student from the Kaifukan Senior High School in Osaka won against a school policy on brown hair.

This success shows that education is changing its views on individual expression. It recognizes that students have the right to express their identity, including how they choose to look.

From my perspective, these instances signify that educational environments are becoming more respectful and inclusive. We are acknowledging and valuing individual expression.