Municipal government bans male employees from wearing beards

The municipal government of Isesaki in central Japan on Wednesday banned male employees from wearing beards, citing concerns that citizens find beards unpleasant and the need for public servants to maintain decorum.

The government of the Gunma Prefecture city said it has received complaints from some citizens who were offended by city office employees who had come to work unshaven following a holiday, and that it has instructed the employees concerned to shave each time a complaint was filed. But it is the first time that the city has put the ban, which carries no penalties, in writing.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said it believes Isesaki is the country’s first municipality to introduce such a policy.

The ban was introduced in step with the start of this year’s “Cool Biz” casual attire campaign for the summer months for city government employees. The campaign, which is aimed at cutting back on air-conditioner use by allowing government and company employees to work without jackets and neckties, has been practiced in Japan since 2005 under the initiative of the Environment Ministry.

“Some citizens find (bearded men) unpleasant, so (beards are) banned,” a city government in-house notice says.

Although public opinion has become more tolerant of beards, “public servants should look like public servants,” a city official said.

But an official at the Environment Ministry said it is “hard to say” whether beards have anything to do with maintaining decorum.

Minoru Fujii, a member of the Hige (beard) Club, a Tokyo-based organization to promote beards that consists mostly of barbers, said, “I’m designing beards for my customers based on the concept of ‘a beard acceptable in the office.’ In the case of public servants, maybe (the ban) can’t be helped.”

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