Japanese attitudes to tattoos (apparently they're not good)
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I recently partook in an ESL week long Japanese course in Kobe. Before I got there, I was assured that I would be staying with the loveliest Japanese host family you could ever meet. ... But would they think I’m lovely?! I was concerned, as I’d been told that there was something about my appearance that they might not take too kindly to. It’s said that if you have tattoos in Japan, it’s best to cover them up. It’s not a very good quote but it is what it is. Over there, it’s presumed that anyone with tattoos is a Yakuza (organized crime in Japan), or a Western equivalent. When confronted with a set of tattoos, Japanese people tend to act like grandmothers confronted with a set of tattoos in 1951: they either point or put their head down and walk in the opposite direction. It’s not that they just don’t like them; people with tattoos are openly treated quite unfairly. I don’t want to say people with tattoos are discriminated against, because that’s stupid. It’s not gender or skin colour – near enough everyone with a tattoo has one because they voluntarily went into a shop and paid for it (or traded it for a lager in a friend's cousin's garage). Perceptions will change eventually, but it’s not the most important thing on the itinerary at the moment. The tattooed people of Osaka, which is about 20 minutes on the train from where I was staying, have a particularly difficult time with the perceptions they face. Toru Hashimoto, an ex-lawyer and now Mayor of Osaka, decided a couple of years ago that any city employee must immediately get their tattoos removed or lose their jobs. Over 30,000 employees had to prove they didn’t have tattoos, and this was all apparently because the tattoos of one employee had intimidated the child of another employee. This excuse is of course nonsense. Obviously the Mayor’s college girlfriend left him for a tattooed bloke 20 years ago and now he’s taking it out on the rest of us. Hashimoto has now attempted to make tattooing itself illegal across Osaka. According to him, tattooing is a medical procedure and if performed by non-medical professionals, it’s illegal. Of course, it’s only ever performed by non-medical professionals so he’s got us all good and proper. I’m sure there are probably one or two badass haematologists who do a bit of light tattooing on weekends, but how can we know for sure? Mayor Hashimoto is a rightwing populist who just loves getting into scraps with the city’s public servants. Most of the tattooed employees in Osaka work in either waste disposal or public transport and had to leave their positions, because you’re not exactly going to get a tattoo removed just to keep working as a bin man for an idiot, are you? It’s common across Japan to find no-tattoo signs scattered across the place, so you can go ahead and forget going to a beach or public bath if the dermis layer of your skin has been inserted with indelible ink. Although, to me, the above picture looks like it’s banning people with rashes, and then the script is informing us that the bath itself has tattoos, which – as far as I know – is anatomically impossible; although, like the entirety of Japan’s tattooists, I’m no medical professional. You can't even go in this spa if you have 'other body art', which I'm assuming is either henna or something you just drew on yourself. Drawings of seals are an especially big no-no. I was advised before I arrived at my host family’s home that they have young children, so I shouldn’t think of subjecting them to anything untoward like tattoos. It was 25 degrees there and my tattoos are on my arms, so it looked like the kids were going to have to do some growing up real fast. I arrived at their home at about dinner time. My host family were an absolute delight, so pleasant and welcoming. But would that change once I whipped my coat off? It was a bloody full house – a real occasion; grandmas were there and everything. They weren’t young grandmas, either: they were old ones. Really old. I wasn’t too sure how’d they react to the tattoos... Would they just decide to not talk to me for the week, or would the police get involved? I was starting to regret reading all that stuff about the Mayor before I got there. I took my seat, jacket-ed up to the nines. It wasn’t a cold room but I didn’t really have much of a choice, as underneath my jacket was a shirt. A short sleeve shirt. I really felt a lot of pressure. I felt like I was an ambassador for tattooed westerners. What if I mess this up? Had there been some kind of logistical mix up in the Home Office when they decided to send me as the unofficial tattooed representative? Like when we accidentally sent Piers Morgan to the US a few years back and he nearly ruined the hundreds of years of positive British stereotypes we built up. Remember what happened next? We had to send them John Oliver to make up for it. Now we don’t have John Oliver anymore and he’s the king of telly. Could this happen again now? Would I irrevocably tarnish our good British name and force the government to send David Beckham over to make up for it?
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