A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Taboo Tattoo

In the western world brandishing a tattoo is merely another way of self decoration. People from all walks own body art, from skinhead renegades to high school girls. Though they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, a tattoo says little about your personality or background, other than you like tattoos.

In Japan, having ink under your flesh broadcasts a different message. Over the last couple of hundred years, tattoos have come to symbolise mafia. The Japanese mafia (Yakuza) which have become the subject of many films and books, are famous for having extremely colourful and intricate artwork on their backs and limbs, and until fairly recently, tattoos were the exclusive property of these mafia criminals.

The Yakuza seem to have a prominent place in Japanese society, and I have even been warmed by my teaching colleagues about the dangers of crossing paths with these violent gangsters. Famous for organised, and often very brutal crime, the Yakuza are feared and hated by the majority of law abiding citizens.

In a move by the general public to show their distaste for the Yakuza ways, many hot springs, (onsens) and even gyms, do not allow those with ink to enter the premises. Unfortunately for the many tattooed westerners and the increasing numbers of young tattooed Japanese with no mafia connections what so ever, this means they too are not welcome.

To make the point very clear, many proprietors of onsens, display “No Tattoos” signs outside. Of course, it’s the criminal rather than the tattoo that they are really objecting to, but in Japan, the two go hand in hand. Though it is quite possible to get away with it, I personally know several westerners who have been kicked out of gyms and onsens for bearing tattoos.

Only in Japan could such blatant discrimination be made, but the fact remains that, at least in the eyes of the older generation, having a tattoo = being a criminal.


Blogger Lewis said...

I'm not sure what the owners expect the yakuza to do when they're naked in the bath. It's difficult to intimidate people when your bits are hanging out all over the place.

Thursday, March 10, 2005 3:04:00 pm

Anonymous TattooT said...

It's interesting reading about anti-tattoo sentiments. I have created a store for people who love tattoos (and want to adorn their clothes with them too) and for people against physically wearing Tattoos but still want to be cool.

At the end of the day, I found it hard to decide which design I would like and realised that once it's on you can't rub it off. So TattooT is for people who want to change their tat as quickly as they change their minds!

Thursday, February 22, 2007 3:02:00 pm


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