A Tattoo Tale

For many years, tattoos were seen as symbols of all that is evil because they were associated with the yakuza. Tattooed bodies were, and often still are, banned from public baths, pools and other skin-baring venues. I have a friend who has a small chain of flowers tattooed on her ankle, which she has to cover with a Band-aid if she wants to use the communal bath at the gym. This has changed. Many young people now sport their ink with pride, but conservatives still see tattoos as inappropriate for public offices and schools.

There was an article in Japan Today about a clerk in a school in Osaka having her pay docked for having a couple of tattoos. An anonymous tip alerted the authorities to this blatant disregard for the rules; she knew tattoos were not allowed but got them anyway.

Aside from my low opinion of anonymous tipsters, I don’t see how a couple of small tattoos are going to send the school’s students into a tailspin of crime and degeneration. After all, there is a slight difference between this:

small-sun-tattoo-on-ankle And this:

yakuza1

On the other hand, when I got on the WOMEN ONLY car yesterday morning, a guy got on, too. I noticed, as he held onto the strap, that he was dripping with tattoos. He had a swirly blue pattern creeping out of his sleeve, across the back of his hand, and crawling nearly to the tips of his fingers. And there were a bunch of black, spidery looking things making their way from the collar of his shirt along his neck and toward his chin. His clothes and hair were otherwise normal. I didn’t notice any piercings or spiky things.

So I’m starting to think maybe Osaka has some justification for its conservatism after all. Clearly tattoos impair brain function if the guy couldn’t remember that he is, in fact, a guy, and not allowed to ride in the WOMEN ONLY car.

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2 thoughts on “A Tattoo Tale”

  1. I have a feeling that guy had problems BEFORE he got tattooed! But for a long time, I’ve actually been interested in why the tattooed are so discriminated against in Japan, even when they are obviously just people who do it as a form of self-expression, not because they’re gangsters. One of the teachers at my school finally explained it – when you’re born, your mother gives you a perfect body with perfect skin. Permanently altering it is seen as an insult to your mother, a rejection of the way she made you. Substitute “kami-sama” for “mother” and you see this attitude in everything from why Japanese women prefer not to use the pill as birth control (it alters your natural bodily rhythms) to why they’ll glue their eyelids every day of their lives, but not consider surgery (unlike in Korea).

    1. Well put, my sistah. Another thing I learned while researching this is that only yakuza and firemen used to get tattoos, and since you can’t tell which is which, both got left alone. Seems unfair to firemen.

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