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Coverin’ Up in Japan II

November 4th, 2009 by

Just when it’s beginning to look like tattoos are slowly gaining more mainstream acceptance in Japan, things end up going in the opposite direction.  In this case, the opposite direction happens to be a zero tolerance policy toward tattoos.

Japan has just played host to the 2009 Bledisloe Cup, a rugby tournament which, as near as I can tell is only played between two teams.  I’m sorry, but at this time if it isn’t glaringly obvious that I know nothing about rugby, then I confessing that as far as this famous match between New Zealand (The All Blacks) and Australia (The Wallabies) goes, I’m clueless.  Sorry.  I do know that I once unintentionally risked a beating at a pub, after asking a Kiwi guy if the rugby that they play in Australia is the same as the stuff they play in New Zealand.  Who knew that was a sore spot.

Anyway, speaking of sore spots, this whole edition of the Bledisloe Cup in Japan is one giant sore spot.  I guess that in the sport of rugby, it’s often common for the different teams to train by working out in a swimming pool.  These are then referred to as “pool sessions”.

When is this going to start being about tattoos, you ask?  Right now!  So these pool sessions are open to the public.  The problems begin once it becomes obvious that many of the rugby players on both teams are tattooed.  Being tattooed is apparently such an offensive act in Japan, that the players were are all asked to cover up during the pool sessions.  That means that the players had to wear training vests, which covered them from the waist up (arms too).  This way, the tattoos were not on display.  According to this article, the players were asked to cover up in accordance with Japanese culture.

I don’t think so.  I’ve lived in Tokyo and have friends who tattoo in Tokyo and never have I heard that tattoos are disrespectful toward Japanese culture.  What I did hear and to a lesser degree experience, was the general fear of tattoos, due to the belief that they are reserved for members of the Japanese mafia: the yakuza.  I just don’t feel that it’s fair to rely on misguided stereotypes and then hide under the defense of it being part of any culture.  The organizers of this event should reconsider setting future Bledisloe Cups in Japan if a certain degree of tolerance can not be expected toward the visiting teams.

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