It may seem a bit frivolous to write on this rather political blog about tattoos in Japan. After all, this is a political blog, and most people would wonder (at least in the English speaking world) what the hell tattoos have to do with politics. In Japan though the issue of tattoos is currently a small manifestation of a much larger problem. Before we cover the political implications of this story, let’s cover briefly how tattoos are viewed in Japan, as it will be important to understanding this problem
Irezumi & Japan
Irezumi is Japanese for tattoo. It has a connotation of the flowery swirling artistic tattoos replete with crashing waves and jumping carp. Many people around the world will be familiar with this type of art, having seen it in one place or another before. The problem is that in Japan tattoos of any kind are associated with Yakuza, Japan’s famous mobsters. Yakuza are known in Japan for having extensive body tattoos that cover much of their bodies. Because of this connotation, different businesses ban anyone with tattoos altogether. Many public baths, hot springs, swimming pools and other businesses will deny entry to people who are tattooed. There is still a social stigma against the body art. The younger generations though, have a different view of tattoos. Like many old attitudes in Japan, the social stigma against tattoos is not as strong as it used to be. However, that doesn’t stop some old fashioned people from trying to use the old stigma to their advantage.
Toru Hashimoto (橋本徹）used to be the youngest governor of a prefecture in Japan, when he was Governor of Osaka Prefecture. In 2011 he was elected mayor of Osaka, leading his new local political party, the “Osaka Restoration Association.” A hardline nationalist, he has made huge waves ever since he entered politics by being a lot bolder compared to many of his older and more reserved colleagues. However, it’s not just his youthful demeanor that is catching the world’s attention.; it’s also his right wing policies. While one thing he did was good (opposing the reactivation of nuclear power plants in Japan) many of his actions since being in politics makes one wonder. He recently forced all Osaka teachers to sing the national anthem “Kimi ga yo” that many have a problem with. Kimi Ga Yo is a remnant of the emperor worshiping past when Japan was attempting to colonize all of Asia. He is fighting to prevent municipal employees from engaging in any political activity, denying them their constitutional right to participate in their government and their communities. His most recent one though, is the most bizarre. He is making city employees take surveys, asking them if they have any tattoos in any place that might possibly be visible at any time. If the workers do have tattoos, they are to get the removed. He has threatened that all who refuse to answer the survey will not only be denied any promotions or raises, but may also be suspended.
Why this Story?
You may be wondering why I’m blogging about this issue. Surely most of the world doesn’t care about tattoo policies for public servants in Osaka, Japan. This is important, because it is, I believe, very indicative of the problems that Japan faces.
Japan is facing a tough time of it, and the future is not looking too bright for many of its citizens. Due to one of the lowest birth rates in the world, Japan’s population is shrinking. This means that , along with their extraordinarily high life expectancy, that their society is rapidly ageing. With more people leaving the workforce, and not nearly as many people entering it to replace them, Japan faces a monumental demographic problem. This could cause very dire problems for the Japanese not too far down the road.
Japan is littered with US military bases. From Sasebo, to Okinawa, to Yokosuka, to Misawa, thousands upon thousands of US military personnel are stationed there. The people of Japan want them gone, but the government continues to ignore the cries of the oppressed people such as the citizens of Okinawa who have put up with a heavy military presence since the end of World War II. Rapes, assaults and environmental disasters have marked the long visit of the Americans, and there is no end in sight.
Japan is facing energy problems left and right. The price of gasoline is going through the roof as Japan struggles to keep its lights on. All of its nuclear power plants deactivated, Japan is mostly surviving on the power of oil for its power. Even before the nuclear crisis, Japan was using far too much oil. They need to transition to clean, safe, affordable and renewable energy to meet the needs of the Japanese people.
I raised all these issues to make a point. Just like in other countries like the US or the UK, reactionary politicians are using trivial, unimportant hullabaloos to gain popular support, all while the country sinks further into trouble. While the Japanese people are facing terribly important decisions, the Japanese government, with nationalists like Hashimoto play the fiddle while Osaka burns. Instead of focusing on really addressing the problems that Japan faces, he prefers to attack innocent city workers for the non-crime of having tattoos. I hope the Japanese people reject this idiocy, and demand substance from their politicians. They need to rise up and tell the likes of Hashimoto that they will not be bullied, they will not be intimidated, and they want results from their government. He is restricting civil and human rights with these policies and he must be stopped. He is not good for Japan, he is another self-serving careerist who wants nothing more than to stroke his own narcissistic ego and hold more power. Unless Japan starts demanding a change in their useless government, they may not like the changes that are coming. When you keep putting off your problems instead of facing them, you’re just making things worse.