Japanese City Cracks Down on Tattoos

(Image Credit: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Image)

TOKYO - Tattoos are not the sign of rebellion that they once were, but they might get you demoted in Osaka, Japan's third-largest city.

Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a rising political star, launched a full-scale crackdown on tattoos last month, demanding that public employees, including teachers, own up to their ink stains in a mandatory survey.

Of more than 32,000 city workers, 113 admitted to having tattoos. Ten of 17,000 teachers confessed, according to results released today. The city was quick to point out that one of the tattoos belonged to an elementary school teacher.

Tattoos, especially large, intricate designs, have traditionally been associated with yakuza, or gang membership, in Japan. Body art is largely banned from swimming pools, gyms, popular onsens (hot springs) and some major companies. Even places that are more accepting ask people to cover up their ink to avoid any speculation.

But younger Japanese have become increasingly accepting of tattoos, using body art to make a fashion statement.

The Osaka survey asked employees to disclose any tattoos on their body, both visible and concealed. They were also required to detail how long they had had them.

A welfare officer "inspired" the mayor's crackdown earlier this year after he repeatedly showed up to work in a T-shirt, baring a large tattoo on his shoulder, Eiji Miki of Osaka's personnel department said.

"It made a lot of his co-workers uncomfortable, especially because he worked closely with young children," Miki said.

With the poll results in, the city is now considering what to do with all the tattooed workers. Miki said those in positions that require daily interaction with members of the public will be relegated to a "behind-the-scenes" role.

The city has no plans to expel the teachers, and has instead asked them to remove any designs that are visible to students.

"[The teachers] plan to remove the tattoos, so they don't embarrass themselves further in front of their students," Hashimoto said. "I hope they can refocus on teaching."

Hashimoto, a conservative populist, has raised eyebrows in the past with his policies. He introduced regulations earlier this year that required teachers to sing the national anthem during school ceremonies.