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Recent efforts to ban anyone with a tattoo from visiting public beaches have seen criticism that the policy is violating the human rights of people whose only crime is against fashion.
That Japan’s many public baths and theme parks frequently impose blanket bans on anyone bearing any sort of tattoo is well known, but this summer one of Kobe’s top public beaches has gone one step further by banning anyone with a tattoo from visiting the beach.
Signs at the beach warn against “intimidating other visitors [by displaying tattoos]” and police patrol the beach looking for infractions and demanding they either cover up immediately or leave.
For obvious reasons the ban is only on tattoos exposed to public view, although it is hard to see many tattooed beach goers being satisfied with being reduced to wearing long sleeves and trousers in the midst of the summer inferno.
Along with the tattoo ban, a similar ban on “noise” and smoking on the beach is in effect.
It seems most of the warnings are not against frolicking yakuza gangsters but young people bearing modern fashion tattoos; a 33-year-old woman with small tattoos on her chest and legs complains of the police harassment, saying “I’m not littering or otherwise ill-mannered. They shouldn’t be judging on looks alone.”
A policeman stuck doing this says that “It’s like whack-a-mole, but if you keep on at them some will take notice. You just have to keep at it.”
The regulations come after visitor numbers to the typically overcrowded beach fell to 620,000 in 2010, down from 1,000,000 a decade before, with authorities saying the beach has lost its family friendliness with lots of musical events and intimidatingly tattooed young people.
However, local trade groups say the regulations will merely ruin the beach’s liberal atmosphere and drive away young people, with the chairman of one such group saying that “it seems contradictory for Kobe to promoting itself as an international tourist city open to other cultures on the one hand, and then to be banning freedom of expression in the form of tattoos on the other.”
Others claim such measures violate the human rights of those choosing to adorn themselves with tattoos, and are considering legal action.
Traditional Japanese tattoos (“irezumi”) are almost exclusively associated with yakuza – to the extent that establishments banning them indiscriminately could feel confident they had excluded the criminal elements, or at least those of them who were cunning enough to permanently brand themselves with an externally identifiable mark.
However, in recent years western style tattoos of all kinds have become increasingly popular, although blanket bans on tattoos are almost always still indiscriminately enforced against all, irrespective of the type or extent of the tattoo – or for that matter whether the bearer even comes from a nation where tattoos are considered immediate proof of criminality.
A case in point is the recent visit to Japan of the mildly inked Lady Gaga – had she attempted to visit most of Japan’s public baths, amusement parks and, now public beaches, she would have been in considerable danger of being thrown out.
People are what they look like!”
“Irezumi are proof of criminality.”
“They are just a bunch of gangsters. Ban them all. It’s scary to be near them.”
“They have them because they want people to see them like that!”
“When in Rome…”
“Seem to be lots of people who think tattoos = yakuza. Today even a salaryman could have one.”
“A normal one wouldn’t do something like that!”
“It’s not discriminating against people on the basis of their appearance. It on the basis of what’s inside.”
“That 33-year-old hag shouldn’t even be on the beach.”
“If you get caught with even a little 2-3cm one in most companies they’ll make up some other reason to force you to quit.”
“Discriminating against people on the basis of their appearance is only bad when they’re born with it.”
“If you don’t want to be considered a freak, don’t look like one!”
“Tattoos promote prejudice, they should be banned by law.”
“Aren’t people with tattoos and piercings embarrassed to be seen in some kind of primitive native fashion?”
“This isn’t a ban on tattoos, it’s a ban on idiots who have tattoos.”
“They’re banned in most onsen as well, aren’t they?”
“Why do they pick an appearance they know people will discriminate against? Is it deliberate?”
“I think this is going too far, but Japan is a country which discriminates against tattoos so they should be prepared for this.”
“Freedom to infringe the rights of others isn’t freedom at all!”
“No Japanese people of any quality get tattoos. Only idiots, people influenced by western fashions and yakuza have them.”
“What happens when foreigners have them? That lot get them all the time?”
“What if they can’t? It seems pretty poor for a city promoting itself as an international tourist destination to completely fail to take into account foreign visitors like this.”
“What are you babbling about? They aren’t normal even amongst foreigners. The ones who have them are all scum anyway.”
“No westerner of any culture would have one.”
“Try saying you have one at an interview. You’ll never get a job.”
“You can’t get life insurance with one. If they find one they can refuse to pay out.”
“I hope they drive them out of society and make them all regret ever having them!”
“I can understand with full yakuza tattoos, but with normal ones this is all blown completely out of proportion.”
“Scumbags don’t have human rights. Who do they think they are, showing these tattoos to children!”
“Of course they are banned. Average people can’t tell the difference between traditional tattoos and fashion tattoos.”
“Japan really is insular and just thinks like some senile old fool, doesn’t it?
It used to be a symbol of yakuza membership, now they are fashion symbols.
If someone decides to have one, what’s the point of all this whining about it from other people? You sound like some old hag going on about her ‘right to a good view’.”
“Culture won’t change that quickly, people have despised them for a long time. It won’t change overnight.”
“In Japan, a tattoo is an anti-social display of power. They are just going to intimidate families going to the seaside. They might be accepted in other countries, but in Japan you are just violating the right of other people not to be intimidated, and that’s unforgivable.”