Due mainly to the strong but mostly erroneous association between inked skin and the criminal underworld, Japan has a well-deserved reputation as a tattoo unfriendly country. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that tattooing has managed to attract few vocal supporters in the Diet.
One exception, reports Spa! (May 31), is Akihiro Hatsushika, a 47-year-old member of the lower house from Tokyo. During a Diet session, Hatsushika fired questions at Health, Labor and Welfare minister at Yasuhisa Shiozaki concerning what he sees as outdated laws concerning tattooing.
Hatsushika raised the matter of Taiki Masuda, a tattoo artist in Osaka who was indicted on charges of having violated the Medical Practioners' Act of 1948, which requires people who stick needles into the skin of living humans to have a medical license.
Charges against Masuda were filed at the behest of bureaucrats in Shiozaki's ministry.
"The artist couldn't make sense out what procedures he is required to take in order to perform his work, and was told that it can only be done by a medical doctor," Hatsushika complained. "This kind of harassment constitutes arrogance on the part of the bureaucracy. And what's more, the man has been recognized as a practitioner of his profession for decades, but now he's been put out of business by one notification from the ministry."
It goes without saying, Spa! notes, that no other country in the world requires a tattoo artist to hold a medical license. In most cases, a tattoo emporium can be opened by application for a business license, and government oversight is fairly simple.
So Hatsushika, saying that "now is the only chance to get it done," is advocating revisions in the law. His rationale is that "In the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, Japan is inviting more and more foreigners. If, for example, an athlete like (Argentinian soccer superstar) Lionel Messi attempts to enter an 'onsen' (hot spring bath) here, will we turn him away on account of his tattoos? To insist he conceal them all would probably require him to wear a wet suit. Japan would be made a worldwide laughing stock."
Actually, Spa! notes, numerous athletes and artists bearing tattoos visit Japan. Are they refused service when they enter a sauna or 'onsen'?
"Here's Japan, trying to establish itself as a major tourist destination and then it goes so far as to tell tattooed visitors that they can't enter one of the country's biggest attractions? That's plain stupid!" Hatsushika went on. "You see today's young stars in sports like soccer and basketball wearing tattoos, and more fans are influenced to get them too. So the notion that 'tattoos have a bad image due to their association with criminal syndicates' no longer applies."
With the Olympics just four years off, Hatsushika insists now is right time for Japan to engage in a national debate on the pros and cons of tattooing.
"The issue is really part of 'daibaashiti' (diversity)," he remarked. "I suppose our travel industry is also embarrassed that although so many inbound visitors are coming, they're being told they won't be allowed to enter a public bath or 'onsen.' It's stupid -- akin to asking the travel agencies to engage in self-strangulation."
Hatsushika added that he is seeking out fellow Diet members for a "tattoo study group" that may propose legislation to make Japan more in tune with the times.
Spa! quotes an activist as saying 60 to 80% of patrons at Japan's tattoo parlors are visitors from abroad, some who come multiple times, who appreciate the well developed skills of the artists here. To fund its activities, the group is selling original T-shirts in international sizes for a donation of 5,000 yen plus shipping.
Those wishing to sign the petition (or buy a T-shirt) can visit the English site "Save Tattooing" (http://savetattooing.org).© Japan Today