With a long history of tattoos being linked to crime and the underworld in Japan, even the smallest inkings on local individuals can elicit negative reactions here, especially from members of the older generation.
So when the manager of a high-end Tokyo sushi restaurant heard that one of his employees had a tattoo, he likely feared the ink would upset their high-end customers and decided to fire him. However, this turned out to be a mistake the business would end up paying dearly for, as the Tokyo District Court ruled on Sept 1 that the dismissal was unlawful.
According to reports, the 20-year-old employee had been working as an assistant chef in a customer-facing position at the restaurant counter of Kyubey at Hotel New Otani in Chiyoda Ward.
On July 26, a friend of the male employee hinted to Kyubey’s manager that the employee had a tattoo. Two days later, the manager fired the employee, without confirming whether he did have a tattoo or not, and at the end of the month, he was also asked to leave the dorm where he’d been living in Suginami, presumably having been put up there by the company.
In August, following his dismissal, discussions took place through attorneys, where the employee was told that as long as he had a tattoo, he would only be able to work in a food preparation role at the restaurant.
The employee took the matter to court, where Kyubey was ordered to pay 5.8 million yen for lost wages and damages, including the costs involved in forcing the employee to move from his accommodation. The man’s lawyer supported the ruling by saying, “Work regulations do not prohibit tattoos, and the dismissal, based on hearsay that the employee had one, was unlawful.”
Kyubey said, “We are rectifying the situation accordingly after being made aware of the unlawfulness of the dismissal through discussions related to the case. It’s very regrettable that it had to involve the labour tribunal.” Kyubey confirmed it intends to pay the damages as instructed once they receive details regarding the compensation.
While the employee’s attorney refused to disclose whether the man actually had a tattoo or not, the ruling sets a precedent for other work disputes involving employers with a dislike for tattoos. And with the issue of body ink remaining a divisive issue for businesses, even in modern-day Japan, now might be an appropriate time to revisit the legality of tattoo bans at Japanese onsen hot springs.
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