While Japanese-style tattoos are appreciated by body art fans around the world, the practice of tattooing itself enjoys much less support among the Japanese populace as a whole. During the country’s feudal Edo period, tattoos were used to mark criminals, and that association with lawless elements continues to this day, with members of the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime networks, showing a strong predilection for getting inked.
Attitudes have been slowly changing in recent years, though. Partially influenced by overseas celebrities, a portion of young Japanese have come to see tattoos as pure fashion statements, with no connection to socially destructive groups or behavior. However, tattoos’ long-standing stigma is yet to fade in many people’s minds, and the divide in opinions is at the center of a lawsuit recently filed in Tokyo district court.
A twenty-something woman living in Tokyo, whose name has been withheld, enrolled in a nursing school in April of 2016 (April being the start of the academic year in Japan). As part of their practical training, there are times when the students must change their clothes, and it came to light that the woman has tattoos on her back, as well as other unspecified parts of her body.
Once the school’s administrators became aware of this, they informed the woman that she would be suspended from the program for one year. However, should she have the tattoos removed, she would be reinstated in the program without having to serve the entire suspension.
The woman has not attended classes since, and has decided to sue the medical corporation that manages the school (the names of the defendants are also currently being withheld). Her attorney contests that the suspension is unfair on the grounds that a lack of tattoos was never specified as a condition for acceptance to the program. Moreover, as the woman is a single mother who was using government financial aid in paying her tuition, she is not in a position to raise the money for tattoo removal on her own, her lawyer asserts. Because of this, the woman is seeking 5.4 million yen (US$46,500) in damages.
While many would argue that having tattoos in no way interferes with a person’s ability to carry out medical care procedures, Japanese workplaces tend to be very strict in cultivating a polished, clean-cut image, particularly in the appearance and conduct of front-line workers who deal directly with those to whom they provide services. Complicating the matter further is that the nursing school is reliant on its graduates finding gainful employment in order to boost its image as a wise educational investment for prospective students.
Currently, the medical corporation is sticking by the faculty’s decision to suspend the woman, and as of opening statements made on February 7, intends to fight the lawsuit, and has made no declaration that it is willing to settle out of court.
Sources: Yahoo! Japan News/Asahi Shimbun Digital via Hachima Kiko
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