Inside Japan’s tattoo-taboo with a Yakuza expert

Long Lunch 21/09/2018
TJ Perenara is one of several All Blacks with tattoos.

The New Zealand All Blacks have been asked to cover up their tattoos ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan – a request the team has agreed to without objection.

Tattoos have long been frowned upon on the island nation, with body art prohibited at many hot springs, gyms, and even beaches.

But one expert says times are changing.  

Jake Adelstein, a journalist who’s lived in Japan for over 25 years, told RadioLIVE that Japan’s “tattoo phobia” originates from avoiding Yakuza-emblazoned citizens.  

“As a sign of becoming a Yakuza member you’d get your body covered in tattoos… to show that you are dedicated to your organisation,” said Mr Adelstein.

In the old days, public bathhouses banned tattoos as a way to deny members from organised crime syndicates from entering.  

But Mr Adelstein says that, ironically, modern Yakuza members are less inclined to get tatted because it can limit their social mobility.

“Being openly Yakuza means you’re unlikely to be able to rent an apartment, rent a car, or even open a bank account,” he told RadioLIVE.

All the while, Mr Adelstein says that tattoos are becoming legitimate forms of fashion for young Japanese, which has only been fuelled by their global popularity.

Mr Adelstein applauds the All Blacks’ decision to cover-up but admits it would be “a good thing for Japan” if the team and their fans could show their tattoos.

“It’s an outdated practice and it’s not keeping up with the times.”

All Blacks with ink include Sonny Bill Williams, TJ Perenara, Codie Taylor and Aaron Smith, and have all agreed to cover up while touring.

New Zealand Rugby chief rugby officer Nigel Cass said the All Blacks always respect local customs when touring overseas.

Listen to all the full interview woth Jake Adelstein above.

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.