December 13, 2012

To Tattoo or Not in Japan: Free Speech vs. Hate Speech

Tattoo in Japan(Granted a bit out of date now…)

At the risk of being offensive, the simpleton thinking of many gaijin-san’s continues to astound me. In what way?

1) The arrogance to make moral judgments on a culture they know little or nothing about. 2) The arrogance to assume their pronouncements are correct, despite being completely ignorant of the background or situation. 3) The arrogance of not even taking into consideration that maybe they could make the effort to find out about the background first before being judgmental. 4) The arrogance of making judgment on other cultures from their own cultural standpoint; i.e. the “I am right because I am white”mentality.

So what brought his up? Hashimoto-san forbidding tattoos for the Osaka civil servants. And, the gaijins’ responses to it.

Osaka's Hashimoto puts municipal workers' tattoos into the limelight
By MIZUHO AOKI Staff writer
The Japan Times Online Friday, May 18, 2012

Quote leftOsaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto caused another public stir recently when he asked all city workers if they have a tattoo and even suggested those who answered yes should quit the municipal government.

Earlier this month, the city asked 33,546 employees, excluding those at the board of education, if they have any tattoos after an incident in February in which a city worker showed off his tattoo and scared children at a welfare facility.

The results, announced Wednesday, showed that 110 employees said they have one or more tattoos. Of them, 98 said they are on a part of the body that can be seen by other people, such as the face, neck, arms, hands, legs or feet.

"If they want to have tattoos, they should quit working for the city and go to the private sector," Hashimoto said Wednesday.

"There may be places such as the fashion or food industries where it can be allowed, but there is no such option for civil servants." (MORE)Quote right


Let’s think about this for a bit. Instead of making the quick assumption that Hashimoto-san is just some kind of ignorant bigot, (whether he is or not is not relevant), why not try to figure out why he might be compelled to do such a thing. Hmm, I wonder why civil servants shouldn’t have tattoos in Japan? I wonder why civil servants (think postal workers etc.) with tattoos freak out ordinary people and small children? Hmm, I wonder what significance tattoos have in Japan?

What are the associations with tattooing in the case of Japan? In case you don’t already know, convicted criminals in Japan, assuming they weren’t executed, were tattooed marking them forever as having a criminal history. This custom of tattooing criminals goes back at least 200 years if not longer. Need I say it? It is no longer done today. The criminal element, and bad-guy wannabes, who had more money than common sense, no doubt due to their nefarious activates, could show off their success and the ability to withstand the grueling pain of traditional Japanese tattooing by having themselves tattooed, which could nevertheless be beautiful works of art. Despite the beauty of many of these tattoos, those tattooed were very obviously members of the criminal element, or those who aspired to the same bad-guy cache value.

Hmm, let’s try to put this in an American perspective. Do you really want to go to the post office and purchase your stamps from someone wearing low-riding pants with their underwear showing (the style adopted from US criminal culture where belts are confiscated in jail), a shaved head with some obscure markings possibly gang related, and maybe signing the other postal workers with gang hand signals? Now this person might not actually be a reformed convicted criminal, mind you, maybe this person just likes the style and dress of hip-hop, or is just trying to be cool. Still, do you consider this the appropriate dress and manner for a postal worker? Would it scare you or be off-putting? How would your grandmother feel? What if it wasn’t a postal worker, but some other government worker where your grandmother would have to go for something like a consultation on her pension?

What is even more amazing, is the same gaijins who declare “you can’t forbid people from having tattoos, it is a form of freedom of expression,” are very likely the first people to adopt PC speech. What about “hate speech?” In some US sates “hate speech” is even a crime, punishable most often by a fine. So there are limits even in the US on free speech. If it is deemed improper to use certain words and phrases offensive and hurtful to others, why does that not extend to visual forms of expression that may be offensive and hurtful to others? And in Japan, for many tattoos are downright threatening, like swastikas or white hoods in the West.

And, finally, why the heck do you care about Hashimoto-san and tattoo-wearing rules in Osaka, it has nothing do with you anyway?







auberginefleur at 13:21│Comments(10)Japan News Briefs | Tsurezure Misc Notes

この記事へのコメント

1. Posted by schmetterling   December 16, 2012 04:55
First I'd like to say I miss your kimono posts...

This is a bit old, but I have a different opinion from you on the issue. If I could address some of your points:

"1) The arrogance to make moral judgments on a culture they know little or nothing about.2) The arrogance to assume their pronouncements are correct..."
- I mostly agree with you here, but I disagree slightly with the phrasing. The fact is that people make moral judgements all the time on all sorts of thing and I think it is a separate issue from that of a foreigner opinion. I understand what you meant here, but I don't think what stands out as moral judgements being "wrong" (if it can be argued that a thought can be wrong) is that one doesn't understand the context, but rather that one is judging at all. Also I've read certain essays that put forward that the modern relativistic view of other cultures' morals is in some ways itself another type of "western elitism" where "of course it's fine for them to do this; they're uncivilized, why we would never do this, but it's their culture". This story first broke in the online communities that are familiar with (to a certain extent at least) with Japanese culture. Even if they're just otaku, most of these people have some understanding of the whole yakuza and traditional tattoo connection. I doubt that many people are saying that they are "right because [they're] white", (for consideration, the volume of Asian diaspora in the Americas, and of the popularity of Japanese pop culture in places like South America). There is a judgement that is coming from a difference in culture, but I would hardly call this arrogance. I'm sure some people were genuinely outraged.
2. Posted by schmetterling   December 16, 2012 04:56
One issue I had with Hashimoto's comments, having grown up in North America, is that these people should go to the private sector. I hold public institutions up to a much higher standard than private ones, and believe that they should be the ones to first-and-foremost be fair and equitable. Rather I'd say the ones who are offended should maybe stay at home or in private spaces instead. The people dressed a certain way are not harming anyone specifically. If I claim that I am offended by the city employing fat and ugly people would the response be the same? Or (more reasonably) that I think public servants that smoke are being bad role models for children, and that smokers should go work in the private sector?


There's of course a whole other smorgasbord of issues surrounding tattoo and its modern implications in Japan, the increasing amount of young people who get fashionable tattoos, the (re)integration of (ex-)criminals into society, the marginalization of certain disadvantaged groups (no upper middle class is going to end up with a criminal tattoo), the role of the government to protect civil liberties, the growing pains of societal and cultural change and etc etc. I'm not exactly able to express my thoughts on these topics properly, so I'll skip over these with this brief mention.
3. Posted by schmetterling   December 16, 2012 04:56
Tackling your (second) last point, I hardly think that being offended by an appearance is the same as being offended by hate speech. Unless you're offended by the very sight of a criminal, (considering for example if they tried to ban all yakuza tattoos) this comparison makes no sense. (I can hardly believe that such pea princesses exist in the real world.) Being free to signal through clothes that you are part of a criminal organization is completely different from being free to signal that you belong to a group that (as an example) used to routinely kill and threaten black people. For one, the fact that one is a criminal in general is not specifically aimed towards any particular group, with any sort of systematic dogma of oppression and hate. Taking the example of the child being frightened after seeing a person with a tattoo, I have trouble understanding how this is "offensive" or "hurtful". Putting myself in the child's shoes, I would be scared surely, but offended or hurt?! That's not what comes to mind particularly. Personally, I am offended when someone suggests, even jokingly, that I flirt with my TA's or professors to get good marks, or wonder why I spend all that effort at school when I'll have to get married and take care of children at home one day anyways. I am not offended by panhandlers that are obviously drug addicts, or dumbass suburban kids dressed like rappers, or an actual ex-criminal with full sleeves on both arms. I'm sure many places in the world would ban a government employee from having a swastika tattoo prominently displayed on his forehead for the world to see.


And your final, final point: I understand your feelings and how it applies specifically to this one particular issue, but this is a very troubling line of thought to have. "Whatever happens in Syria has nothing to do with me and I couldn't give a damn about starving children in Africa or abused orphans in Russia or public corruption in China." "It has nothing to do with me/you" is a horrible excuse for apathy and an excuse I've seen used often to shield oneself from outside criticism.

Sorry for the long post and I apologize if anything above sounds confrontational. And I look forward to any holiday kimono posts if you find the time.
4. Posted by AF   December 16, 2012 15:45
It's nice to get comments!

If they don't have tattoos and don't live in Japan, what do they have to be outraged about?

Yes, "cultural-relativism" is considered by some (white people) to be a form of racism or elitism, but "cultural-relativism" itself covers a lot of territory and multiple issues.

Plan to get back to kimono soon...
5. Posted by AF   December 16, 2012 15:51
Hmm, I wonder if there are dress codes for civil workers in the US. I would imagine so, but don't know.
6. Posted by AF   December 16, 2012 15:56
"I'm sure many places in the world would ban a government employee from having a swastika tattoo prominently displayed on his forehead for the world to see."

That is kind of my point, and a much better parallel example than I gave.
7. Posted by AF   December 16, 2012 15:59
> "Whatever happens in Syria has nothing to do with me and I couldn't give a damn about starving children in Africa or abused orphans in Russia or public corruption in China." "It has nothing to do with me/you" is a horrible excuse for apathy and an excuse I've seen used often to shield oneself from outside criticism.
>

To me, this is a completely different issue.
8. Posted by AF   December 16, 2012 16:05
> Sorry for the long post and I apologize if anything above sounds confrontational. And I look forward to any holiday kimono posts if you find the time.
>

It was a confrontational post in the first place. Comments are welcome. My basic problem is with people telling other people what to do. And, knee-jerk reactions. There was controversy in Japan too, but more about Hashimoto's language, than his actions.
9. Posted by AF   December 16, 2012 16:12
The problem with posts like this is it mostly just offends people who aren’t the problem, and is just shirked off (if read at all) by people who are the problem.
10. Posted by Richard   January 10, 2013 18:03
Hold on,

I would think most of these 110 people have small tattoos. Like "I love mummy", to exaggerate a bit. Not the big, yakuza type ones.

I think that changes the discussion abit?

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