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LinkAsia | Dec 21
With both Japan and South Korea electing new leaders this week, the ongoing spat over a string of islands called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima...
Mayor Hashimoto is no stranger to controversy himself. The most recent debate surrounding him was a fashion choice. But the mayor's not concerned with how he looks. He's cracking down on tattoos. Last month, the city of Osaka sent out a survey to all public employees, instructing them to disclose all the tattoos on their bodies, even the hidden ones. To anyone who refused to fill out the survey, Hashimoto had just one word for them: quit. From Tokyo, our contributor Rebecca Milner tells us about the outrage in Japanese social media.
To the outsider, irezumi, Japanese tattoos are simply stunning: colorful, symbol-rich works that cover the back and sometimes the whole body.
Within Japan, elaborate tattoos have long been associated with the yakuza, organized crime syndicates. So people with tattoos are typically barred from using public bathhouses and sports clubs. They might intimidate other customers. Many Japanese companies also ban employees who work in customer service from having visible tattoos.
Yet in recent years, so-called fashion tattoos of butterflies, dolphins and the like have become popular among young people with no gang affiliations. And public attitude towards body art has softened.
However, this hasn't stopped Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto from cracking down on city workers with tats. It was sparked by a report that a child welfare worker scared some children by showing them his tattoo. So Hashimoto began requiring all city workers to self-report any tattoos, visible or not. Those with tattoos were asked to have them removed.
"If they insist on having tattoos, they had better leave the city office and go to the private sector," the mayor told the Asahi Shimbun in May.
A prolific Twitter user, the 43-year-old right-wing politician, Hashimoto has defined himself with bold statements. He says he wants to scrap Japan's upper house of parliament and hold direct elections for prime minister instead of having the ruling party pick one of their own. He even says Japan needs a dictatorship to break the political logjam.
Some see him as a daring reformer, others as a disruptive and potentially dangerous attention-seeker.
For Hashimoto's critics, who include a lawyer group, the city's labor union, and a good number of people on Twitter, targeting tattoos is a violation of personal liberty and just plain silly.
Tweeter Kikko writes:
"To make a big deal out of 50 or so people with tattoos is ridiculous. A number of my acquaintances, including a Diet member, junior high school teacher and a police officer have tattoos. Will they have to share the same fate?"
Says another tweeter:
"Leave people alone already. Your political style is like a dictator."
"Mayor Hashimoto's attack on tattoos seems fascist." He went on: "Should we really be judging people based on their hair color, fake eyelashes, color contacts and clothes?"
Still, while plenty have come out to support individual expression, a poll last week in the Yomiuri Shimbun shows that Hashimoto's approval rating in Osaka Prefecture is 72 percent. That's nearly three times that of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
In Tokyo, for LinkAsia, this is Rebecca Milner.