OSAKA--Despite heated criticism, the Osaka city government carried out an exhaustive survey on its employees and discovered that 110 of them sport tattoos.
The city government is preparing to draw up regulations to prohibit its employees from getting tattoos. It is also contemplating plans to encourage tattoo removal and transfer tattooed employees to posts where they have no direct contact with citizens.
"Some workplaces may tolerate tattoos, but that shouldn't be the case for public servants," Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said May 16 after the survey results were released. "If they insist on having tattoos, they had better leave the city office and go to the private sector."
Hashimoto’s crackdown on tattoos started in February, when it was learned that a male employee of a municipal child welfare facility had reportedly intimidated children by showing off his tattooed arm.
The outspoken mayor called that incident into question and took a leading role in the survey on tattooed employees in early May.
The questionnaire obliged the 34,000 employees of the Osaka city government--except for those under the authority of the education board--to report any tattoos on their arms, legs, heads and other body parts "that could be seen by citizens during official duties."
The employees were required to sign their names and to give specific locations of their tattoos on the questionnaire forms.
For tattoos on concealed body parts, including the chest and lower back, the employees were asked for information on the sizes and when they received those tattoos. They had the option of declining to provide this information.
Ninety-eight employees said they were tattooed on visible parts of their bodies, while 12 said they had tattoos on concealed parts, according to the city government's personnel department. Sixteen employees said they had tattoos on both visible and concealed parts.
The city’s Environment Bureau, which is in charge of waste collection and disposal, had the most tattooed workers, at 73, while the Transportation Bureau, which operates the city's bus and subway systems, employed 15.
Many of the tattoos were “fashion decorations.” Some of the employees specified the patterns of their tattoos, which included images of a sea turtle, the moon and a dolphin, and were about 5 centimeters wide, officials said.
The director of the Environment Bureau said those employees will be instructed to ask doctors if their tattoos can be removed.
The Osaka City Board of Education refused to conduct the survey on teachers and other employees under its authority on grounds that it would constitute an infringement on privacy. A group of lawyers and other organizations also called for the city to cancel the survey, which they said violated the human rights of city employees.
Osaka city is not the first to impose regulations on tattoos, which have long been associated with yakuza gangsters in Japan.
Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co., the two biggest carriers in Japan, ban their flight attendants from sporting any type of tattoo.
"We take great care of appearances so as not to discomfort our customers," an airline representative said.
Hato Bus Co., a major sightseeing bus operator in Tokyo, has strict regulations on employee appearances. For example, eye shadow should resemble the color of skin and be applied only lightly. Company employees can wear only one pierced earring, no larger than 4 millimeters and it must be circular in shape.
Although the company has no specific provisions on tattoos, they are "out of the question," a Hato Bus representative said.
The operator of a major convenience store chain also said it has no explicit provision on tattoos. But a tattooed person will probably not be hired in the first place because tattoos can intimidate customers, a representative said.
Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. bans its employees, in principle, from wearing artificial nails, having fashion tattoos or piercings.
But times are changing. One company, for example, has eased its ban on dyed brown hair.
"Given that a growing number of young people tattoo their bodies, it's difficult to think about how far we can impose rules to regulate tattooing because the issue has to do with human rights," a representative of the company said.
Public baths have long closed their doors to people with tattoos.
"The ban was initially aimed at deterring trouble by not admitting people with strong anti-social inclinations," said a representative of the Japan Spa Association, an organization of hot spring inns and other establishments across Japan.
However, the association has been receiving a growing number of inquiries from young people and foreigners with tattoos. Notices that ban the entrance of tattooed people are decreasing, the representative said.
Cartoonist Mayumi Kurata commented sarcastically about Osaka's tattoo survey, which she likened to a "possessions search" at high schools in Japan.
"Perhaps Japanese society has a base for accepting that sort of screening, given that so many schools in Japan apply rigorous rules on their students," Kurata said. "Certainly, you may be startled to see a tattooed employee at a government office. But it's not easy to draw a clear line. What would you say, for example, to blonde-dyed hair and nose piercing? Delving too deep into the freedom of individuals could create a suffocating society."
(This article was written by Yasunori Sakamoto and Atsushi Kawada.)
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