Monday, 30 July 2012

Tattoo You

Strap in, it’s rant-o’clock…

Japan has a bit of a neurotic attitude to tattoos. The history of tattooing goes back a long way, possibly 10,000 years to the Jomon period, but certainly to the Yayoi period (c.300BC to 300AD) where Chinese visitors to these shores remarked on them upon their return to the middle kingdom.

According to Wikipedia the Japanese art of tattooing (irezumi 入れ (there are quite a few ways to write in kanji so I’ve plumped for this one) became popular after with the arrival of woodblock printing and it was the wood block artists who apparently became the tattooists. In the Edo period (1600-1860) it’s unclear who made irezumi popular, some say it was low class ruffian types, others say it was wealthy merchants who could not flaunt their wealth through clothes so got themselves painted instead. Anyway, the popularity took off until…

The Meiji Restoration (1860 onwards) – in a useless sop to the West (another chapter in Japan’s on-going attitude by the sound of it) the government made tattoos illegal and it was then that tattoos took on their connotations of criminality and the association with the yakuza was, well, not born as they had always had tattoos done, but from here on tatts = gangsters, end of story. Tattooing was legalized by the Americans in 1946 but the stigma has remained, so much so that onsens, swimming pools, gyms and other places where you may have to strip off will now not allow anyone with tattoos on the premises, even dorky gaijin with the kanji for carburetor stamped on their neck who could never, in a month of blue moons, be associated with Japanese yakuza gangs.

“So what” I hear you cry. Well it wouldn’t be very much at all really, just another example of Japan unable to think or acknowledge the changing of times. However a few months back in May Toru Hashimoto, the Mayor of Osaka, suddenly decided he didn’t have enough to do, so he sent a “voluntary” survey to all employees of the city government “asking” them to disclose if they had any tattoos and, if so one assumes, what and where.

For some reason most city’s 32,000 employees responded to this gross invasion of their privacy and provided details of the tattoos they had (98 workers had visible tattoos, 12 had concealed tatts and a further 16 had both). However around 500 teachers and other school staff with their heads screwed on refused to answer as they saw, rightly, it was an invasion of their privacy.

Delighted by the overall response Hashimoto basically said that any of the 120 or staff with tattoos should either get them removed (at, one assumes, their own expense) or look for another job as he didn’t want their sort around. So, having been given a job under one set of criteria, those staff are now being shafted by a complete dickhead with a serious chip on his shoulder (the nasty media accused his parents of being yakuza when he was running for office, so instead of getting narked with the media he’s taking it out on his employees, nice…)

However he was mightily irked by the refusals so he ordered these 500 miscreants to reply to the voluntary survey or else – which I guess means that at that stage it stopped even trying to be voluntary.  Most of them did eventually comply but 15 Osaka city employees continued to refuse to respond, again citing the violation of privacy issue that it so clearly was. So the city government decided that these 15 employees would be subject to disciplinary measures, including reprimands and possible salary cuts as the refusal to complete the survey was tantamount to disregarding a direct order (they were teachers and caretakers, remember, and not soldiers).

Since then the scent on this issue has gone cold, as it were. What I find most depressing about the whole issue is not the survey itself or the action being taken against the Osaka 15, though it’s bad enough. No, what gets me more is that fact that there has not been a general outcry in the media, organisations devoted to freedom and/or liberty, from the unions or from anyone else. Indeed the main reaction seems to have been “well, they do have tattoos…” even though we don’t actually know if they have tattoos or not. What we do know is they have the balls to stand up to the authority figure and say ‘no way am I going to tell you that, it’s personal, it’s nothing to do with you, it makes no difference to my ability to do my job so go fuck yourself”. It almost makes me want to get a tattoo in sympathy – though I won’t because they’re ridiculous, but I will stand up for the right of Osaka city employees to not have to answer pointless and demeaning questions about the possibility of having one.

Driving in Tokyo

In England drivers tend to follow the mantra ‘mirror-signal-manoeuvre’

In Japan drivers tend to follow the mantra ‘manoeuvre’

It makes driving fun, really…

That said I will maintain that Japanese drivers do tend to be better behaved towards cyclists that (my limited) experience of UK drivers. OK, I know I used to cycle quite a lot when I was a kid 25 years ago, before Bradley Wiggins had won the Tour de France or Chris Hoy had torn up the Beijing velodrome, but it cycling on a A-road was taking your life in your hands. Here in Tokyo I cycle to work in the summer and take roads that are the equivalent of the London north circular (namely routes 317 (nakasendo) and 17 (yamate-dori)) and drivers are pretty well behaved, even taxis and truck drivers.

My theory on this is that in Japan you are allowed to undertake on motorways, so when changing lanes you have to use your passenger-side mirror a lot more – this means Japanese drivers are a bit more adept about using them and spotting cyclists flying up their inside. They still don’t signal very well, but at least you think they might have spotted you (unlike the idiot who stepped into the road on a long flat corner last week who I missed by the width of a swear word…)

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bon Festival

lanternfestivaldancingpeople & stallslanternsstage

Bon Festival, a set on Flickr.

New post coming soon, in the meantime, here are some photos of a local festival