Rugby players with a passion for body art have been asked to be a little discreet about brandishing their tattoos at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, reports the BBC.
Or to put it bluntly, they’ve been asked to keep their colorful and creative ink covered up at all times so as to not offend the Japanese public.
And it’s not because the Japanese people are prudish about what many regard as a mutilation of the flesh, but because in the land of the rising sun, tattoos have long been synonymous with criminals. In particular, the notorious yakuza crime syndicates.
Rugby players from visiting countries have been politely asked by the sport’s governing body to wear a vest when they are using gyms and pools or they risk the chance of causing offense and being forcibly ejected.
In today’s world, a rippling bicep is more often than not accompanied by a garish splash of ink. Tattoos are popular amongst many a rugby player, especially those from the Pacific Islands where the tattoos often take on a deeply rich cultural, tribal or spiritual significance.
Yet Rugby World Cup tournament director Alan Gilpin has revealed that in keeping with the gentlemen-like conduct exemplified by rugby, none of the participating teams or players have objected to the reasonable request and are happy to obey the centuries-old adage of “When in Rome do as the Romans.”
“When we raised it with the teams a year or so ago, we were probably expecting a frustrated reaction from them, but there hasn’t been at all.”
“We have done a lot in the last year or so with the teams to get them to understand that.”
“The idea of putting a rash-vest [shirt used for watersports] on in the pool or in a gym, they will buy into as they want to respect the Japanese culture. We’ll position it as self-policing.”
Tournament favorites, the New Zealand All Blacks, boast many star players who sport full or half-sleeve tattoos, but they have already agreed to the policy.
New Zealand Rugby chief rugby officer Nigel Cass said it was all about respect.
“When any of our teams tour we endeavor to be respectful of the local customs and culture, and this will be no different when we visit Japan both this year and next year.”
Tattoos have not always had such negative connotations in Japan. Yet in the 1960s, the country was saturated with a wave of films portraying heavily-inked gangsters and the yakuza gangs took note.
The Japanese mafia has operated in the country for centuries but these days the estimated 35,000 members are renowned as much for their tattoos as their propensity for violence.