The Japanese city of Kobe is considering banning people with tattoos from its beaches. The ostensible reason for the ban is that some college students at Suma Beach were arrested for possession of pot and they were tattooed and so…
Another reason for the proposed ban is that some beachgoers have complained about the presence of young people with tattoos and said that they were scared to come to the beach. The number of people going to Suma Beach has fallen to its lowest ebb in the past five years but it is difficult to pinpoint the reason. It could be that , as some critics have pointed out ,maintenance at the beach is lousy.
The connection between pot use and tattoos is farfetched and it could be that the authorities are merely using it as an excuse to appease the other beachgoers. Japan is a much more conservative society than ours and , as the Japanese are fond of saying ” The nail that sticks out will be hammered down”. A ban on tattoos may seem ridiculous to us but then I read that in the town of Isesaki municipal employees cannot grow beards !
The antipathy to tattoos is not restricted to Japan . Similar views exist in every part of the world . A typical case is South Korea where tattoos used to be considered adornments for mobsters and hoodlums. As recently as 1980, the police arrested men with tattoos suspecting them of being involved in illegal activities.In recent years , tattoos have become more acceptable as celebrities and sports stars have begun to flaunt them . In 2003, for instance , a star South Korean soccer player ripped off his jersey after he had scored a goal against Japan ,thus revealing tattoos on both shoulders. However , even today, the South Korean government decrees that only physicians can tattoo , a ruling that is increasingly coming under fire. As many as 22,000 illegal tattoo artists ply their trade in South Korea as tattoos are becoming more and more popular.
Tattos have had a similar history in the United States having been considered low class at one time but rapidly increasing in popularity and acceptance to the point that today they have become almost mainstream.
I was surprised to read that , in the thirties , the percentage of Americans with tattoos was as high as 10%. (I would have thought it was lower). Since then the percentage has risen dramatically. One survey , in 2003 pegged the figure at 15% and another survey in 2006 placed it at 24% ,or almost 1 in 4 Americans.
Tattoos have also changed in style and size. Early on, tattoos were of the “ I love Mom ” or ” I love ___” variety and the most likely people to get them were sailors. Nowadays , they can be anything : unsightly squiggles, gang affiliations, Chinese or Arabic characters, elaborate artwork and everything in between. At one time , tattoos had a special meaning for the wearer and gave a hint of the inner person. Nowadays , I don’t know. At the gym, I’ve noticed one guy with a Mickey Mouse tattoo ; another with a beautiful design that turned out , on closer inspection , to be pornographic.
The extent of tattooing has also changed.It’s not unusual to see heavily tattooed people , both men and women , with tattoos covering most of their bodies. Whenever I see such people , I wonder what job they could be working at since I know that most employers are conservative. That question was partially answered I read recently that some major employers such as Yahoo have learned to look beyond the tattoos as long as employees prove to be reliable and competent. Funnily enough , McDonald’s and Starbucks are not so accepting of tattoos , no doubt fearing adverse reactions from the public.
Observers say that tattoos started becoming respectable in the U.S in the sixties and seventies when ,first, rock musicians and then basketball players started flaunting them . I remember Dennis Rodman of the Detroit Pistons ( and later the Chicago Bulls) who was heavily tattooed all over his body. It was unusual then but today there is hardly an American born NBA player who does not sport a tattoo ; more often than not , they are likely to have several.Allan Iverson and Delonte West are two examples ; LeBron James is another. ( Interestingly enough, few of the European players in the NBA have tattoos).
Why do people get tattoos ? Among the responses given are self expression,rebellion , a desire to stand out , religious reasons , commemorations of military service or important events ( after 9-11 , there was a surge in ) , to appear more sexy and remembrance of loved ones. One reason that wasn’t mentioned but which I think is also true is that getting a tattoo is a macho thing since it means that one has undergone considerable pain in order to do so.
While I think that a ban on tattoos is ill considered, I must admit that I myself don’t care for tattoos. I belong to an older generation in whose time tattoos were rare. I can appreciate beautiful tattoos but not unsightly squiggles like the ones Delonte West has . Espescially I can’t stand tattoos on the neck and face .Whatever. My opinion doesn’t count since tattoos are here to stay and I’d better get used to seeing them.