The weekly magazine Aera recently discussed tattoos, which became a contentious issue in Osaka after Mayor Toru Hashimoto not only prohibited city employees from gettting them but suggested that any who already had tattoos resign. Hashimoto believes that Osaka citizens are offended by tattoos, which tend to be associated with gangsters and other lowlifes. Many young people get tattoos for reasons having to do with fashion, but the majority of citizens don’t make such a distinction. Public baths and onsen (hot springs) tend to prohibit patrons with tattoos, even if it’s just a tiny reproduction of a butterfly.
The mayor’s pronouncement met with complaints from some corners, which grumbled about personal freedom and human rights, but the Aera article implies that it had the desired effect. One young man in his late 20s told the magazine that after high school he became a construction worker and got a fairly large tattoo on his back because all his construction worker friends had tattoos. But now he wants to take a test to become a civil servant and wonders if having a tattoo will be a liability, and is therefore seriously thinking of having it removed. When told that no one can notice the tattoo when he has his shirt on, the young man says that he figures if he does get a public job he will have to undergo a physical examination, and so the doctor will see the tattoo and may report it to his supervisor.
In the context of the article, this isn’t presented as paranoia but more like common sense. In any case, tattoos are painfully permanent, and having them removed involves a hefty investment and even more pain. Aera says that you can assume that whatever your tattoo cost to apply, it will cost 10 times as much to erase. The magazine reports that the number of people in Osaka who are having tattoos removed has increased noticeably since Hashimoto made his stand. But it’s not just in Osaka. One Tokyo cosmetic surgery service, Isea Clinic, says that since the beginning of the year the number of inquiries it receives about tattoo removal has gone from about 100 a month to 125. Most are from the people who have tattoos themselves, but quite a few are from people whose children have tattoos. The reason isn’t just employment. Some parents think their children have less of a chance of finding a marriage partner if they have a tattoo.
There are three removal methods: laser, surgery and skin grafting. The laser method is the cheapest, at about ¥10,000 per square centimeter of skin. However, depending on the tattoo, it is likely that a shadow of the original pattern will be left behind, so others will know that the individual used to have a tattoo. Surgery, which means basically gouging out the skin and then sewing up the wound, costs about ¥30,000 per sq. cm. The tattoo is gone completely, but a scar remains. A skin graft, which involves cutting a chunk of flesh from another part of the body and using it to cover the tattoo, runs anywhere from ¥700,000 to ¥1,000,000. As the Isea doctor says, it’s too easy to get a tattoo, which is why so many people regret it in the morning, so to speak. In the end they want it removed regardless of the cost. “They always tell me it’s OK to leave a scar,” he says. The price you pay is more than just money.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Noblestone