Tattoo You: Tackling Japan’s Body Ink Taboo During Rugby World Cup

New Zealand All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams 's tattoo (R) is pictured during a community coaching event with young players of the London Harlequins in London on September 13, 2015 ahead of the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup. The All Blacks will play against Argentina next September 20 for …
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty

Players and fans descending on Japan for the 2019 Rugby World Cup have been warned to cover up their tattoos in a land where body ink is traditionally associated with Yakuza crime syndicates.

Before the tournament World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, issued advice on tattoos to players – meaning Welsh stars like Ross Moriarty and James Davies and those from Pacific Island nations have to cover up their body ink when using public pools and gyms lest they be mistaken for criminals.

At least half of England’s squad also now have at least one tattoo, and the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes, Jack Nowell and Joe Marler sporting various inkings.

“We will make (Japanese) people aware around the facilities that players will use in the country that people with tattoos in a Rugby World Cup context are not part of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia,” said Alan Gilpin, the Head of the Rugby World Cup.

“That’s where the issue comes from. We have done a lot in the last year or so with the teams to get them to understand that. When we raised it with the teams we were probably expecting a frustrated reaction from them but there hasn’t been at all. That is a great tribute to the sport itself and to the rugby players themselves.”

Samoa team manager Va’elua Aloi Alesana told the Rugby World Cup website that the word tattoo originates from the Samoan word “tatau, which means ‘a must’.

He said: “So every young boy, when he gets to a certain age, he gets a tattoo as a kind of passport to get into the group and serve the chiefs.”

World Rugby has posted advice to the estimated 400,000 travelling fans.

A 2015 survey found that 56 percent of hotels and inns did not allow tattooed guests to use communal bathing facilities, although Japan’s tourism agency has called on spas in the country to relax their rules.

The organisation suggested hot springs – onsens – and bath houses could offer visitors stickers to cover up tattoos, or set aside specific times of day when tattooed bathers can use the facilities.

The World Cup kicks off Friday with the hosts taking on Russia, and runs through November 2.

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