Rugby Players Asked To Cover Up Tattoos

Rugby players asked to cover up tattoos

In just one year, some of the toughest athletes are set to hit the pitch in Japan for the Rugby World Cup. As the players gear up to play, they're getting some advice about adhering to local customs, including covering up their tattoos.

Rugby's international governing body is asking players to wear sports vests when visiting gyms and pools. It says tattoos are often associated with Japanese organized crime known as the "yakuza."

That's the perception of many in Japan. In a survey three years ago more than half of 600 hotels and traditional inns said they don't allow tattoos in their communal baths.

People in Tokyo had mixed reactions to the advice.

A woman said, "I don't think it's necessary to cover them up. They are part of their identity."

A man said, "If you allow only foreigners with tattoos to go into public baths, gangsters might say 'why can't we go inside?', and that could make it difficult for the operators."

So far rugby players have been more than happy to comply, including the New Zealand All Blacks. Many of the members are Maori and tattoos symbolize their heritage and status.

On the streets of Tokyo, international visitors understood the request. But some say tattoos don't have the same meaning in their country as they do in Japan.

Stephen Ohara from Ireland said, "I've been asked to cover them at a water park, which is fine. I bought clothes to cover them. But I knew that coming over, I knew coming over anyways."

Johan Leduc from France said, "I can understand that it's uncomfortable for the Japanese people to see tattoos, because of the history, of the meaning of the tattoo for the yakuza. But the other people, foreigners are not yakuzas."

The warning to cover up tattoos is being highlighted by the international media, including BBC.