Rugby tattoos and cultural conflict

By Lucca Bey

Lucca wrote this post after a classroom reading and discussion about the Sept 18, 2019 Washington Post article, Rugby World Cup stars will cover their tattoos at times to avoid offending Japanese hosts.

With the date of the Japan Bowl coming closer and closer, we’re really beginning to dive into the intricacies of Japanese history and culture, as well as their crossroads with cultures besides our own. One of the really interesting points of conflict we discussed as a class was actually about conflicting cultural aspects that were introduced in this article about the Rugby World Cup in Japan, which we analyzed as a class. Since Japan is hosting the Olympics in 2020, there’s going to be a mecca of cultures intersecting, but specifically the Samoan rugby players. But first allow me to provide some context.

In the American Samoa, tattoos (commonly referred to as Tataus within the Samoan language) serve as an extremely important cultural rite of passage. Tattoos date back to more than 200 years in Samoan culture, and are representative of the hardships, status, and a mark of pride that are only to be worn by Samoans.

However, Japan has a very complicated history and associations with tattoos, more specifically crime syndicate associations. In Japan, those who wear and proudly display tattoos are considered to be part of the Yakuza, going as far as to ban tattoos in the 1800’s. The real question I find myself asking is: To what extent does honoring one’s cultural traditions go too far? While Tattoos have an important cultural significance to the Samoans, that significance is seen in Japan for a very different reason.

This is what I find the most interesting about studying Japanese culture, a whole world of extra cultural interconnections happen, and you start to view things around you through a more global and educated view.  What do I personally think the correct course of action should be in this case? After a bit of reflection, I feel that it’s not my place to decide what’s objectively right or wrong. Cultural conflicts are always subjective, and it’s especially important to keep being open minded.

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