Tag Archives: yakuza

A Japanese Perception of Danger

Last Thursday we had a safety drill at my primary junior high. We prepared for what to do if a dangerous person ever entered the school. I’m going to refrain from too much detail, in case anyone reading this blog happens to be a “dangerous person,” in which case I have no intention of helping you plot your strategy.

But there are two comments I would like to make:

1. Guns are illegal in Japan. Therefore the assumption is that intruders are carrying knives. As a consequence, the primary tool used to confront said intruder is an implement rather like a pitchfork, only the two prongs in the middle are missing and the ends aren’t sharp.

2. Said intruder was played by a police man. I looked outside and saw a man wearing a black knit cap and sunglasses. Because, you know, that is what intruders wear – black knit caps and sunglasses.

The idea that all people in black knit caps and sunglasses are dangerous reminds me of the Japanese policy of tattoos. Basically, if you have them it is assumed you are criminal.

Let me elaborate: The Japanese have a tradition called “onsen.” Basically everyone gets naked, scrubs up, and gets in a hot tub together. In the past this was not gender segregated, nowadays it is. A small towel is permissible while walking around, but don’t even think of wearing a bathing suit in there. I’ll elaborate more in future posts. Anyway, most onsens have signs saying that tattoos aren’t allowed. And, yes, I have had a teammate kicked out because his tattoo was showing.

Why, you may ask, are the Japanese against tattoos? Well, most people in this country who have tattoos are part of the yakuza, or Japanese mafia.

Case in point: the movie, The Wolverine. There is a scene when he is at a funeral and he catches sight of tattoos under a Buddhist monk’s sleeve. The first thirty seconds of¬†http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjoGwzsyA1s¬†should be sufficient. I watched this movie after having lived in Japan for a year and a half, and while in Japan, which meant I was already in Japanese culture mode. Consequently, the moment I saw the bit of tattoo, I knew something was off too. If you have never been in Japan, it might be strange to you that a glimpse of a tattoo indicates something so dangerous. But it does. Here it does. The perception of danger in Japan includes knit black hats, sunglasses, and tattoos.

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