Japan considers lifting tattoo ban in military to boost recruitment numbers

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Japan’s defence ministry is thinking of scrapping a ban on tattoos to boost recruitment numbers in its Self-Defence Force, Japanese media reported.

Potential candidates are currently turned away for having tattoos.

This is due to a ministry directive, based on Article 58 of the Self-Defence Forces Law, the Asahi Shimbun said.

The tattoo ban was introduced when the Self-Defence Force was established in 1954.

Mr Kazuhito Machida, head of the ministry’s Personnel and Education Bureau, said the government needs to consider reviewing the rule, given the nation’s declining birthrate.

Another senior ministry official said revisions are necessary to be more inclusive. For example, Japan’s Ainu indigenous population have tattoos as part of their tradition.

Japan recorded fewer than 800,000 births in 2022, a record low.

That concern spills over into labour shortages, including in the military, at a time when Japan is expanding its military spending in response to regional security concerns.

Mr Masahisa Sato, a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, had raised the tattoo issue at the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on May 9.

“I think it is problematic to reject those willing to enlist just because they have small tattoos,” said Mr Sato, who is a former high-ranking member of the defence force.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has made arresting the country’s sliding birth rate a top priority.

His government plans to set aside spending of 3.5 trillion yen (S$33.7 billion) a year on child care and other measures to support parents.

Tattoos are increasingly used as fashion statements in many parts of the world. But in Japan, many still associate them with yakuza gangsters and other “anti-social elements”.

Some scholars say tattoos were common in Japanese culture before encounters with Europeans in the 1800s.

Professor Yoshimi Yamamoto, a cultural anthropologist at Tsuru University, said the Europeans deemed the full-body tattoos on the Japanese as “backwards”. This led to a move to cover up the ink,...

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