Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto caused another public stir recently when he asked all city workers if they have a tattoo and even suggested those who answered yes should quit the municipal government.

Earlier this month, the city asked 33,546 employees, excluding those at the board of education, if they have any tattoos after an incident in February in which a city worker showed off his tattoo and scared children at a welfare facility.

The results, announced Wednesday, showed that 110 employees said they have one or more tattoos. Of them, 98 said they are on a part of the body that can be seen by other people, such as the face, neck, arms, hands, legs or feet.

“If they want to have tattoos, they should quit working for the city and go to the private sector,” Hashimoto said Wednesday.

“There may be places such as the fashion or food industries where it can be allowed, but there is no such option for civil servants.”

The comment was aired repeatedly on TV, sparking debates over privacy and whether public workers should be allowed to have tattoos or not.

Hiroshi Kotawa, an assistant section chief in the city’s personnel division, said the municipal government is now considering setting a new “code of ethics” to regulate tattoos for city workers but stressed nothing concrete has been decided.

“I don’t think all tattoos are bad. But as a civil servant, I believe it’s unacceptable to make the public unpleasant,” Kotawa told The Japan Times on Thursday. “The important thing is to instruct those who have tattoos to cover them up, such as to fasten the buttons of their shirts.”

If tattoos can’t be covered by clothes, the city may urge workers to have them removed, but it won’t be an order, Kotawa said.

He added that most of the tattoos reported appear to be small and of the type people get to be fashionable.

Asked if the questionnaire may have violated the privacy of city workers, Kotawa said the municipal government concluded otherwise after consulting lawyers.

To manage workers, the city is allowed to ask if they have tattoos on body parts visible to others, Kotawa said.

Accordingly, the questionnaire specifically asked city workers if they have tattoos on body parts visible to other people and provided the option for them to voluntarily report tattoos on other parts of the body normally covered by clothing.

Tattoos have a negative image because they have long been associated with yakuza.

Although young people are increasingly seeing them as fashionable, many people still feel uncomfortable about body art. Many public places, including bathhouses and swimming pools, do not accept tattooed customers.

According to the city, 73 employees with tattoos work in the environment bureau, which is responsible for collecting and disposing of garbage, and 15 are in the transport bureau, which operates city buses and subways.

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