The tattooed legs of Samoa's Lome Fa'atau. Picture: ACTION IMAGES / JASON O'BRIEN
The tattooed legs of Samoa's Lome Fa'atau. Picture: ACTION IMAGES / JASON O'BRIEN

Tokyo — Samoan players will wear their hearts on their sleeves — but keep traditional Pacific islander tattoos under wraps with skin suits during the World Cup in Japan to avoid offending their hosts.

The Japanese have long associated tattoos with members of “yakuza” crime syndicates, and inked tourists may encounter disapproval and sometimes be banned from gyms, bathhouses or traditional hot-spring resorts.

But tattoos are also a fundamental part of the Pacific identity back home for the Samoans.

“We have to respect the culture of the land we are in wherever we go. We have our own culture as well but we are not in Samoa now,” team manager Va’elua Aloi Alesana said on the World Cup website.

“There are some training venues that have allowed us to show our tattoos and some places where we can’t, and for those places, we’ve been given ‘skins’ to wear to cover our tattoos.

“The extra skins are only for when we go to the [swimming] pools though. At  training we can wear our normal clothes.”

In December 2018, World Rugby advised players and supporters to cover up tattoos during the tournament.

Samoa coach Steve Jackson called in Japanese cultural experts ahead of the tournament to ensure players appreciate the local culture.

“It’s quite normal in our culture,” Samoa captain Jack Lam said. “But we are respectful and mindful to what the Japanese way is. We will be making sure that what we are showing will be OK.”

Samoa, ranked 16th in the world, face Russia in their opening pool stage match on September 24. They will also meet Scotland, Japan and Ireland in Pool A. 


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