Samoa don second skins to avoid a clash of cultures

The Japanese view on tattoos – a tradition that goes back thousands of years in the Pacific Islands – has caused Samoa to add an extra layer of preparation at the World Cup.

YAMAGATA, 17 Sep - In a display of respect to the host nation, the Samoa team will wear skin suits to cover up their traditional Pacific Islander tattoos at times during Rugby World Cup 2019.

As a part of their preparations ahead of kick-off, the Samoans have consulted an expert on Japanese culture to make sure the heavily tattooed team avoid problems.

"We had someone coming in and giving us a heads-up about what we could expect in Japan," Samoa captain Jack Lam said.

"There’s a lot of similarities in our cultures but when it comes to the tattoos we have obviously got a lot of tattoos, it's quite normal in our culture.

"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."

A woman's face behind a big rose covers most of the skin around the 31-year-old flanker's right elbow. Near his right shoulder, he has Jesus on the cross in ink. The Samoa players also have more traditional body paintings. It is a custom that goes back thousands of years in the Pacific Island nation.

"The word tattoo originates from the Samoan word tatau, which means 'a must'," Samoa's team manager Va'elua Aloi Alesana said.

"So every young boy, when he gets to a certain age, he gets a tattoo as a kind of passport to get into the group and serve the chiefs."

The world No.16 Samoans, who will face Russia, Scotland, Japan and Ireland in Pool A, arrived in Japan on 10 September. A week later they have discovered that the similarities between their culture and the host nation's go beyond the taro root that is used in both countries' local cuisines.

"Our cultures are very, very similar in terms of respect, which is the most important thing in our culture and the same in Japan. Here they, for example, show a great respect for their elders," Aloi Alesana said.

One of the major differences is the view of tattoos. In Japan, inked skin has for decades been associated with criminality and tattoos can deny people entry to places such as public swimming pools and beaches. Samoa are well prepared to avoid culture clashes.

"Our view is that 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," Aloi Alesana said.

"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 the training we can wear our normal clothes."

RNS pl/pr/djk/ajr