Maori tattoos spark international incident

BANNED: Erana Brewerton says her "moko tells other Maori where I am from."
BANNED: Erana Brewerton says her "moko tells other Maori where I am from."

A New Zealander's traditional Maori tattoos have sparked something of an international incident, with a Japanese cabinet minister calling for the country to respect other cultures after the Kiwi was barred from a bathhouse.

Erana Te Haeata Brewerton, the 60-year-old daughter of the late prominent Maori language supporter Dame Katerina Mataira, was attending an academic meeting on indigenous languages when she was banned from the hot spring in Hokkaido last Sunday.

"I'm not used to being treated like that,'' Brewerton told the AFP. She said her ''ta moko'' tattoo identifies her.

''My moko tells other Maori where I am from.''

But in Japan, tattoos are identified with organised crime syndicates and people with them are often banned from public establishments.

The bath house manager told Japan's Mainichi newspaper that it always denies people with tattoos entry, as some customers are fearful of them.

"People hosting the Maori woman expressed regret that indigenous people's culture and pride were not accepted," Mainichi reported.

"The manager at the public bath facility said he wants a wide variety of people to enjoy the bath but cannot draw a judgment on the background of her tattoos. He added that his facility will lose trust unless it draws a line somewhere."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that he thinks "it is important to respect the cultures of foreign countries, considering we will host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and expect many visitors ... to come to Japan."

Brewerton told Kyodo News she was upset by the inference her tattoos were connected with organised crime and said she hopes the incident would raise awareness of moko kauae.

"The world has opened up now, with the Internet and the way we travel around the world, so we just need to be aware of others' traditions," she said.

Fairfax Media