>> Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau, and Courtney Lawes, what do all of these rugby superstars have in common? They all sport serious tattoos. And that's going to be a problem when they head to Japan for the Rugby World Cup next year. Some got a preview during a recent visit.
>> First day we were here, we went to a gym and we all had to cover up. So there was a few long sleeve tights and calf sleeves going around.>> Players are being advised to cover up their ink. In Japan, tattoos have long been associated with the Yakuza, the country's organized crime syndicates.
> Tattoos are a traditional part of Polynesian culture. Many, like New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams, have highly visible tributes to their heritage on their bodies. But Williams says he personally has no problem with covering up.>> We've got to respect the values that the Japanese people have, and that's just how it is.
>> Ex Yakuza, Tatsuya Shindo, is now a Christian pastor. He says even after leaving that life behind, his tattoos have meant that people here still associate him with crime. And many Japanese tattoo artists, whose livelihood is often belittled as something unsavory, or worse, illegal. Refused to talk to Reuters because of the community's fear and distrust.
It's an issue that's polarized the country. Where tattoos have been linked to criminality since the Edo period began in the 1400s. Advocates though are hoping the arrival of inked athletes will spark a debate.>>
>> Even with long sleeves, inked athletes won't be allowed into some public spaces, like gyms and Japan's traditional bath houses. Most of them have complete bans on any kind of body inkings.