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Ioka Kazuto awaiting punishment from Japanese Boxing Commission for his visible tattoo

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Japanese boxer Ioka Kazuto is facing a sanction from boxing authorities over his tattoos.

On December 31 Ioka Kazuto retained his WBO super-flyweight title with an 8th round TKO over Tanaka Kosei in an event that took place inside the Ota City General Gymnasium in Tokyo. However, the now 26-2 Ioka took the fight knowing he was almost certain to face some form of punishment for something that has nothing to do with his actions inside the ring.

BoxingScene reports that, during his fight with Tanaka, Ioka violated a Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) rule on visible tattoos.

Between his last fight, a unanimous decision win over Jeyvier Cintron in 2019, and this most recent fight Ioka received a full sleeve of tattoos on his left arm. He also had some kanji script inked on his left rib area.

Among the JBC’s rules is that national boxers with “a tattoo or other markings that makes the audience feel uncomfortable” shall not be permitted to compete in a boxing event.

Prior to his most recent fight Ioka discussed that rule and how absurd he believes it is. “For me in boxing, the commission asks me to [conceal] it before I enter the ring. But it really makes no sense and it has nothing to do with boxing, so I hope to chip away at this rule.”

“People who are watching boxing are focused on the action in the ring, not the tattoos they [see],” continued Ioka. “Then there are international boxers who reside in Japan and fight for gyms here that have tattoos and they are allowed to fight without having to [conceal] because they are foreigners.

“So, it is an awkward as well and inconsistent rule. If they are going to ban it, then they should ban it for all fighters, Japanese and foreigners.”

Through it’s sources BoxingScene has learned that Ioka, who has a considerable national profile in Japanese boxing, is likely to receive a ‘strict caution’ for his tattoos. However, the most severe punishment for visible tattoos outlined in the JBC’s rulebook is an indefinite license suspension.

The JBC’s rules do not extend to Japanese fighters competing overseas. And Iota has stated that he’s hoping he can improve his international notoriety by booking his next fights in the United States.

Tattoos, or irezumi, have been controversial in Japan since the formation of the country. Tattoos were commonly sported by the Ainu, an Indigenous group from what is now Hokkaido. The Ainu were subjugated by the Japanese in the 14th century.

Tattoos were outlawed by Japan in the Meiji Period, which began in 1868, a period that saw an increase in cultural genocide practises targeting the Ainu. That period also saw the annexation of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a kingdom that stretched over an island chain near Okinawa. Tattoos were also part of Ryukyua culture.

On mainland Japan, tattoos have long been associated with the Yakuza; Japan’s 400 year old organized criminal class. Membership in a Yakuza clan often includes a full body tattoo. However, many non-criminals have worn tattoos across Japanese history. For example, Edo Period fire fighters wore full body tattoos to grant spiritual protection against flames.

In modern Japan the tattoo remains a popular (and undeserving) symbol of criminality and undesirability. When seen alongside combat sports, an arena in Japan that has often been marred by Yakuza influence, tattoos cause increased animus among sanctioning and legislative bodies.