IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Japan mayor: I wouldn't hire tattooed stars Johnny Depp, Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga shows off her tattoo of a Rilke poem in Braunschweig, Germany, on November 7, 2009.
Lady Gaga shows off her tattoo of a Rilke poem in Braunschweig, Germany, on November 7, 2009.Miguel Villagran / Getty Images, file

TOKYO -- Even Hollywood stars Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga would not be welcome to work for the Japanese city of Osaka because of their tattoos, its mayor said amid a backlash over his stance against body art.

Mayor Toru Hashimoto this week said that public employees "should go to the private sector" if they want to keep their tattoos.

City authorities carried out a survey of their staff to ask whether they had any, whether they were normally concealed by clothing or not. More than 100 sanitation, public transport and other workers admitted they had tattoos.

However, Sayuri Ohashi, a lawyer who represents Osaka workers, defended the right of people to decorate their bodies.

"Whether one has a tattoo or not has nothing to do with their competence or skills," Ohashi said.

"There are different types of tattoos, there are those that are indeed linked to organized crime and others who have etchings on their bodies as mementos, such as for their lost child," she added.

'Breach of labor law'

She added that getting employees to reveal information about their body was "a complete infringement of their rights."

"And if they try to pressure them into quitting by transferring them to another work, that's a breach of the labor law," Ohashi said.

The controversy started earlier this year when a city employee at a childcare facility was accused of intimidating a child by revealing his tattoo.

Tattoos still carry a strong cultural association with the Japanese underworld and the yakuza crime gangs.

City workers in Japan to be fired for having tattoos?

Japan's aversion to tattoos can be found at swimming pools and public bath houses where there are often signs banning those with them.

Hashimoto insisted being a public employee meant making some sacrifices.

"Before I became governor, I had my hair dyed brown," he said. "I don't mean to be self-righteous … However, when you become governor or mayor you have to change it back to black. You're a public servant."

Asked by a reporter about Hollywood stars with tattoos, the mayor responded, "If Johnny Depp or Lady Gaga asked to become Osaka city employees, I would just say 'no'.”

At the moment the city is not considering firing workers with tattoos, but Hiroshi Kotawa, from the city's personnel section, said they would be asked to cover them. "And if they still refuse, then we will consider transferring them to other jobs which will not require interaction with the public."

A previous version of this article referred to Sayuri Ohashi, a female lawyer, as "he" due to an editing error.

More world news from and NBC News:

Follow us on Twitter: @msnbc_world