Tourists may therefore be surprised by the strong persistence of this prejudice, while considering their tattoos as an artistic achievement, a personal choice or a tradition. It is important to point out that the Irezumi tattoo style does not reflect the truly traditional Japanese tattoo art. Irezumi was clearly used for a purpose, and even today, people simply don`t use this term in the context of tattoos. Japanese tattoos are one of the most respected styles of tattoo art, practiced and adorned by millions of people around the world, but remain a cultural taboo in their home countries. Every year, tens of thousands of Westerners travel to Japan to get tattooed by artists who specialize in the traditional technique of hand-picking tebori. In this technique, artists use metal attached to a bamboo handle with silk thread to repeatedly insert ink into the skin to create irezumi (tattoos). This is said to allow for greater color density to produce brighter, more saturated tattoos that stand the test of time better than tattoos produced by a machine needle. Becoming a doctor costs a lot of time and money. It`s ridiculous to think you get a medical license to become a tattoo artist,” says Masuda. In Japan, tattoos have long been stigmatized for their association with organized crime gangs, the yakuza, who swear allegiance with marks all over their bodies. Therefore, anyone who has ink – regardless of profession – usually cannot use public pools, hot springs, beaches, and even some gyms. Instead of direct cause and effect, tattooing and yakuza culture, while nuanced, have spread into a lifestyle that mimics art. Young aspirants, villains and aspiring mafia members have seen the heavily colored bodies of their heroes on screen in violent films such as “Showa zankyo-den” (Brutal Tales of Chivalry, 1965).
This influence of tattoos in Japan`s narrative history is one of the reasons why many people in the baby boomer generation believe tattoos mean bad news. In 2015, and in preparation for major international sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup (2019) and the Olympic Games 🏅 (2020-2021), the Japanese government conducted a survey aimed at the tourism industry and how the many foreign visitors would be welcomed, especially if they were tattooed. The Ministry of Tourism`s survey found that more than half of the establishments surveyed, whether 🏨 hotels or traditional ryokan hostels, still had a negative perception of tattooed people and rejected them regardless of their origin, believing they could be linked to organized crime. The 17th century marked the end of tattooing as a punishment, but it began a complete ban on them. Decorative tattoos were seen by the Japanese government as a way for criminals to cover their ink, which they received as punishment. For this reason, Japanese pictorial tattooing flourished in the 18th century in connection with the Edo period. Meanwhile, the yakuza preferred tattoos because they were painful and showed signs of courage and lifelong loyalty to the gang. Although tattooing is no longer illegal in Japan, Japanese people with tattoos continue to face discrimination. Many tattoo artists keep a low profile to avoid police raids and stigma, work in indescribable studios, and work by word of mouth. Artists report that between 60 and 70 percent of people who receive Japanese tattoos are foreigners.
The younger generation prefers Western-style geometric and fine tattoos to the bold images of Japanese tattoos, perhaps because of the enduring connotation between large-scale tattoos and yakuza members. “We called the hotels to see if I could use the pool or onsen (natural hot springs) with a tattoo. They all said no,” she told CNN. At the resort she eventually booked, “there were big signs saying `No tattoos visible` at the front desk and pool.” In 2015, popular tattoo artist Taiki Masuda was convicted of conducting “medical practices” without a license. In September this year, his appeal led to the overturning of his previous guilty verdict, marking a major shift in Japan`s long and complicated history with tattoos. ファッションタトゥー (Modetatou): Used to distinguish between tattoos worn by criminals and tattoos worn by other people “for fashion”. Now, Irezumi, or the traditional Japanese art style, has been used to mark people who have committed crimes. The meanings and symbols of the tattoos varied from region to region and depended on the type of crime committed.
Tattoos range from very simple line marks around the forearm to bold, clearly visible kanji symbol marks on the forehead. One question that many tattooed travelers ask themselves when they come to Japan is, “Should I cover my tattoos?” The short answer is “sometimes.” Although deeply intertwined in the culture of the early Ainu populations, tattoos gradually began to associate with more harmful connotations during the Edo period when they were introduced as symbols of punishment. Depending on the region in which they were imprisoned or the type of crime they committed, criminals were tagged with various marks that excluded them from society. In Chikuzen and Hiroshima, three sentences resulted in a kanji for a dog (犬), in Bizen (present-day Okayama) to a cross (X), in Edo (present-day Tokyo) to a kanji for evil (悪), and in Higo (present-day Kumamoto), various marks distinguished a crime related to fighting or theft. Although once intended to exorcise these criminals, decorative tattoos gradually became more common as criminals took the practice into their own hands and covered the marks with decorative ornaments. These types of decorative tattoos were quickly appropriated by Japanese organized crime members known as yakuza, who sought these body modification methods as a painful part of the initiation process to prove their courage and commitment. Body art became increasingly popular among criminals and the lower classes until it was finally banned at the end of the Edo period in 1868. Under the Meiji Restoration, the new government, which did not want to be considered primitive by Western visitors, banned tattooing because of its close ties to the lower classes and criminals when they opened their borders to foreigners to industrialize and modernize the nation. The ban was lifted much later in 1948 after World War II, but stigma and links to crime have remained in Japan ever since.
In 2015, Japanese tattoo artist Taiki Masuda was arrested for violating medical law. Police visited his tattoo studio as part of a criminal case against a pharmacy where Masuda was on the customer list. “Becoming a doctor takes a lot of time and money,” says Masuda. “It`s ridiculous to think that you would get a medical license to become a tattoo artist. タトゥー (armadillo): Similar to Irezumi, but often refers to tattoos made with a machine, Western-style tattoos, and tattoos worn by foreigners. Well, when it comes to foreigners tattooed in Japan, things are pretty simple; Follow the rules and everything should be fine. Now, what do we mean by “rules”? The Supreme Court of Japan has stated that although it does not have a medical license for a medical procedure, which is defined as “acts that are considered medical treatment or health advice and could cause damage to hygiene if not performed by physicians,” that “tattoos require artistic skills distinct from medicine, and that it cannot be assumed that doctors do the act exclusively.” This effectively separated the tattoo from a medical procedure. But we decided to investigate whether it`s true or not, let`s dive in! Let`s find out if tattoos are legal or illegal in Japan! Of course, Japanese tattoo art evolved beyond the Edo period. The most notable development of Japanese tattooing took place under the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e on wood. This artistic style included landscapes, erotic scenes, kabuki actors, and creatures from Japanese folklore. As it was widely used, ukiyo-e art quickly became a source of inspiration for tattoos throughout Japan.
Since tattoos are completely legal and standardized in the United States (and other Western countries), it`s easy to forget that other countries and cultures around the world may have a different attitude towards body art. An idea for a crisis emerged in 2015 when tattoo artist Taiki Masuda was convicted of a little-known law. Anti-tattoo laws at the time would have been much stricter in the Hokkaido and Okinawa regions, regions more vulnerable to invasions. These were also areas where tattooing in the female tribal style was culturally rooted. On the other hand, mainland Japan`s laws were more flexible and, despite lax enforcement, they still managed to drive the culture underground.