When Japan began to open up to the rest of the world in the Meiji era, the government was concerned about foreigners` perception of Japanese practices, including punitive tattooing. As a result, punitive tattooing was banned and tattooing was usually forced into underground areas. Tattoos quickly became rare and, ironically, foreigners were more interested in Japanese tattoos, which certainly defeated the purpose of the Japanese government at the time. When Japan entered the 19th century, criminals weren`t the only ones wearing tattoos. Skonunin (大大学, Skonunin. Craftsmen) was known to have tattoos, alongside civilian firefighters for example. For firefighters, tattoos were a form of spiritual protection from fire and flame. The city`s couriers also had tattoos, as did the kyoukaku (street knights who protected ordinary people from criminals, thugs, and the government). They would be the ancestors of what we recognize today as yakuza. A tattoo is not illegal in Japan per se. However, tattoo artists tend to work under the radar like their job, as any profession involving needles is legally subject to a medical degree. However, the tide is turning, as in September 2020, Japan`s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a tattoo artist prosecuted for practicing medicine illegally.
In fact, the situation in Japan is changing slowly but significantly. Young people in particular play an important role in raising awareness of the abuse of tattoo artists in Japanese public life. Discrimination, although decreasing, is still present and affects the lives of young people. In many countries, such as South Korea and now Japan, tattoo artists were legally banned from practicing if they did not obtain a medical license. Basically, you had to become a doctor to become a tattoo artist. Alternatively, if you were a tattoo artist in Japan arrested without a medical license, you could be fined up to 1 million yen ($9,563) and/or three years in prison. 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. 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. 七分彫り (shichibun-hori): A 3/4 sleeve tattoo, from the shoulder to the thickest part of the forearm.
The tattoo was, in fact, for several centuries an ignominious sign to publicly mark criminals. The art of tattooing in Japan developed mainly during the Edo period and was widely used in all classes of society. However, it was strictly banned during the Meiji era and until 1948. The golden age of yakuza movies in the 1960s-70s, in which tattooed bodies were widely shown, certainly contributed to tattoos being associated with the mafia in the public mind (even though yakuza tend to avoid distinctive traits such as tattoos). A tattoo cover seal, (also called foundation tape, Hada Kakushiito, skin cover) is a type of bandage that looks like a second skin, made of a waterproof skin-colored material that can cover small tattoos. It`s pretty easy to buy from most online stores at affordable prices (averaging ¥1,000 for 4 patches). However, skin tones are limited. www.inkedmag.com/original-news/japan-legalizes-tattoos In Japanese, several words are used to say “tattoo”. Irezumi (入れ墨) and Horimono (彫り物) are commonly used and usually refer to a traditional Japanese tattoo. The English word “tattoo” (タトゥー) tends to include all other tattoo styles. Traditional Japanese tattooing also has several names for ink, depending on the part of the body it covers. Some examples: We have heard tourists say that their tattoo is correct because no one has told them anything.
However, that doesn`t necessarily mean it was correct. It simply means that the owner did not want to have a confrontation. His case was referred to Japan`s Supreme Court in 2017, and after nearly three years, the country`s highest court ruled that tattoo artists no longer need to obtain medical licenses to practice their art. The Supreme Court`s logic for its decision was that tattooing is not a medical practice and is not practiced exclusively by doctors, so the law banning tattoo artists without a medical license of their profession has lost its legal basis.