Japan's Changing Tattoo Attitudes

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Japan as a country has had a profound influence on the history and development of tattooing...

The Japanese style, imagery and symbolism are some of the most well known elements in tattooing culture and arguably one of the most recognisable tattooing genres is that of the Japanese. Cherry blossoms, dragons, tigers, waves, geisha's, the list of Japanese style and inspired tattoos is almost endless, yet as a country Japan has had a turbulent relationship with tattooing and tattoos in general. As a country that has produced one of the most globally recognised styles of tattoos Japan has not willingly embraced the art form. Quite simply, in Japan tattoos are heavily linked to organised crime- specifically that of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia for those unfamiliar with the term.

Famed for their bold body suits the Yakuza have tainted the reputation of tattooing in Japan
Famed for their bold body suits the Yakuza have tainted the reputation of tattooing in Japan

In Japan tattoos have largely remained a taboo, reserved for the criminal elite and as such for decades there have existed a number of tattoo bans. Not bans as in you can't get a tattoo but that if you have a tattoo you have to accept you may get turned away from bath houses, swimming pools, gyms, workplaces, and a number of other public facilities. There have been attempts by politicians to have people with tattoos fired from there jobs. Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto has been a very vocal opponent of tattoos and in 2012 declared that civil servants with tattoos had no right to work and should resign. Thankfully Hashimoto's views have not been fulfilled and in fact the opposite has happened, tattoos have slowly begun to be more socially accepted throughout Japan.

Toru Hashimoto is one of Japan's most vocal critics of tattoos
Toru Hashimoto is one of Japan's most vocal critics of tattoos

Perhaps it is with the realisation that a young woman with a star tattoo on her ankle is not necessarily a criminal or member of the Yakuza that modern Japanese society is becoming more accepting of tattoos. There was once a time when in Japan tattoos were primarily reserved for those involved in crime but more recently there has been a growing increase in younger generations expressing themselves through tattoos and with such a trend attitudes have changed. A number of  public facilities have lifted tattoo bans and most recently the Hoshino Resort Company, a tourism giant in Japan, have announced they to are ending their tattoo ban by allowing people with tattoos to visit and use their resorts facilities by providing stickers to cover any tattoos. This may seem like tattoos are still shunned but the change is big news in Japan and is only fuelling the reducing stigma attached to tattoos.

Just because he's tattooed doesn't mean he's Yakuza
Just because he's tattooed doesn't mean he's Yakuza

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Possibly the biggest influence on the change has been the increasing global acceptance of tattoos, and the risk that if they do not change to then the Japanese economy may suffer. Quite a dramatic claim, but last year alone 13 million tourists were turned away from public facilities in Japan because they had a tattoo, such numbers add up and so does the loss of 13 million paying customers. The Hoshino Resort Company has clearly taken a step in the right direction and with it only increased the acceptance of tattoos in Japan. Will Japan ever truly accept tattoos the way other countries do? Possibly not, but they are least reducing the stigma and negative connotations that come with being a tattooed person in Japan.

By admitting not everyone with a tattoo is a cold blooded criminal Japanese culture is finally heading in the right direction and moving towards being a society where tattoos are not a thing to be shunned but an art form to be appreciated as it is many other nations.


@Robert Davies

Tattoodo Staff Writer and tattoo enthusiast. Lover of all things traditional and blackwork!


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