Yesterday, the Osaka High Court gave the powerfully positive ruling that Japanese tattooing is not a medical act and does not require a medical license. This ruling, in effect, has made tattooing legal in Japan and will hopefully pave the way for well-educated regulations that allow artists to continue creating work for clients in safe environments.
The Osaka High Court ruling that Japanese tattoos do not require a medical license was based on the following points via the Global Legal Monitor of the Library of Congress, "in addition to health and hygiene knowledge, tattooing requires techniques and artistic sense that are not included in medical school curricula; tattooing requires health and hygiene knowledge, but the level of that knowledge does not require a medical degree; and foreign countries do not require medical licenses for tattooing, but provide other easier qualification systems"
Rulings such as this are vitally important, but also prove that change will come with dedication, hard-work, and the conviction that beneficial freedom will prevail. No longer should there be fear that this iconic artistry will be eradicated rather than preserved and sustained.
Editorial feature image is by Hide Ichibay
Legal Background of Japanese Tattoos
It was in the year 2000 that the Japanese National Police Agency made an inquiry to the Ministry of Health asking for the investigation of the safety and protocol for tattooing within Japan. The response was that “‘coloring skin by injecting colors into it with a needle’ is regarded as a medical act. Therefore, the act of tattooing eyebrows and eye lines of customers at spa salons by employees without medical licenses violates the Medical Practitioners Act.” General tattooing was then lumped into cosmetic tattooing, causing Irezumi to be seen as an act only for beauty purposes.
Then, in September of 2017, Taiki Masuda was charged with tattooing 3 people without a medical license. The tattoo community has waited with baited breath as the court developed over the past four years. The industry was united in hopes that tattooing would become legal in Japan, but divided in the actuality of a court ruling in Masuda’s favor. Some artists thought the social stigma against tattoos would be a nail in the coffin for freedom of expression, while others mentioned that the overwhelming, and quickly growing, global interest in Irezumi was a favorable tip of the scale in the right direction.
In an interview with Travelin’ Mik, a photographer and well known supporter of the industry, he stated of the new ruling, “This does not effectively change the social stigma that is attached to tattooing in Japan but it can help remove obstacles for tattooists, because they can now practice tattooing without having to fear that suddenly they will be stigmatized as criminals." For those who know Japanese tattoo history well, many laws and reforms have existed over centuries to curtail the creation of tattoos causing the loss of important cultural rites such as those used by the Uchinanchu women in Okinawa.
It’s important to note that prejudice is learned, not intrinsic, and that those within the tattoo industry have long understood the obligation to change societal perception through dedication to the art form. Even artists in the neighboring country of Korea, where tattooing is still illegal, such as Apro Lee, Sion, and Miki Kim, have mentioned that they deeply feel their responsibility to portray tattooing for what it is: an incredible art form that is used for cathartic self expression.
Popular Culture in Japan Embraces Irezumi
While it was on Taiki Masuda’s shoulders, and those of his attorneys, to carry the trial to fruition, popular culture at large has helped bolster the proceedings. Japanese celebrities have indulged in the art of tattooing, such as singer Namie Amuro, guitarist Miyavi and musician Ryuchell, who faced backlash when originally sharing images of his tattoos on his Instagram.
During Ryuchell’s minor controversy, a 2014 survey conducted by the Kanto Bar Association was quoted in order to illustrate public opinion on Japanese tattoos. “51.1% were "uncomfortable" when asked "How did you feel when you actually saw a person with a tattoo? (Multiple choices allowed)". , 36.6% answered that they were "scary". In addition, when asked "What do you associate with tattoos and tattoos? (Multiple choices allowed)", 55.7% answered "outlaw" and 47.5% answered "crime".”
However, regardless of the controversy surrounding pervasive thought on Japanese tattoos, onsen, Japanese bath houses, had been asked by the Japanese Tourism Agency to rethink the way they handle tattooed foreigners within their establishments in an effort to support an influx of happy travel to the country. After conducting surveys with a large number of onsen, the JTA suggested that bathing time zones specific for tattooed individuals and private baths be offered, as well as the option of covering the tattoos rather than simply being denied. Small steps such as these are integral to the constant health of public perception in regards to tattooing.
Japanese tattoos have enriched the imaginations of millions, including both tattooed and non-tattooed individuals. There are few people out there who could not possibly separate the power of Irezumi creations with the country itself; they are part of the magnificence and magic of Japan. Whether society's thoughts are tainted still by visions of yakuza or not, this ruling helps to uphold the cultural significance of an art form that has captured some of the best aspects of Japan’s glorious history and civilization. Times are changing and archaic perceptions of Irezumi’s connection to criminality is slowly, but surely, being abandoned.