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Why are tattoos shunned in Japan?


In Japan, tattoos are often associated with organized crime and are viewed negatively by many people. Despite the growing popularity of tattoos in Western culture, the Japanese society still has a strong aversion to body ink. This article will explore the reasons behind this cultural phenomenon and delve into the history, tradition, and modern-day attitudes towards tattoos in Japan.

Historical context

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years in Japan, and were once used as symbols of status and power. However, during the Edo period (1603-1868), tattoos were outlawed due to their association with criminals and outcasts. This trend continued after World War II, when tattoos became synonymous with yakuza, or Japanese mafia. The negative perception of tattoos persists even today, despite efforts to change public opinion.

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Cultural significance

In Japan, body art is often considered a form of self-expression that goes against the traditional values of conformity and obedience. Many Japanese people believe that tattoos are a sign of rebellion and disrespect towards authority. Additionally, tattoos are seen as a violation of the purity of the body and the soul, which are highly valued in Japanese culture.

The workplace

Many companies in Japan have strict policies against visible tattoos in the workplace, as they are deemed unprofessional and may offend customers or colleagues. This has led to discrimination against those with tattoos, who may be denied employment or promotions based on their appearance.

Misconceptions about tattooed individuals

Despite being associated with organized crime, most people with tattoos in Japan are not involved in illegal activities. Unfortunately, this stereotype has led to discrimination against tattooed individuals, who may be denied entry into public baths or other establishments.

Legal issues

While tattoos are not illegal in Japan, there are restrictions on who can legally perform tattooing. Only licensed medical professionals are allowed to operate tattoo parlors, which has led to a lack of regulation in the industry and an increase in underground practitioners.

Changing attitudes

In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards acceptance of tattoos in Japan, particularly among younger generations. Many celebrities and athletes proudly display their body art, and some companies have relaxed their policies on visible tattoos in the workplace.

Tourism industry

The negative perception of tattoos in Japan has had an impact on the tourism industry, as many foreign visitors may feel uncomfortable or discriminated against due to their body ink. To address this issue, some hotels and hot springs have relaxed their policies on visible tattoos for non-Japanese guests.

The artistry of Japanese tattoos

Despite their negative connotations, Japanese tattoos are renowned for their intricate designs and symbolism. Traditional Japanese tattoo artists use a technique called tebori, which involves hand-poking the ink into the skin. This process can take months or even years to complete.

Tattoo festivals

Japan is home to several tattoo festivals each year, where artists from around the world showcase their skills and share their passion for body art. These events help to promote a positive image of tattoos and educate people about their cultural significance.

The future of tattoos in Japan

As attitudes towards body art continue to evolve in Japan, it remains to be seen whether tattoos will become more accepted by mainstream society. While some argue that the negative perception will always exist due to cultural traditions and values, others believe that increased exposure and education will lead to greater acceptance over time.


Tattoos have a complex history and cultural significance in Japan that cannot be ignored. While they may still be shunned by many people, it is important to understand the reasons behind this attitude and work towards greater acceptance and understanding of body art as a form of self-expression.

Are tattoos shunned in Japan?

Contrary to popular belief, tattoos are not illegal in Japan and are generally accepted. Fashion tattoos, in particular, are visible on some people, especially in Tokyo, although most individuals choose to keep their tattoos covered.

Are tattoos still illegal in Japan?

In Japan, having a tattoo is not against the law, but tattoo artists often operate discreetly because any profession that involves needles requires a medical degree by law.

Is Japanese culture against tattoos?

In Japan, tattoos are stigmatized and associated with organized crime, resulting in a longstanding cultural taboo against them. As a result, individuals with tattoos may not be allowed at beaches, hot springs resorts, gyms, and some companies may even prohibit job applicants with tattoos.

When did tattoos become taboo in Japan?

In 1868, Japan opened up to the world after over 200 years of isolation and began to adopt Western modernization policies, including a ban on tattoos which were viewed as uncivilized. Although the ban was eventually lifted in 1948, the negative perception of tattoos persisted.

Do Japanese people care if foreigners have tattoos?

In Japan, rules are highly valued, and almost all pools, onsens, and gyms have a policy against tattoos. Any foreigner who shows their tattoos at the entrance is likely to cause worry. It is acceptable to keep your tattoos hidden by covering them up. If you are unable to do so, it is best to avoid these environments.

Can I get a job in Japan if I have tattoos?

When applying for a job, can having a tattoo have a negative impact? In Japan, many companies have a policy of rejecting applicants with tattoos. This is because, in Japanese culture, having a tattoo is often associated with being anti-social or connected to anti-social groups.

The impact of globalization

Globalization has brought many Western cultural influences to Japan, including the growing popularity of tattoos. This has led to a clash between traditional Japanese values and modern Western ideas of self-expression. Some argue that this clash is inevitable and that Japan must adapt to changing attitudes towards body art, while others believe that preserving cultural traditions is more important.

The role of social media

Social media has played a significant role in promoting tattoo culture in Japan. Instagram, in particular, has become a platform for tattoo artists to showcase their work and connect with clients. However, social media has also led to concerns about the commercialization of tattoos and the commodification of Japanese cultural traditions.

The future of the tattoo industry

The tattoo industry in Japan is currently facing challenges due to the lack of regulation and licensing for tattoo artists. There are concerns about unhygienic practices and unsafe equipment, which have led to calls for greater oversight and regulation. However, some argue that too much regulation could stifle creativity and innovation within the industry.

The impact on personal identity

For many people with tattoos in Japan, body art is a way to express their individuality and non-conformity. However, the negative perception of tattoos can lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment, especially among older generations who may view tattoos as a sign of rebellion or delinquency. This highlights the complex relationship between personal identity and cultural norms in Japan.

The intersection of gender and tattoos

Tattoos have traditionally been associated with masculinity in Japan, with many male yakuza members sporting full-body tattoos as a symbol of power and toughness. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend of women getting tattoos as a form of self-expression and empowerment. This has challenged traditional gender roles in Japanese society and raised questions about the role of body art in gender identity.

The impact on mental health

For some people with tattoos, body art can have a positive impact on mental health by providing a sense of self-expression and empowerment. However, for others, negative perceptions and discrimination can lead to feelings of isolation or anxiety. This highlights the need for greater understanding and acceptance of body art as a valid form of self-expression and personal identity.

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