Getting Tattoos in Japan: Are They Taboos?


Getting tattoos is like a fashion trend in other countries, specially in Western countries. However, in Japan, getting tattoos can be very hectic, as it is very taboo to be “inked” in Japan. Different from the Western or Tribal style tattoos, the Japanese style tattoos are not cute or trendy at all; indeed, the Japanese style tattoos are usually big and scary, sometimes are very intimidating as well. In addition, sometimes people with tattoos are not allowed to get into the hot springs, swimming pools, beaches, or any other public places. Have you ever wondered why tattoos are taboo in Japan? Let’s explain why tattoos are taboo in Japan.


Japanese Style Tattoo Wabori

The cultures of tattooing in Japan was found around 7,000 years ago, as the historians found that Japanese tattooing was a form of decorating one’s bodies, and the culture of tattooing at that time was found in Chinese writings from 297 AD. In the Chinese writing itself, it was also explained that Chinese people found tattooing to be barbaric, as they only used tattoos as a form of punishment, and later on, tattoos were also used as a form of punishment in Japan around 720 AD.

Later in Edo period, the government use tattoos to distinguish the criminals from others, and at the same time, the Buddhists tattooed sutras to show their devotion to the religion and to be protected by the Gods. Tattoos became illegal during Meiji Period (1872-1948), and the law strictly forbid tattooing on Japanese people back then, only foreigners could have their bodies tattooed in Japan.


Wabori Process

Nowadays, many people would think that you are one of the members of the Yakuza group if you have tattoo; indeed, tattoos are strongly related to the Yakuza culture. Many members of the Yakuza group are tattooed with the Japanese style tattoos ‘Wabori’, which covers a large area of their body. These tattoos are applied to their body with the most traditional method (without using any needles), which is very painful. The pain that the Yakuza got from the tattoos was a proof of courage, and since the tattoo is permanent, it shows a lifelong loyalty to the organization. Thus, having tattoos on your body will basically label yourself as Yakuza indirectly, and it will also be difficult for you to get into most public bath houses and hot springs facilities in Japan.


No Tattoo Policy in Japan

Moreover, if you plan on staying in Japan for work, then getting tattoos will give you a lot of disadvantages as well. As of today, even though tattoos are not illegal anymore, many companies reject applications from people with tattoos; indeed, many companies stated on their job applications that people with tattoos cannot apply for the jobs. However, if you’re not planning on staying in Japan for work, getting tattoos in Japan is a good option as all tattoo artists need medical licenses to be a tattoo artist, and the hygiene level of tattoo parlors in Japan is very high compare to other countries!

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