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Local Artist Challenges Japan’s Stigma Against Tattoos in Modern Era

In tattoo-averse Japan, a case heading to court in Osaka could help determine whether anybody will be able to get their body inked in the country in the future.

The Washington Post reports on the case of Taiki Masuda, a 29-year-old tattoo artist who is going to court to fight a US$3,000 fine imposed during a police raid on his Osaka studio two years ago.

According to the news source there is a deep social stigma against tattoos in Japan due to their association with organized crime, especially the yakuza.

Deep-rooted class and hierarchical values also play a role in this stance on tattoos. Brian Ashcraft, an American journalist based in Osaka who wrote a book on the topic, told the newspaper that “one of the central ideals is that you must respect your parents. You got your body from your parents, so if you put ink into your body, you’re disrespecting your parents.”

Masuda’s case arose when authorities in Osaka decided to expand enforcement of a 14-year-old regulation which ruled that cosmetic tattooing, such as creating permanent eyebrows, could only be done by licensed healthcare providers.

The tattoo artist argues that applying the rule to his work is wrong. “This is a violation of freedom of expression,” he told the Post. “Tattooing is not a medical act, but they’re saying I should be a doctor if I want to do this. It doesn’t make sense, and I can’t accept it.”

Takeshi Mikami, Masuda’s attorney, believes that if he loses the case, tattooing may become very difficult in Japan. “This is an unprecedented case,” he shared. “The prosecutors’ position that tattooing should be performed only by doctors is an overreach. This case goes against common sense.”

The government, however, is not backing down. Yoshiyuki Kanno, an official from Japan’s health ministry, told the news source that “it’s a medical act to put pigment on a needle tip and insert ink into the skin. It can cause damage, and there are risks like bleeding or infections if tattooing is done by someone without technical knowledge.” 

With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, an event that will attract thousands of tattooed athletes and spectators, the case has drawn heightened attention.

It has already changed the outlook of Mikami, the defense lawyer. “I didn’t know anyone who had a tattoo before this case, but it completely changed the image I had of tattoo fans and tattoo artists,” he shared. “Tattoos have existed in Japan for long, and I hope Japanese society can be more tolerant and accepting.”

[Photo via Washington Post]

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