Right now, there are some people in Japan who appear to be doing their best to kill off tattoos. This guy is one of many who wants to stop that.
For the past two years plus, I’ve been working on a tattoo book called called Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design . It’s about the symbols and motifs found in irezumi , which is one of the Japanese words for tattoos. The designs are complex and fascinating and encompass so much of the country’s visual tradition as well as its culture. But some of the artists I’ve interviewed and whose work the book features have either been picked up by the police, had their studios closed, or have left the country.
Much of the recent tattoo crackdown appears to be concentrated in Osaka, where the prefectural government has increasingly become antagonistic towards tattoos. Its waves are being felt in the tattoo community across the country.
Tattooing was legalized in Japan after World War II. Prior to that, it had been banned in the late 19th century as the country tried to modernize and shed cultural trappings that it either thought Westerners would find primitive or ones it had long hoped to eradicate. During the prohibition, tattoo was driven completely underground. However, during the past few decades, tattooing became increasingly open when compared to how things were in the past. Now, there is a wide variety of shops and tattooers, catering to a wide array of tastes, styles, and clients. You can get classic designs or fun, poppy creations. These days, it’s really your choice.
In 2001, however, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare instituted a directive, stating that only licensed health care providers could pierce the skin with a needle and insert ink. It was up to the authorities in each prefecture to enforce this. Originally, the directive wasn’t to go after tattooers, but permanent makeup (cosmetic tattooing) after various […]