Tattoos in Japan

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This article is about tattoos and Japan, not about tattoos in Japanese, for that see Why we don't do Japanese tattoos.

Traditional Japanese tattoos

To greatly oversimplify, Japanese tattoos traditionally did not consist of words and short phrases. Instead, landscapes, battle scenes, mystical figures and other pictures were more common. The idea of writing something in kanji as a tattoo is largely a Western idea.

Tattoos in History

Tattoos have had a mixed history in Japan, starting from their use to mark criminals and continuing with their being made illegal in the Meiji period. Tattoos are no longer illegal in Japan, but they still have negative associations.

Tattoos and the Yakuza

Tattoos were, and are, prevalent in organized gangs such as the Yakuza. They are viewed as a sign of loyalty to the organisation as the traditional tattooing methods involve excruciating pain. This is one of the reasons that people with tattoos may be viewed suspiciously or fearfully and not be welcomed in establishments like public baths were their tattooed skin will be visible. That's not to say everyone with a tattoo is some sort of hardened criminal but this association should be born in mind.

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