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Tattoos in Japan: Still Taboo or Trending?

By Margherita May 26, 2023

Japanese tattoo art, known as irezumi, have a vibrant history dating back to ancient times. The intricate designs and bold colors of Japanese tattoos are a testament to the mastery of the art form and have captivated people around the world for centuries. 

In Japanese culture, tattoos have traditionally been associated with the yakuza, or Japanese mafia, but in recent years, they have become more accepted and widely recognized as an art form. The artistry and beauty of Japanese tattoos have earned them a place in the global tattoo community, and many people seek out the expertise of skilled Japanese tattoo artists to create their designs.

The History of Japanese Tattoos


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Tattoos in Japan have a rich and complex history, that dates back over 10,000 years. 

The art of tattooing, or “irezumi” as it’s known in Japan, has been a significant part of Japanese culture for centuries, with various meanings and symbolism attached to different designs.

In Japan, tattoos were originally used for ritual and spiritual purposes. The Ainu people, the indigenous people of Japan, were known to tattoo their faces and arms with symbolic designs to ward off evil spirits and show their social status. In the 17th century, the Japanese government banned tattoos to distinguish criminals and outcasts from the rest of society. This association with criminality persisted for many years, and tattoos were seen as a sign of rebellion and non-conformity.

However, in the mid-18th century, the popularity of the novel “Suikoden” led people in the Edo period to get tattoos from ukiyoe artists. Despite this growing trend, the practice was once again banned in the mid-19th century by Emperor Meiji. As Japan had recently opened up to the outside world, the Emperor feared that foreigners would perceive them as barbaric. Ironically, visiting foreigners were fascinated by the beauty and skill of Japanese tattoos and wanted to get their own.

After the ban, tattooing went underground and became associated with laborers, craftsmen, criminals, geisha, and firemen, and was favored by the yakuza. While repugnant to the general public, these tattoos were highly artistic and have undoubtedly had a significant influence on contemporary Western body art.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century, during Japan’s Meiji period, that tattoos began to gain wider acceptance in Japanese society. Western influences led to a renewed interest in traditional Japanese culture, including tattooing. Artists like Horikazu and Horiyoshi III helped to popularize Japanese-style tattoos, which feature intricate designs, bold lines, and vibrant colors. These tattoos are still popular today, both in Japan and around the world.


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What Is the Image of Tattoos in Japanese Society Today?

A 2021 survey reveals that while older generations hold a negative perception of tattoos, younger Japanese are breaking free from old-fashioned thinking. 

the survey, Japanese people still have a negative perception of tattoos. The survey found that the older generation is especially reluctant to have a positive image of employees in a company or restaurant with tattoos because they are still associated with an image of distrust, lack of manners, and accountability.

This image of tattoos is also to be reconnected with the Japanese characteristic bathing culture, such as sento and onsen, where the body is more exposed than in Western countries where public bathing is not so common.

However, within younger generations, more than half of respondents said tattoos do not affect someone’s professionalism or reliability. However, unlike their Western counterparts, only a minority of Japanese millennials have considered getting inked. With 80% of 20- and 30-year-olds having never thought about getting a tattoo, will this trend change anytime soon?

Discover Japanese Tattoos, an Ancient and Fascinating Part of Japanese Culture

Whether you’re drawn to the history and tradition of irezumi or simply appreciate the beauty of this unique art form, a Japanese tattoo is a timeless and powerful way to express your individuality and showcase your style. So why not embrace the bold and beautiful world of Japanese tattoo art and create a masterpiece of your own?

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