Without a doubt the Japanese have some of the most incredible art, and the art of Japanese tattoos is no exception.
The Japanese word for tattoo, irezumi is translates directly as “inserting ink”.
Fundamentally having a tattoo in Japan is strictly taboo and there is still a stigma attached to those having tattoos in Japan, Japanese or otherwise.
For example, hot springs, and bath houses do not allow visitors to have tattoos, and this is clearly displayed at the entrances. Furthermore, the sports clubs and pools will ask one to cover it up. Those with the full body tats, out of luck.
Historically, tattoos in Japan were associated with the yakuza (Japanese mafia), and, therefore, when the common citizens of Japan see people with tattoos, the red flags go up immediately, and caution mode is invoked.
As we see more and more foreigners coming to the Land Of The Rising Son, in particularly from the heavily tattooed Western societies, the Japanese have become slightly more accustom to seeing ink.
Now, does this change the fact that the Japanese are still suspicious of tattooed humans; absolutely not.
In fact, when the common citizen of Japan see the foreigners with tattoos, this simply reaffirms the image of foreigners as “smelling of butter” and who are still somewhat “savages”.
The significance of having a tattoo becomes even more grave for those Japanese who venture into this forbidden land.
Once you have committed to a tattoo, it’s there for life; like a marriage
Once a Japanese has committed their life to a tattoo (ones they cannot cover up), they have basically recused themselves from the greater society of Japan.
It could be said, in all probability no salaryman or OL in a Japanese company has a tattoo, or if they did, the tattoo would be hidden away, like a dark rebellious secret.
Indeed, labeling oneself as outliers who refuse to conform to the system of Japan, was, is and will be always be a signal that they have reject this society and what it means to be Japanese.
How about a tattoo for you?