Asia Minute: Tattoos in Japan: Art or Medical Practice?

Jun 16, 2017

Credit Flickr / Justin Wolfe

Scholars say tattoos have been around for thousands of years. They have a rich cultural history in Hawai‘i and across Polynesia. But in Japan, they remain controversial. And now they’re the topic of a court case. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


In the minds of some in Japan, tattoos still have a heavy association with the Yakuza—organized crime.

If you’re sporting any ink on your skin, you may be banned from public baths or hot spring resorts. In some neighborhoods, you even have to cover up your tats if you’re using a public gym.

Tattoos are not illegal in Japan, but the laws don’t make it easy for tattoo artists.

Under the police interpretation of the “Medical Practitioners Law,” only licensed doctors can tattoo clients.

29-year old Taiki Masuda is among those who think that is ridiculous. He’s an Osaka tattoo artist who was busted a couple of years ago in a police raid.

He refused to pay a fine and took his case to the Osaka District Court—arguing that tattooing is not a medical practice.

That case is still making its way through the court system with a decision due in September.

Meanwhile, Masuda has formed an advocacy group called “Save Tattooing.”

This week the group was doing some lobbying in Tokyo aiming to change the law and create a licensing system for professional tattoo artists in Japan.

On its website, the group says the police interpretation of the law “goes against the flow of the times.”

That may be especially true with many tattooed athletes and fans headed to Tokyo for the Olympics in just three years.