Take a step inside the controversial relationship Japan has with its tattoo culture
If you wanna talk about shaky relationships, Japan and tattoos are right up there in that category. Japan is known to have a very contentious output about tattoos due to its unlawful origin in the country. Getting inked was a norm for people who were in the yakuza and it is still currently linked to that in the subconscious minds of people today. It is so frowned upon that tattooed individuals (including foreigners) must refrain from displaying their ink in public. How unfortunate during the summer time.
Public opinion is getting better but it will be a slow ride. Because of their association with criminals, tattoos have had this stigma for centuries. Rest assured, it will take a lot of time and awareness for the current consensus to reform. Historical stains aside, Japanese tattoos have impacted the world with their raw beauty and sentiment. The West has shown great interest in the technique going as far as to travel all the way to Japan just for the authentic experience. It is a shame they will be unable to proudly unveil their ink in Japan, but I guess that’s part of the authentic experience too.
Art Form in the Gray Zone: The Origin of Irezumi
Irezumi, which directly translates to ‘inserting skin under ink’ is the Japanese word for tattoos. It originated in 10,000 BC when ancient artifacts depicted people with intersecting lines etched on to their skin. Initially done for spirituality and status, the purpose drifted to the branding of criminals. In Hiroshima, convicts would have lines tattooed on their foreheads that translate to ‘dog’. Tattoos would also be done to other body parts depending on the crime. Additionally, tattoos would be used to identify various tribes.
Japanese Tattoo Artist – Ginjiro Susuki circa 1940s – AP Photo
Only men would have Irezumi, leading it to become a masculine feature. Once you are branded as a criminal, it is impossible to change it. When these men walk the streets, they receive judgment and ostracization that criminals apparently deserve, doomed to live a life of rejection forever.