21.04.2014
Tattoos are as Japanese as sushi, samurai, and yakuza but in recent years with the crackdown on organized crime (the yakuza), tattoos have become increasingly socially unacceptable while many younger Japanese and people living abroad have embraced tattoos as a fashion item. In December last year, the government of Saitama Prefecture submitted a bill to revise local ordinances to prohibit tattoos under the age of 18. In May 2012, the mayor of Osaka and founder of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), created a huge controversy by ordering all public employees to confess to whether they had tattoos or not. According to AERA magazine’s June issue (2012), at least two people in the Osaka metropolitan area have removed their tattoos after the mayor of Osaka announced the city’s crackdown on tattoos. The young and charismatic mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, who was elected in 2011, has been compared to Adolf Hitler in the Japanese media for his authoritarian governing style, showing that Godwin’s rule applies even in Japan.
From May to June this year, he ordered an official survey upon the Osaka civil servants to reveal whether they wear a tattoo on a visible part of their bodies. The root of this controversial crackdown on tattoos was sparked by the case of a welfare officer who intimidated children by exhibiting his tattoos. After May 2012, the esthetic surgery clinics reported that tattoo related issues and requests from patients “to remove their tattoos” had increased by 25% and are still increasing, according to AERA.
According to a medical doctor interviewed by AERA, there are three ways to clinically erase a tattoo: the laser ablation, the resection and the food technologies. It should be pointed out that this policy is not going to become a law, but simply “the ethics of work” in Osaka, and the staff will be requested not to exhibit their tattoos at work. In December 2012, three Osaka municipal workers who were punished for refusing to respond to the survey have submitted a petition to the mayor of Osaka urging him to revoke the disciplinary action, Kyodo News reported. An explanation of the decline of yakuza clientele and the increase of ordinary citizen clientele given by Hokuo, a tattoo master in Japan interviewed by Manami Okazaki, is that nowadays, the yakuza do not have the money to buy extravagances such as whole body tattoos. He said that the problem is when the tattoo creates “fear and uneasiness.” “It’s a difficult problem. The Asahi Newspaper in Hokkaido reported that a new initiative rose among the Hokkaido public baths owners’ union who submitted a proposal to restudy the manuals for letting tattooed customers use the facilities. Currently, 75% of the public baths owners allow tattooed people to use their facilities, 19% believe that they might lose customers if they ban them, 17% answered they fear that “not letting tattooed people in might create trouble with the other customers,” and 36% answered that they have nothing to report in particular. The spokesman of Hokkaido’s union of public bath owners said that they did not intend to change the manuals only because of the tattoos issue.
The Hokkaido Organized Crime Exclusionary Ordinance Team  told JSRC that the inquiry started in November last year and that the survey does not judge whether the tattoos are “good” or “bad.” The Hokkaido organized crime exclusionary laws that went into effect in 2011 evoke the issue in a “hygienic sense,” and also from the point of view of the human rights and discrimination against tattooed people.
With regard to the hygienic issue, the spokesman of the Hokkaido law enforcement unit explained the hygienic issues of tattoos, such as transmissible diseases.
Tom Stringer, 25, a British English teacher in Osaka for  four years was refused entry to become a member of a gym spa called Costa, because he was wearing an 8 cm diameter circular tattoo on his chest.
It is difficult to say whether the wabori Japanese traditional tattoo hurts more or less than the electric needle tattoo.
Despite the crackdown on tattoos, Horiyoshi the Third does not believe that his art, together with the art of tattoos in general will ever die after his death.
A mid-level yakuza boss and tattoo artist in his spare time explained to JSRC that during the Edo period, there was no real jobs related to the firemen, it was the carpenters or the workers on construction sites who volunteered in stopping fires when such accidents occurred. According to this tattoo artist on his spare time, the layer of ink inside the skin helped the firefighters to endure the heat of the fire. John, 52, is a computer engineer currently based in California, who worked seven years in Japan in the past. John operates in the business world, and as an educated man with a career, he admits there is a certain amount of risk concerning what his colleagues would think about his tattoos.


Actually, despite my opinion that tattoos are not business wear, I am considering displaying my tattoos even at work. I tend to chose my onsen by the quality of water and local ones include those who allowed full tattoos. I imagine that younger generations who find tattoos socially acceptable seek a variety of styles, not just traditional Japanese designs. In my experience, Japanese unwillingness to disturb other people’s peace can be both a blessing and a curse. Not really … tattoos are visual noise, like shouting in public or using your keitai on public transport. I cannot imagine anyone needing a tattoo these days, save perhaps for some gang membership, but if you some some, there are places you can go.
The only kid I have had an attitude problem with at a sento, and the only person I ever heard raise their voice, was a young punk with a yankii-style tattoo and hair.
Just because tattooing may have historically negative connotations within a society it doesn’t mean that all people with tattoos are unsavoury characters. Also, if you want to see more mind-blowing tattoos, check out weird tattoos that borderline insanity or Celebrity Tattoos, the hits and misses! A fine of up to  500,000 yen will be levied on the violators of the law.  If a space is provided to tattoo on young people under 18, there is  a fine of up to 300,000 yen for the tattoo parlor owners.
Kicking it off was the Mayor of Osaka, the son of a yakuza boss, who as most yakuza are, was probably heavily tattooed. In Japan, where tattoos are seen as a sign of being a yakuza, (member of the Japanese mafia), the tattoo “witch hunt” is in danger of alienating a large number of Japanese citizens and tourists as “tattoos” become more and more fashionable. Hashimoto, 42, announced a crack down on tattoo bearers who work in the public sector in Osaka last May.
A decade ago a full-body tattoo could take up to 500 hours to complete and cost over 5 million yen.
The Hakone hot spring association spokesman said that, people wearing tattoos are now increasing and “discussions are raising everywhere in Japan, because there is no definition or explanation of the ‘fashionable tattoo’ and the traditional irezumi.” He also added that there was no clear explanation given to whether this is “good or this is bad,” but the Japanese irezumi is forbidden everywhere, in public baths, in swimming pools, etc. It’s true that the irezumi could be seen as part of Japanese culture, and people who are not members of the yakuza are also wearing tattoos.
People tend to feel awkward on the hygienic level when they bathe with tattooed people,” he added.
First, when he tried to apply, the staff asked him if he had any tattoos at all, he answered honestly, and he was banned from the gym. Inside the changing room of a spa, while he was getting ready to use the facility, he was kindly asked to put back his clothes and leave the onsen, when a female cleaning staff member came in and saw his tattoo.
At  the Language school in Osaka where he is currently teaching English, no one has treated him badly because of his tattoo. The surgeon interviewed by AERA also reported the case of a young Japanese woman who was discriminated over her tattoos. When asked if he faces social discrimination at work in California for his tattoos, he replied: “Tattoos are not  business wear.
Kazuki Kai, 42, from Kyushu said he heard about Horiyoshi III’s reputation even before he had his tattoo studio in Yokohama.
It was always a pain to use them since I have a small tattoo on my arm and I would have to cover it with band aids every time and make sure they don’t come off while in the hot water. One nice exception was Spa World in Osaka where covering tattoos were happily suggested by the staff with a complicit smile.


Yes, I remember seeing photos of a heavily tattooed (currently incarcerated) Iranian yak whilst flipping through late tattoo master Horikazu’s portfolio. By which I mean proper ones earned through gang affiliations or challenged upbringing rather than vanity, self-importance and wealth that enable fashion tattoos.
I make several trips to Japan every year for work and pleasure and am in love with the hot springs, but for years I’ve been kicked out of several of them by older managers.
I guess it would be hard to set a policy of no-tattoos and then allow western or fashion tattoos in.
And the point made above about those with tattoos still bearing signs of their class, wealth or social position is an interesting one. They should change, tattooed people should not forego the society, intimacy and fellowship of the wonderful Japanese bath. If you have tattoos and want a bath, open your own business catering for other inked up users don’t do as the great liberal liberator Debito did and go about telling other people how to run their small business.
That you personally do not enjoy looking at tattoos is not even remotely a valid reason to ban all people who do wish to have their body tattooed from entering any establishment. Ironically, due to a series of laws cracking down on organized crime, the yakuza themselves are ordering their members to remove tattoos or not get them in the first place. After a survey was conducted, the people of Osaka decided, that public servants should not wear tattoos, “because those who see them feel ‘awkward,’” the spokesman of the Osaka city hall explained.
John travels two weeks a year to Japan to get his tattoo finished year after year by his favorite tattoo master. John has been tattooed by Horiyoshi III for 12 years but the tattoo is not yet complete.
In every place I was asked if I had a tattoo while registering and had to lie about it even thou I would never be confused for a Yakusa. It’s interesting how the is definitely a generational shift, the younger employees can distinguish between yakuza tattoos from those of personal expression. It’s rare these days you met someone with a tattoo that is more interesting than their tattoo. One yakuza boss and tattoo artist laments, “All of my customers now are straight people (katagi). The mayor Osaka then requested all the public servants to indicate how big and where  their tattoos were located, in an official letter.
Kai started to have his first tattoo of a dragon by Horiyoshi-sensei on his left arm 23 years ago.
A couple times I was asked to leave by the staff when my small tattoo was spotted beneath the band aids. He abandoned having any tattoo for a while and started again a new tattoo of a snake on his right arm and shoulder this January 2012. At the end of the day, a naked tattooed person is still naked and defenseless with their clothes off as a non-tattooed person. Whether those growing pains even come close to the actual pain of a traditional tattoo is best left to the imagination.



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