The Problem with Needles

by mintoo on November 14, 2017 - 12:06am

Currently in Japan, only medical doctors are able to administer tattoos legally (Marsh, J., Ogura, J. & Kobayashi, C., 2017). According to the little-known law, tattooing involves a needle protruding into the skin, which is similar to injections done by nurses or doctors, thus relating tattooing to medical practices. This led to tattoo artists being unable to make a living, or enjoy the freedom of carrying out their profession. What kind of problems are there, precisely? And how are the artists dealing with the issue? These points will be mentioned below, along with the explanation of why tattoos are frowned upon in Japan, and my personal opinion about tattoos.


First, what exactly are the issues that the tattoo artists are facing? The biggest issue is the risk of violating the law (Marsh, J., Ogura, J. & Kobayashi, C., 2017). While there is a law for doctors to carry out medical treatments and consultation, there is no visible law or exact restrictions concerning tattoo artists carrying out their profession presently. However, the agreement that only medical doctors can legally administer tattoos meant that tattooists are still seen to be guilty of committing crimes with their needles. It is said that tattooists can face 3 years in prison, or a fine of up to 1 million yen. The only thing these tattooists can do now is to appeal and campaign for the freedom of their profession. There is a non-governmental organization (NGO) called “Save Tattooing in Japan”, that reaches out for the public to try to understand the issue and the tattoo artists better. It seems to be a very difficult issue to tackle, as not a lot of locals are interested in the problem, nor is tattooing very common in Japan, as compared to surrounding countries.


Why, exactly, are tattoos frowned upon in Japan? Since a long time ago, tattoos in Japan are known to be linked to the mafia, otherwise known as yakuza (Ashcraft, 2013). In fact, criminals in the past sport a tattoo on their bodies, or even their faces, to visibly notify the public that they were indeed criminals. Since then, the Japanese have always had the impression that tattoos are the symbol of crime and dirtiness. In order to avoid making other visitors feel intimidated or concerned, public facilities, especially hot springs, put up signs that deny entry to people with tattoos. However, it does not mean that there are completely no signs of people with tattoos in the streets of Japan. There are Japanese or foreigner visitors with tattoos who are able to visit certain places that are known to prohibit people with tattoos, but they have to make an effort to cover their prints up. It can be convenient if the tattoos are small enough to be hidden with a plaster, or a beige bandage, but it would still be a problem for those with big tattoos.


While I personally think that tattooing should be allowed, what can Japan do to make the country a better and more comfortable place when it comes to tattoos? One possible solution is to educate the public that tattoos in the present century do not necessary carry a negative meaning, and encourage them to be more conscious of the prejudice towards tattoos. Perhaps those who are still against tattoos should be, for example, introduced to the new research and discovery that tattoos can now be used to monitor a person’s body condition. There are currently researches on how tattoos can notify the wearer about his/her glucose level, or the amount of water in the body, without having to do any tests (Schwab 2017). The new perspective towards tattoos may be used to open their mind about tattoos. Another possible method of avoiding clashes in public because of tattoos, is to offer ways to cover up the drawings with stickers, make-up, towels, bathing suits and more. For example, in hot springs, stickers can be provided at the front, or the visitors can put waterproof make-up on themselves. The hygiene has to be considered, though. The popular facilities can also provide their own special bathing suits for people to hide their tattooed bodies. These methods can make not only the public but also the people with tattoos more comfortable.


Tattoos have come a long way in Japan. They used to be a symbol of crime, but now, they are a type of fashion and trend. There may be tattoos used specially for medical checks and treatments, but they should not be categorized together with the tattoos of art. Tattoo artists have come a long way, from learning the techniques to portraying their profession and art to the public. If it is thought to be dirty to have body ink in the waters of the hot springs, the facilities can simply offer methods for the guests to cover the tattoos. Generations are changing, and the prejudice against tattoos should change, and become an acceptable part of Japan’s culture.



Marsh, J., Ogura, J. & Kobayashi, C. (2017) Did Japan just ban tattoo artists. CNN.Retrieved from

Ashcraft, B. (2013) Where is there a tattoo stigma in Japan. Kotaku. Retrieved from

Schwab, K. (2017) These color-changing tattoos monitor your health no wearable needed. Co. Design. Retrieved from

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