The perception of tattoos in Japan

Despite the popularity of Japanese art and the imagination around prestigious tattoo artists who imitate this art in the West, in Japan it is not well regarded have a tattoo, however minimal it may be. Sometimes it even becomes problematic, since there are public spaces where tattooed people are not allowed to enter. Why?

Tattooed people prohibited

Walking down the street, several signs of establishments such as gyms, pools and especially public bathrooms in which the entry of people with irezumi (入 墨, tattoo in Japanese). “No problem”, you may think, since in those places you wear little clothes and tattoos are very visible. But if you have a larger tattoo, or one that is highly visible, such as on your neck or along your arm, you will likely be asked to leave the restaurant or store you are in. This occurs regardless of whether they are foreigners.

yakuza 3

Why this social stigma? It is largely due to tattoos being related to Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. This group of people engages in illegal work, such as extortion, counterfeiting, scams, or selling drugs, prostitution, and gambling. These people use tattoos that cover large parts of the body to identify themselves as yakuzas, so for Japanese society, having a tattoo is equivalent to being a criminal, or an untrustworthy person.

Toru Hashimoto

In 2012 an attempt was made to carry out a program in Osaka in which public officials had to report all the tattoos they had, down to the smallest detail. Failure to do so was even threatened with lower pay or even losing their jobs. This new initiative was carried out by the Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto. Hashimoto’s campaign was intended to expel tattooed people within the government and improve the image of the government.

yakuza tattoo

Although in Western countries this may seem somewhat exaggerated, in Japan the tattoo has a connotation strongly related to criminality. I will put two examples that can more or less explain this behavior.


The first of them occurred in 1999, When was the columbine massacre in United States. Two students entered the school wearing raincoats to hide their weapons and to introduce them. They had been inspired by the movie The Matrix, in which in one scene they enter a building with weapons under their raincoats. After that event, relegated and trench coat-wearing students were heavily judged and rejected. However, this prejudice was soon dropped.

Two drug dealers in the movie Hell

The second example occurs in my country, Mexico. A typical drug dealer Mexican wears gold chains and rings, wears a button-down shirt, cowboy hat, boots, sunglasses, and drives black trucks with tinted windows. Anyone who dresses similarly, or who drives a similar vehicle, is automatically thought to be a drug dealer. It is common for people who drive this type of car to be stopped at checkpoints, and many people who had cars with these characteristics chose to acquire other vehicles so that they were not associated with it. drug trafficking.

However, recently, Japanese society has taken a contradictory turn. As the government takes more severe measures to combat the Yakuza, fewer mafia members get tattooed, and more are “Good citizens” who go to get tattooed. Thanks to the introduction of American series or international celebrities who exhibit tattoos, the image of the tattoo in Japan gradually begins to become positive in young people. In the public baths of Hokkaido for example, it has been suggested re-evaluate policies that prohibit tattooed people from entering public restrooms, as it is considered discrimination. This, along with other public restrooms, have begun accepting people with tattoos.