What is behind the stigma of tattoos in Japan? – The province

What is behind the stigma of tattoos in Japan? - The province

When Mana Izumi made her first tattoo, at age 18, she did not seek to rebel or break any taboo, she simply wanted to imitate the pop artist Namie Amuro. But in Japan tattoos were associated for centuries with criminals and the mafia, an idea still very rooted.

Totally tanned, with platinum blond hair and a half tattooed body, Mana Izumi, a 29-year-old porn act, does not go unnoticed.

"I was not really a follower of Amuro but it seemed nice to me," she explains. "When my mother saw my tattoo for the first time, she broke down crying and I thought my father would kill me. But I like to be a little different. "

In Japan, tattoos still arouse a deeply anchored reluctance. A little Drawing on the skin still causes direct exclusion and without discussion of the public baths of hot water (onsen), of the swimming pools, the beaches and, quite often, even of the gymnasiums. "It is unfortunate to see how many prejudices there are against tattoos", denounces Mana Izumi, while they tattoo him an Aztec skull in the leg for 400 euros.

"People may think I look a little crazy," she adds, smoking quietly. "But I do not regret tattooing."
Japan has a complicated relationship with tattoos for a long time. In XVII century, criminals were marked as punishment. And, at present, the yakuza express their fidelity to their criminal organizations with the traditional "irezumi", which covers the whole body.

When Japan opened to the world in the 19th century, tattoos, nudity in public or snake charmers were forbidden, because the authorities they feared that foreigners would consider the Japanese as "primitive", according to Brian Ashcraft, author of "Japanese Tatoos: History, Culure, Design". At the same time, members of European royal families went to Japan to get tattooed, because of the country's good reputation in that art.

The prohibition was lifted in 1948 by the American occupation forces, but the stigma was not erased among the Japanese. "They see a tattoo and think 'yakuza' instead of admiring the beauty of this art form," laments Ashcraft. "As long as that does not change, tattoos will continue to exist in a gray area."

The authorities usually look the other way, but the recent raids and fines caused confusion among Japanese tattoo artists, of whom there would be about 3,000. A judicial battle has wreaked havoc. A tattoo artist from Osaka (west), Taiki Masuda, was arrested in 2015 for illegal practice of medicine and sentenced to a fine of 300,000 yen (2,300 euros).

A circular from the Ministry of Health dating back to 2001 qualified the tattoo as a medical act because it involves the use of needles. After a long and controversial appeal process, the sentence was annulled.


"There is no legal framework that regulates this activity in Japan," explains Masuda. But nevertheless, "It is the livelihood of many people and that's why I had to fight, hoping to help legalize it. "
In the trade, some old wolves do not see things like that. "Tattoos should have a spicy touch of illegality," says one of them, Horiyoshi III, who says Masuda's judicial fight was a "provocation."

Noriyuki Katsuta, a member of the association "Save the tattoo in Japan", says that between 500,000 and one million Japanese would be tattooed, of 126,4 million in total. According to Ashcraft, prejudices stem in large part from Confucianism, according to which, the fact of altering the body one has received from their parents constitutes a lack of respect.

"For my mother's generation, anyone who, like me, had a tattoo was considered a yakuza," says Mana Izumi. "But when people want to give me lessons about the desecration of the body that my parents gave me, I get in a very bad mood, I do not think I have to answer to anyone."


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