Debate Over Tattoos Continues In Japan

Illustration for article titled Debate Over Tattoos Continues In Japan
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Last week, Japanese celebrity Ryuchell (above) revealed he got his wife and son’s names tattooed on his arms. It caused a debate over tattoos that has continued through this week.


The 22-year-old Ryuchell is a popular model, television personality, and newly minted pop singer. He and his wife Peco take their fashion cues from Full House, Lisa Frank and pizza.

One of Ryuchell’s shoulder now reads “Link,” which is the name of his son. Incidentally, the newborn isn’t named for the Zelda character but Link Larkin from Hairspray. The other tattoo says “Tetsuko,” his wife’s real name.

As Japan Trends reports, some thought it was inappropriate for a father to get such tattoos. Most of the country thinks tattoos are unsuitable—full stop. For example, in a 2014 nationwide poll, 51.1 percent of those who replied said they felt “unpleasant” when seeing people with tattoos and 36.6 percent said they felt afraid. Over 55 percent said tattoos made them think of outlaws and 47.5 percent thought of criminals. (Note: the survey allowed multiple replies.)

This is because tattoos became heavily associated with Japanese organized crime during the 20th century. However, Ryucheru’s one-point tattoos are not Japanese in style. The stigma still remains.


For centuries, polite society in Japan has turned its nose up at tattoos. In my book Japanese Tattoos, I explain why this is—as well as detail the various designs and motifs that typically appear in the art form.


The reason for the stigma many Japanese have towards tattoos is that it’s seen as dishonorable to one’s parents to deface the body they bestowed. This is based on Confucian concepts that were entrenched in the society long ago, when polite society closely followed those ideals, and that have become part of Japanese society’s intrinsic, accepted values.


Part of those accepted values is banning people with tattoos from public swimming pools or hot springs. Or, at least, banning them from flaunting those tattoos and inferring that they should cover up as not to disturb others.


One Twitter user posted a photo doing just that at a waterpark while holding his daughter. The tweet asks, “If you have tattoos, you’re no good? If you have tattoos, you’re a bad person?”

“I refuse to have your values forced upon me,” the tweet continues. “Because no matter what, you have nothing to do with another person’s body. Please don’t be mistaken. ‘Kay.” So far, the tweet has over 17,000 likes.


Because of the Ryuchell controversy, another Twitter user said he got this tattoo, which is perhaps the most eloquent refutation of the country’s discrimination towards permanent ink.


That is Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution. It reads, “All of the people shall be respected as individuals. Their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness shall, to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare, be the supreme consideration in legislation and in other governmental affairs.”

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored six books, including most recently, The Japanese Sake Bible.



I’m honestly surprised! Japanese tabloids seem to be pretty selective with who they get upset about having tattoos. Plenty of popular Japanese celebrities have tattoos without much controversy, such as Amuro Namie and many members of EXILE. I think there is plenty of evidence that the “all tattoos are bad always” attitude is changing.

I know the stigma still remains, but I wonder why this specific talent and these specific tattoos caused an issue.