Today Was A Big Victory For Japanese Tattooing

Last fall, the Osaka High Court ruled that tattooer Taiki Masuda broke the law by tattooing without a medical license. Today, the court issued a ruling on his appeal.


According to Asahi, the Osaka High Court ruled in Masuda’s favor, overturning the previous guilty verdict. Masuda’s lawyers argued that his intention wasn’t a medical procedure, but instead, creating art. This is why a doctor’s license was not necessary and requiring one infringed on his Constitutional rights.

Jiji Press reports that the presiding judge agreed that tattooing symbolic and artistic meaning and, thus, was not intended as a medical procedure.

In 2015, police raided Masuda’s studio, telling him to pay a fine. As I wrote in my book Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare classified tattooing as a medical procedure in 2001 because a needle pierces the skin and inserts ink.


The government, however, does not issue tattoo licenses. This classification has long put tattooing into a legal gray zone. As I previously wrote, legal ambiguity isn’t new to tattooing in Japan. The practice had been previously banned in the late 19th century, but in the years after World War II, tattooing was legalized in Japan. Yet, crackdowns continued and many tattooers worked out of the public eye.

This latest ruling, however, is bound to be a landmark case for an art form that has long been criminalized for centuries. Hopefully, this will help lead to greater understanding in Japan for what tattooers do and what tattooing means.

Here Masuda holds the ruling, which reads “muzai” (無罪) or “innocent.”
Here Masuda holds the ruling, which reads “muzai” (無罪) or “innocent.”
Photo: Save Tattooing

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


D. Walker

Masuda’s lawyers argued that his intention wasn’t medical procedures, but instead, creating art.

Hm. I’m not sure if there’s some translational issues here or not.

Legally, intention shouldn’t matter. If the art you create involves a medical procedure, then intention or no, it’s still a medical procedure. For example, you can’t do plastic surgery without a license by simply calling it a form of art.

What is more pertinent is whether tattooing should be considered a medical procedure. We in the west don’t believe so, and our laws reflect that. Japan’s laws could be made to work the same way, if they so chose.

But laws are always bound up in the language of the people who write them. The concept of a “medical procedure” might not directly translate into or out of Japanese. And even if it does, they may not culturally agree on what actually qualifies. We consider tattooing to be superficial in terms of how it affects the body, and therefor not a true medical procedure, but that might differ in Japan.