After three years of deliberation, the highest court in Japan has decided.

Tattoos aren’t illegal in Japan, but the social stigma against them is severely strong. Associated with yakuza and crime, tattoos can get individuals — guests from overseas or not — barred from certain establishments such as hot springs, gyms, swimming pools, and even beaches.

Tattoo artists also face the burden of this stigma, and in the case of one tattoo artist from Osaka, Taiki Masuda, tattooing without a medical license led to a 150,000 yen fine (US$1,433).

His case was moved to Japan’s Supreme Court in 2017, and after nearly three years the country’s highest court has made its decision: tattoo artists are no longer required to obtain medical licenses to practice their art.

▼ Though hot springs are a site of contention for tattoos, some hot spring venues such as this one with a view of Mt. Fuji have compromised for patrons with tattoos.

The Supreme Court’s logic for their ruling was that tattooing isn’t a medical practice, and is not something exclusively practiced by doctors, thus the law forbidding tattoo artists without a medical license from their craft lost its legal grounding.

For Taiki, who is also part of Save Tattooing, an advocacy group created to support the country’s 3,000 tattoo artisans, the ruling is certainly a win. But what exactly makes this ruling so important for tattoo artists in Japan?

In many countries, such as South Korea and now previously Japan, tattoo artists were legally barred from their craft if they didn’t obtain a medical license. Basically, you had to become a doctor to be a tattoo artist. Otherwise, if you were a tattoo artist in Japan caught without a medical license, you could be fined up to 1 million yen ($9,563) and/or receive up to three years of jail time.

▼ Hefty prices to pay for those small tattoos!

The main logic behind this law was that since tattoo artists have to use a needle to tattoo their customers, they need to go to medical school first to learn how to handle a needle properly.

Considering how tattoo artists who simply want to make body art without ties to the yakuza already have a hard time getting a steady flow of clients due to social stigma, the law necessitating a medical license acts more as a deterrent than an actual measure for safety and hygiene practices, given the burgeoning costs of medical school as well as the time and labor needed to graduate.

▼ I’m sure there’s some mastery required for using a tattooing needle, but really? A whole medical degree?

With this new ruling, it’s a little hard to predict how the legal regulations regarding tattoos will change. Perhaps new regulations will introduce a way for tattoo artists to get trained and be certified in a manner that doesn’t involve wasting a ton of time and money at a medical school. And while we don’t expect tattoo artists to suddenly not face anymore stigma overnight, this change could help loosen social attitudes toward tattoos in general as well.

After all, body markings in Japanese history weren’t always subjected to negative connotations, like the ones used by indigenous peoples such as the Ainu, and especially not these Jomon period (10,500 to 300 BC) tattoos.

Source: Livedoor News
Top image: Pixabay
Insert image: Pakutaso (1,2), Pexel
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