Changing Times for Tattoos in Japan?

Tattooist Acquitted for Operating without Medical License by Japanese High Court

tattooist in Japan

The art of tattooing in Japan has been blanketed in restrictions and stigmatizations for decades. This goes back to its association with the yakuza’s emergence in the early 20th century, when elaborate tattoos was a sign of membership to one of the organized crime groups. From this, a stigma has been attached to an art form which once held a prominent place in Japan’s history.

However, despite the low-key (and sometimes not so low-key) discriminations, the number of Japanese people who’ve been opting to get inked has been increasing over the years. So, in 2001, in an attempt to curb their enthusiasm and regulate the industry, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare looked to Article 17 of the Medical Practitioners’ Act (1948) which states that “No person except a medical practitioner shall engage in medical practice.”

This Act, however, does not clearly state what constitutes a “medical practice,” so the ministry sought to rectify this by issuing a notice which stated, “針先に色素を付けながら、皮膚の表面に墨等の色素を入れる行為” [lit. putting pigment on a needle tip and inserting ink into the skin] constitutes a medical practice that can only be carried out by those with a medical practitioner’s license.

Still, it wasn’t until 14 years later that the authorities got involved.

In 2015, the Osaka Prefectural Police started cracking down on the tattoo industry, and two tattoo artists were arrested for violating the Medical Practitioners’ Act. Before then, the notice was primarily used by health authorities to regulate cosmetic makeup tattoo practitioners. (1)

It was during the 2015 crackdown that the studio of tattoo artist Taiki Masuda (who founded the campaign group Save Tattooing in Japan that same year) was raided by Osaka police. His tattoo equipment was confiscated and he was arrested for having tattooed three customers at the time. Masuda was subsequently fined 300,000 yen for breaching the Medical Practitioners’ Act.

However, unlike other tattoo artists who were fined, Masuda refused to pay – and instead chose to take his case to the Osaka District Court for trial because he believed to accept the fine was to accept that tattoo artists in Japan are criminals.

Masuda talks about tattooing plight

Masuda’s trial, which was held between April and August 2017, garnered a lot of attention because of the major implications it could’ve had on the tattooing industry. He even had support from experts in Japanese criminal law, including respected university professors who testified in his defense. Still, the outcome was not in his favor, and on September 27, he was once again found guilty of violating the Medical Practitioners’ Act and ordered to pay a fine 150,000 yen. According to the district court, tattooists need medical knowledge and expertise because “the treatment could possibly cause a skin lesion or allergy.” (2)

Once again, Masuda was opposed to giving up and chose to appeal the court’s ruling.

Then, on November 14, his determination paid off when the Osaka High Court overturned the district court’s decision and acquitted Masuda for operating without a medical license, ruling the process of tattooing is not a medical practice.

“The tattooing procedure is not relevant to medicine and it does not constitute a medical act controlled under the medical practitioners’ law,” said Presiding Judge Masaki Nishida during the ruling.

Masuda and lawyers

Masuda and lawyers after court win.

This unprecedented win for Masuda will likely be far-reaching in its implications on the Japanese tattooing industry. And although this does not mean that societal perceptions will improve overnight, it does mean that the art form will not die a slow death in a country where it was once revered. Tattoo artists now have the hope of being able to practice their craft without fear and subjugation.

With the 2020 Olympics coming up, Japanese attitudes toward tattoos are definitely going to be challenged when the country is faced with an influx of foreigners and athletes who will undoubtedly be sporting an array of ink. Will Japan still insist on turning away tattooed individuals from public baths, beaches, and water parks – or will a more pragmatic viewpoint arise?




Originally published here

Groped on trains from 12 to 18, Japanese woman adds voice to global movement



In an age when phrases like “Time’s Up” and “#MeToo” resonates across social media platforms, podiums and intimate conversations, women, not only in the U.S. but around the world, have been stepping forward to lend a voice to the fact that they are tired of being taken advantage of by men.

In Italy, the phrase #QuellaVoltaChe, which translates to “That time when,” has been used by some. Women in Spanish-speaking countries across the world use #YoTambien to highlight their experiences. Arabic speakers in the Middle East and Africa echoed a direct translation of the words “Me Too.” And in France, #BalanceTonPorc, which roughly translates to “snitch out your pig,” became a rallying cry against sexual harassment.

It was while living in France that Kumi Sasaki decided to chronicle her ordeal of being continuously groped over the span of six years while riding trains in Japan. This form of harassment, which started when she was just 12 years old, is not an uncommon practice in Japan. In fact, several strategies have been put in place in order to try and restrict such abhorrent behavior.

Railway companies have created women-only cars on their trains, anti-groping posters are placed in some stations, lectures have been held at schools to inform pupils what to do to protect themselves from being groped, and anti-groping paraphernalia such as stickers and badges have been circulating. There is even an anti-groping function in the Metropolitan Police’s crime-prevention app, “Digi Police.” With the app, the words “Grope – please help me” appear when it’s opened, and when it’s tapped on, a voice saying “Please stop!” is repeatedly played.

Nonetheless, despite the efforts to curb chikan (a Japanese term for both men who grope women and the act of touching someone without their consent on crowded trains), it is still quite prevalent.

Sasaki, who currently lives in Paris, published her book, titled “Tchikan,” last November. In it, she recounted her arduous experience of dealing with chikan from middle school to high school on an almost daily basis on her commute from home to school and back.

Recalling her first chikan experience while on Tokyo’s JR Yamanote Line, Sasaki recounts feeling a man’s hand rub against her – a hand that she thought would have stopped touching her when the train stopped jerking, but it remained.

“The fingers of this unfamiliar hand went inside the collar of my blouse. Then he touched my back, he touched my legs, my waist, even my butt. He placed his hand directly under the cheeks, quietly raising up my skirt by just moving his fingers, and he touched my left thigh under my skirt.” she wrote.

The vile intrusion sent Sasaki into shock, as at such a young age, she had no idea what was happening.


Unfortunately, that was just the beginning, and for the next six years, she continued to be preyed upon by men ranging in age from late teens to older men in their 70s. Sasaki also recalled an incident of being followed home by one of the gropers – a married man in his 50s who apparently wanted her to have his children.

Under the strain of these continuous attacks, Sasaki’s psyche became fragile and she turned to self-harm and tried to end her life. Thankfully, however, she was eventually saved by a supportive friend.

Japan’s chikan epidemic

Groping on trains has been an issue in Japan for decades. In a survey by Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the JR Railway Company which was conducted in the early 2000s, it was found that two-thirds of women aged 20-40 reported having had some experience of chikan. It was this survey that prompted some railway companies to establish ladies’ cars at certain rush hour periods and others to offer “women only” cars all day long.

The problem with chikan, however, proves quite difficult to overcome. Because even though there are such strategies, fines, and even imprisonment for the offense, it still persists.

Recently, social media users began boasting of plans to grope high school girls who would be commuting to take the annual Center Test. This test is a major exam in Japan and a high score is required for students to gain admission into many Japanese colleges. Unfortunately for the examinees, the Center Test can only be taken at a regional test venue on specified days, which means there are usually a lot of young train commuters on those days. And using the importance of the test and its strict policy on punctuality, these sexual predators see the exam as an opportunity to commit chikan without fear of being reported by the victims.

Sasaki’s goal for writing “Tchikan” was to bring awareness to how dangerous chikan really is and how it can rob girls and women of their sense of well-being and even worse. She states that many people in Japan think it’s not a big deal, and this almost nonchalant treatment of chikan had left her feeling isolated and unable to seek the necessary help that she needed.

An essential first step to a much wider issue, chikan is one woman’s way of adding voice to the ever-growing conversation about the different forms of abuse that countless women have to endure on a daily basis. And for each voice that is added, we can only hope that better faculties will be put into place to tackle these issues.


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