FOREIGNER VS LOCAL’S EXPERIENCES WITH TATTOO CULTURE
In the previous post we discussed the stigmas and taboos surrounding having tattoos and being a tattoo artist in Japan. Now we move onto our next topic, how the Japanese population view having tattoos as a foreigner versus as a local, someone whose ethnicity and nationality both read as Japanese. There are several limitations to having tattoos and performing tattoo artistry in Japan however, with the rise of tattoo tourism/tourism in general in Japan and the current underground market of tattoo parlours. This has impacted both Japanese locals and the foreigners that visit or live there, some of them even vlog and write about their experience with tattooing or having tattoos in Japan, which will be explored shortly. We established that Japanese people with tattoos often cover up in public spaces and sacred spheres, this is the same for foreigners. But the perceptions of foreigners with tattoos often differ to locals with tattoos, as foreigners do not fit their social norms and are not nationally Japanese. The locals view foreigners with tattoos as people who use tattoos to express themselves and have a strong artistic identity through tattooing, as an art form. While at the same time they view locals with the opposite sentiments as those people reflect their society and social norms.
Okay so it seems like there is very clear double standard going on when it comes to having tattoos in Japan, one person in the “Asian Boss” interviews has been quoted to say “foreigners with tattoos look cool, not Japanese”. This shocks me because all I can think is wait. But Japanese people look cool as hell to me with tattoos, this doesn’t make sense how can a whole perception change based on what a person’s ethnicity is? But then we have to yet again put ourselves in the position of people who are born, raised Japanese, both ethnically and nationality-wise. When you grow up in a homogeneous society which is predominately a one ethnic makeup population like Japan then there is usually just one strict standard, for beauty, for education, for anything you can think of there is one main example of what makes an upstanding citizen. When you grow up with little diversity there’s not many people going against that grain, this seems to be what’s happening here. In both “Asian Boss’s” interviews and Yuta’s you can see how many opinions have been shaped by what they faced growing up, it makes me think am I just relaying information from other people without developing my own opinions? Of course this isn’t a bad thing and I’m not saying that the way these people grew up was wrong. It is nice to see that some people are more open minded and others are getting tattoos and showing others that you don’t have to be a scary person to have them. But going back to this main idea, while as a future foreigner if I go to Japan (which I’d love to) I like that I won’t be seen too negatively for having tattoos and that some people will even think it’s cool, but I would hope that ethnically Japanese individuals can also feel good and be free to show off their art. This sort of role play into seeing how they feel has made me quite conflicted and while still a beautiful place with lovely people I empathize with those who have to deal with discrimination while Foreign people run freely.
Jumping from the previous post we decided to focus on foreigners experience and treatment towards tattoo culture in Japan. In the previous “Asian Boss” they interviewed Japanese locals on the streets, what I didn’t mention was how many of them didn’t see foreigners with tattoos in the same vein as a Japanese person. Many would be quick to jump to racism, but from what I have learnt from the previous topics I realize this is not being rude or perpetrating a negative opinion. Living and raised in a western country, I have the luxury of having a multicultural world. Japan does not. It’s kind of sad when I say it like that honestly, it doesn’t mean they miss out, I think it’s more they’re just a bit behind. Japanese locals understand the tattoo laws should change because of tourism, especially with the upcoming 2020 Olympics which will be a huge surge of tattooed foreigners. The Japanese Tourist Agency (JTA) is even asking onsens to be more lax on the “no-tattoo rules” (Kidd, 2016). So for all those people who do have tattoos, even if it’s absolutely tiny as a button, the locals will not care. No matter how well you speak Japanese, to their eyes you don’t follow the same social standards for tattooing to them. Your tattoos are a lot more casual, fun and artistic, many of them might even compliment you or find them interesting. This is so wildly interesting to me because reading this gave me a sudden epiphany, younger I remember my parents would talk behind people’s backs about tattoos no matter what colour or race they were and I would just grow up realizing my parents held tattoos with a negative connection but, with expanding my social group I could form my own opinion. So to go from this attitude to Japan who enjoy foreigner’s tattoos but have a negative opinion for their own race having tattoos is pretty abnormal. This doesn’t mean obviously they hate tattoos, many of them feel differently towards them but they understand they have to follow these rules.
There has become a small surge of Youtubers living in Japan filming videos to educate people in the west who might want to come here and want a tattoo. Simon and Martina are very popular Youtubers living in Japan who give an honest and detailed experience of having tattoos and getting tattoos. They are honest in that locals will not care but do not hate you if you have tattoos and that you’re not fully free from these rules with onsens, gyms, etc. From all the past information it just seems safest to research a lot, learn the language, talk to as many people as you can and if you do have tattoos call or ask them beforehand to be polite, but if you can’t call there is a website that will tell which areas and places accept tattoos. This is will be linked below at the end of the blog.
Following on the previous blog post, it discussed the effects of tattoo stigmas in Japan. With what follows comes the rise of tourism and foreigners in the recent years of Japan. Upon my research I realized the sentiments towards foreigners with tattoos and local Japanese people are vastly different. Of course to not generalize that everyone in Japan dislikes tattoos or don’t have tattoos themselves. But because foreigners are ‘foreign’ and not nationally Japanese, they don’t have to conform to the social norms of Japan. In this case they are a bit freer to show off their tattoos, of course within areas where it’s not banned. I read up on a really interesting bloggers recount by the name of Tara Moss who experienced going to Japan with tattoos on her arms and back. Quoted “I received several compliments when mine were visible” (2017). This shows that not all Japanese people are against tattoos and many are open to appreciating them. She also talked about her experience of a young man quietly revealing his tattoos to her as he took interest in her tattoos. She further quoted “We were part of some similar ‘tribe’” (2017). Conveying that there is prejudice against Japanese locals with tattoos are they are classed as different people in their society. Therefore, there is a clear distinction of how Japanese locals view locals and foreigners with tattoos. I really like the way Moss clarified this important distinction “They know that tall white person with the backpack and the dolphin tattoo isn’t a member of a local criminal gang.” (2017) This just shows that foreigners don’t experience the same prejudice as Japanese locals, as mentioned they do not conform to the social norms of Japan. However, that’s not to say all Japanese people dislike or don’t have tattoos themselves. There is just a clear line due to Japan’s history of tattoos linked to organised crime groups, in return that foreigners have it a bit easier than local Japanese people, and that the Japanese people view tattoos on foreigners as a norm to them and a way to express themselves through an artistic art form.
Asian Boss (2018). What The Japanese Think of Tattoos – Asian Boss. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzjwc6uo6rE [Accessed 19 Sep. 2018].
Kidd, A. (2016). Japan tourism agency asking onsen owners to relax tattoo policies | Stripes Japan. [online] Japan.stripes.com. Available at: http://japan.stripes.com/news/japan-tourism-agency-asking-onsen-owners-relax-tattoo-policies [Accessed 28 Sep. 2018].
Moss, T. (2017). Visiting Japan With Tattoos – Tara Moss. [online] Taramoss.com. Available at: https://taramoss.com/visiting-japan-tattoos/ [Accessed 27 Sep. 2018].
Noorbakhsh, S. and Noorbakhsh, S. (2016). Tips on Getting a Tattoo in Japan | Tokyo Cheapo. [online] Tokyo Cheapo. Available at: https://tokyocheapo.com/lifestyle/tips-on-getting-a-tattoo-in-japan/ [Accessed 28 Sep. 2018].
Tattoo Friendly location finder. (n.d.). Tattoo Friendly. [online] Available at: https://tattoo-friendly.jp/ [Accessed 29 Sep. 2018].
Youtube (2018). Tattoos in Japan – What You Should Know. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZM0adL3eZY [Accessed 28 Sep. 2018].