• Written by 
  • Wednesday, 16 May 2012 06:56
(15 votes)

In Japan, tattoos have long been associated with yakuza gang members. Today, tattoos represent a form of self-expression that is here to stay.

Tattoo You

Tattooing through the Ages

For centuries, many cultures around the world have practiced the art of tattooing including tribal groups in Borneo, Cambodia, Europe, Japan, the Mentawai Islands, Micronesia, New Zealand, Nigeria, North America, the Philippines, South America, Taiwan, and Turkey. “Britons” translates as “people of the designs” and the British remain the most tattooed in Europe.

Tattoos no longer taboo?

The cultural status of tattooing has evolved from being considered an anti-social activity in the 1960s to a trendy fashion statement in the 1990s. No longer are tattoos limited to the bikers, gangsters, rock stars and the military. Today, movie stars, professional sports figures, fashion models and other public figures who play a significant role in setting cultural norms and behavioral patterns are sporting tattoos.

Tattoos by Numbers

In 1936, Life magazine estimated that 10 million Americans, or approximately 6% of the population, had at least one tattoo. A 2012 Harris poll shows that this number has more than tripled to 21%, with one in five U.S. adults having at least one tattoo. In the U.S., adults aged 30-39 are the most likely to have a tattoo (38%), and for the first time since this question was first asked, women are slightly more likely than men to have a tattoo (23% versus 19%).

Why are Americans getting tatted down.... and do they regret it?

According to the Harris report, most people with a tattoo have never regretted getting one (86%). Thirty percent say it makes them feel sexier, 25% say a tattoo makes them feel rebellious, 21% say it makes them feel attractive or strong, 16% say it makes them feel spiritual, and 9% say it makes them feel more healthy. Another 8% say it makes them feel intelligent and 5% say it makes them feel athletic.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

While 30% of those with tattoos said it makes them feel sexier, 45% of the people with no tattoos who were polled said that people with tattoos are less attractive, 39% said they are less sexy, 27% said they are less intelligent, 25% said they are less healthy and 25% said they are less spiritual.

Are people displaying their tattoos loud and proud?

Although the number of people inking their skin is increasing, most remain conservative. In a 2010 Pew Research poll, 72% of those with tattoos hid their ink, with many opting to mark their backs and stomachs rather than their forearms or calves. Men tend to be more extroverted with 23% placing their tattoos in a publicly visible spot compared with 13% of women.

What’s popular in Japan?

The indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu, traditionally had facial tattoos. In modern times, the Japanese yakuza gangsters have been famous for their full-body tattoos. Popular tattoos include mythical beasts, koi fish, flowers, samurai warriors, guns, and Kanji symbols with important meanings, with women often picking cherry blossoms and lotus flowers.

Tattoo backlash in Osaka

Although Japanese celebrities such as Namie Amuro and Mika Nakashima like to flaunt their ink, not everyone is a fan. In May 2012, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto reacted to the rising number of tattoos by launching an allout investigation of government employees with a mandatory survey asking whether they had tattoos and, if so, to indicate where on their body. 110 of the 34,000 government employees reported that they had tattoos, including sea turtles, moons and dolphins, with 98 of those reporting that they were in visible locations. 513 government employees and approximately 800 teachers and other education professionals refused to respond to Hashimoto’s survey, saying it infringed on their right to privacy. This was met with a threat from Hashimoto, who stated, “If you think you can do whatever you like without getting fired or without getting demoted, you’d better think twice.”

The future: Will we become tattooed cyborgs?

The art of tattooing is going high-tech! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have been developing micro-thin and flexible silicon electronics that can be implanted under the skin. These LED tattoo devices can conform to the body’s shape without causing irritation or interfering with normal physiological processes. One benefit of the LED tattoos is that they might be changeable, allowing those getting tattooed in a drunken stupor to not get stuck with a bad choice in designs. Nokia has developed haptic tattoos. What is a haptic tattoo? Imagine ringtone meets tattoo: It’s a tattoo that vibrates when some one calls you or sends you a text! The ferromagnetic ink, made of metal particles, is controlled wirelessly by the phone, causing the ink to vibrate on your skin. Ingenious? Or Creepy? tj

This story appeared in Issue 270 of the Tokyo Journal.

To order Issue 270, click here.


Written By:

Kimo Friese

Tokyo Journal's Underground Culture Editor, Kimo Friese, was born in Hawaii, raised in Southern California, and has lived in various European countries. In 2012 he relocated from the Los Angeles area to Seattle, Washington, where he keeps his finger on the pulse of underground culture. Holding a Master's degree in Germanic Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics from UCLA, Kimo speaks English, German, Dutch/Afrikaans, Russian, and French. He is experienced in creative writing, photography and film production. From the tip of his toes to his shirt collar, his body is a human tapestry of tattoo art and Kimo has rocked the Germanic underground world as vocalist and percussionist for the music group Autonome Radicalism Wrax.


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