For the time being in Japan, a tattoo is legally considered a medical act, because of the use of needles that it requires. The tattoo artist must then have a license in medicine, which obviously no one possesses as these studies are specific and laborious, pushing their work underground. Because this legal artifice is in fact a roundabout way of limiting the number of these artists whose Art is frowned upon in society and historically associated with the yakuza. But a decision of the Supreme Court could well change this legislation …
In a previous article Poulpy had returned at length to the origins of tattooing in Japan and the current evolution of mentalities among younger generations, particularly influenced by the West. For many of them the tattoo, especially when it is not about the traditional irrezumi of the yakuza, no longer has the pejorative connotation of which it was imbued in the past (marking criminals in the Edo era, prohibition to modify one’s body advocated by Confucianism). Also with the severe anti-gang laws of recent years, the yakuza (whose numbers are plunging) are less and less likely to get tattoos for the sake of discretion. Little by little the image of the tattoo dissociates itself from that of the criminals to become an aesthetic ornament. As a result, mentalities are slowly changing in turn.
This development was also made necessary at the level of the national government when the country hosted the 2019 Rugby World Cup and was (will be?) Host to the Tokyo Olympics where many athletes and supporters would be tattooed. It became necessary to conduct information campaigns to accustom the Japanese to the sight of tattoos, especially since the disapproval, not surprisingly, remains strong among the elderly. Already in 2016 the onsen which traditionally refuse tattooed people had been encouraged by the authorities to accept tattooed tourists in their baths. Some establishments have adapted when others have perpetuated the ban on principle, but the evolution is being recorded. A relaxation that went hand in hand with the government’s objective of betting on tourism as a financial windfall : this targeted 40 million foreign tourists for 2020 and 60 million in 2030 (objectives that have since become obsolete because of the coronavirus crisis).
For its part, the middle of the tattoo had not remained inactive. After being sentenced in 2015 to a fine of 150,000 yen (around € 1,200) for “violating the laws of medicine”, a tattoo artist by the name of Taiki Masuda had put online a campaign “Save the tattoo”. And above all, he had launched a lawsuit against the authorities to save his art that tattooists could no longer practice except by going into exile. The appeal verdict in the Osaka High Court rendered on November 14, 2018 proved him right in ruling that the tattoo was not a medical act. The door was open for tattooing to be recognized as an art and above all that tattoo artists can get out of the quasi-clandestinity where they were forced to practice.
What seems to be on track to arrive with the verdict rendered on September 17 by the Supreme Court of Japan. This one has ruled thatit was not illegal to tattoo without a medical license, dismissing the appeal of public prosecutors regarding the lawsuit brought by Taiki Masuda. This decision confirms that of the Osaka High Court at the end of 2018, which overturned the verdict of the district court that sentenced the tattoo artist to a fine of 150,000 yen. In doing so, the Supreme Court thus opposes the legislation in force. A historic first destined to be a milestone, although the laws have not yet been adapted.
ETaking the opposite view of the current law, presiding judge Koichi Kusano also specified that new laws should be developed to regulate the potential health risks of tattooing. In short, everything is not yet won, there is still some way to go before seeing tattooing fully legalized in Japan, but with this breach open in the legislation, Japanese tattoo artists can now hope that future regulations will be established in their favor and that they cease to be perceived as criminals to exercise their art finally freely.
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