Tattoo artist
Photo: Lucas Lenzi/Unsplash

Tattoo artists in Japan no longer need medical license to practise

In a landmark ruling, Japan’s Supreme Court has decided that tattooing is not a medical procedure

Emma Steen
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Emma Steen

Japan’s relationship with tattoo is a complicated one. While tattoos, also called irezumi’ in Japanese, have an ancient history dating back to indigenous tribes during the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE), the banning of tattoos during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and their association with criminality have caused them to be treated with taboo even till today.

In this day and age, tattoo artists in Japan still have to jump through a series of hoops to be allowed to practice, including obtaining a medical license. Now, it looks as though tattoo artists will face one less obstacle in carrying out their art following a landmark decision made by the Supreme Court. In this ruling, tattoo artists in Japan will no longer be required to hold a medical license to practice. 

A medical license has been required of tattoo practitioners since 2001, when the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare deemed tattooing people to be a medical act due to the health risks involved with the procedure. On September 17, however, the Supreme Court overturned the restriction by asserting that tattoos are an artistic expression that don't violate medical practitioners law. 

According to Japan Times, the decision was made over a drawn out case involving artist Taiki Masuda, who was fined ¥150,000 in 2017 for tattooing three customers without a medical license. The historical ruling dismissing tattoos as a medical procedure will likely make more room for aspiring tattoo artists to set up their practices in Japan. More importantly, it could very well change societal attitudes towards people with tattoos, who are sometimes barred from using public facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and bathhouses.

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