My name is Ron, and I run a tattoo studio called Shiryudoh.
Originally I worked as an archaeologist. I then became interested in ancient artifacts around the world, and in my travels encountered tattoos. I started my tattoo style “SaiTen” as my own interpretation of human history and the various styles of tattoos that I found around the world.
But now, myself and the many people who work in Japanese traditional irezumi, tattoos, permanent makeup, and body piercings are facing a troubling and dangerous situation.
So I want this message to reach as many people as possible.
First, for a very long time traditional irezumi and tattoos have been a sort of grey zone in Japan.
When I first returned to Japan and decided to start my own business, I talked to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, city hall, and the Department of Health. And each time I was told things like, “We don’t know who has jurisdiction over this”, “There is no registration category”, “It’s not against the law, but if a problem happens it will have to be strictly regulated”, “Since you’re using needles you might need to be licensed as an acupuncturist”.
And finally, “If you’re going to run this business in Japan, make sure there are no problems”.
Yes, there was already a law that people under 18 years could not get a tattoo, but nothing more specific than that.
So I said, “If something happens then it’s too late. I don’t want to run a business in this situation. You should need a license, and there should be a firm set of laws specifically for tattooing.”
After that I also reached out to politicians. But I was told that it would be almost impossible without the support of a large group of people.
Tattooing isn’t a large profession like the health care industry – we don’t have that many people or large financial backing.
I kept trying to have my voice heard, but the situation never changed. It actually became more chaotic.
Ten years have passed since then.
Last year, some tattoo artists in Osaka were arrested.
In my opinion there might have been another issue, but it was reported that they were arrested because they were “cutting people’s skin without a medical license”. Before I was told I needed to be licensed as an acupuncturist, but apparently now we need a medical license. I suppose irezumi and tattoos are not thought of as art, but as medical treatment.
And now I hear that many tattoo studios in Osaka are being forced to close.
You cannot make incisions in people’s skin unless it’s at a hospital. And only doctors can teach people how to do this.
But obviously, even if you go to medical school they will not teach you how to give tattoos. They will not teach how to use a tattoo gun, let alone how to draw with one.
So what can we do?
Why can’t a doctor aim to be a doctor, and a tattooist aim to be a tattooist?
Of course, what we do should not be done without a license, or without permission. It should not be allowed to tattoo people just as a small part-time job.
Tattooing should be practiced according to strict rules and regulations decided by that country.
But because the issue of tattooing was not faced head-on, problems have developed from all different sides.
It’s as if there was a small back road, and because it was a small road it was assumed that there would be no accidents, so no signs or stop lights were installed. Then of course people start driving down it without paying attention, and accidents happen.
At that point it’s like saying “Well this is too much trouble, so we’ll just close the road. There’s not many people using it so it doesn’t matter”. No one thinks to just install a stop light.
Starting a few years back tattoos have also been banned at public beaches.
You can’t go to the gym. You can’t go to the pool or to an onsen. You might even be laid off work.
The Olympics will be held in Tokyo in a few years. During that time a large number of people from overseas will come to Japan.
But a survey found that over 70% of people feel that people with tattoos (Japanese or not) should not be allowed to enter an onsen.
I am concerned about the fact that even though Japan’s history also comes into question, it is generally thought that all tattoos are bad.
Irezumi and tattoos have been a part of human history since ancient times.
There are many people who think that tattoo culture doesn’t exist in Japan, but during the Edo period that culture flourished more than many other parts of the world. And it can be traced back to even older times. It was also passed to the Ainu and Ryukyu people. I believe it is something to be proud of.
To say that all of it should be banned is like denying a part of human history.
Or maybe it will not disappear, but conceal itself in underground areas.
The situation is the same for permanent makeup and body piercings.
I decided to follow this path, and have been walking it this whole time. It is my job and my profession, and I am not doing it half-heartedly.
If in the future tattooing continues to not have any set laws and is thought of as medical treatment and not art, I will lose my goals and my way of life. Because this is the only thing I want to do, it’s like being handed a death sentence.
So I am desperate for a solution to this situation.
There are many people like me who are not in any way affiliated with gangs or the mafia (yakuza).
There are many people who do not do any illegal drugs.
More than half of my customers are from overseas, and within those customers there are doctors, CEOs, bank employees, pilots, Scientist, Professor,
artists, designers, etc.
Not only in Japan, but in their own countries, people are using their products, riding in their cars, and listening to their music. They are a part of people’s everyday lives.
I can’t believe that myself and people like this should be considered outlaws.
And it’s too much to think that all of this should disappear from Japan’s history.
We just want the right to live like everyone else.
I want to protect the rights not only of those receiving tattoos, but those who give tattoos as well.
I hope that there are people reading this who feel the same way I do, and if so, please feel free to share this message.
I can’t do anything alone.
I want as many people as possible all over the world to be aware of this situation so that we can change it.
So that those in this profession and those who have tattoos as well as their friends and family can live their lives in peace.
Thank you for your help, and thank you for reading!