Prohibitions on tattooing.
The Japanese government led a conscious struggle against tattooing. Several laws were issued to eradicate the tattoo as an art form. In 1789, on a wave of large-scale reforms, attempts were made to outlaw the tattoo from the moral and ethical considerations of the time. However, by the year 1801, with the advent of the new government, these reforms had become irrelevant, and the popularity of the tattoo had again begun to increase rapidly. In 1811, the tattoo again falls under the ban due to its popularity and accessibility. This time, the measures taken by the government were more stringent. Tattooing was outlawed, and the police began raiding tattoo studios. Sketches of tattoos and tattoo tools were seized and destroyed.
Also, both the client and the tattoo artist became accomplices in the crime: “The tattoo wearer and tattoo artist violate the law and are responsible for this.” However, this prohibition did not last long, but despite this, the culture of the tattoo was irreparably damaged. In 1840, a softer version of the 1811 ban was adopted, which lasted 5 years. In such a situation of constant persecution and pressure, the tattoo masters and their clients were forced to go underground, and the process of tattooing became especially dangerous for them.
The tattoo world was relieved to see the easing of persecution by the government in the period from 1845 to 1872, but already in 1872 under the government of Meiji the tattoo again became a punishable offense. These measures were introduced in the framework of the next reforms aimed at creating the image of Japan, close and understandable to the Western world. However, to the great disappointment of the government, those foreigners from the West, on whom the reforms were aimed, were greatly impressed by the work of Japanese tattooists. Japanese tattoos, exported from the country in the hands of sailors, have already won fame and glory around the world. After all, at the insistence of some members of European governments, Japanese tattoo artists were allowed to tattoo foreigners. In 1891, Tsar Nicholas II made a tattoo in the form of a dragon during his visit to Nagasaki. Heir to the throne of Greece, Georgios also had a Japanese tattoo. However – and it’s not surprising – tattoos for the Japanese themselves were outlawed, and although the rigidity of the sentence varied from government to government, this art had to break the law for many years.
But with his intrinsic insistence, the tattoo world not only survived, but also flourished in the oppressive atmosphere created by the authorities. The intense relationship of the tattoo master and his client only strengthened in the atmosphere of illegality surrounding art. The persistence and determination of tattoo artists was at that time a difficult test, but in the same conditions was their client. They literally became accomplices to the crime, who could easily be arrested. Such close interrelations continue to the present day, having survived the era of strict laws. The ban on tattoos was lifted only in 1948, and the world of tattooing was freed from government oversight.
Although the ban on tattooing was officially lifted, the police continued harassment at an informal level. In the early 1980s, in an attempt to resist the ubiquitous presence of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, the demonstration of the tattoo in public entailed biased interrogations in the police or even persecution. Tattoos, especially those that cover the entire body in the form of a suit (bodysuit), were common among the yakuza and even became part of the rite of initiation into this world. In the eyes of society, the tattoo became firmly associated with the yakuza and fear of them. David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall in the book “The Cult at the End of the World” write: “An excellent tattoo covers it from the neck to the shins – this is a sure sign of the yakuza. It was enough just to roll up the sleeve and bare only a part of the tattoo, to get cars to drive, doors to open, and bills to be paid. ”
Police harassment was designed to help the authorities prevent the yakuza from continuing to use intimidation tactics and, in addition, to pave the way for the detention of their members. Thus, the art of tattooing appeared under a crossfire in a big fight. Although some festivals and baths did not fall under the close control of the police, for most public institutions the appearance of a man with a tattoo was unacceptable.
With the advent of fashion in Western fashion tattoos in Western style, on the streets now you can often see people with small images on the skin. However, tattoos in the style of bodysuit still exist as a phenomenon and appear on special festivals and in books. But nevertheless carriers of such tattoos, especially yakuza, prefer not to attract attention. Therefore, the Japanese tattoo remains a purely personal matter, eluding the curious views of the public.