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Are Japanese Tattoos Cultural Appropriation?

Want to get a Japanese tattoo but not sure if it is considered cultural appropriation? Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might have hoped.

Here is all that you need to about Japanese tattoos and whether or not they may be offensive:

Is Getting a Japanese Tattoo Cultural Appropriation?

There are some Japanese tattoos that you can get without appropriating Japanese culture or being insensitive – however, it is important to understand which elements of Japanese culture and customs are not available to foreigners and, therefore, shouldn’t be used as inspiration for tattoos.

What Kind of Japanese Tattoos are Cultural Appropriation?

Before getting any kind of tattoo, you should be aware of the history behind the art style, the symbol, story, etc. If the tattoo that you want to get holds deep cultural or spiritual meaning to the people of Japan, then it is best not to get it.

a girl gets a tattoo

Even if it may not be considered cultural appropriation, it is considered insensitive. Decorating your body with symbols that are significant to others, particularly without understanding their importance can be disrespectful to others.

The other thing to avoid is choosing images or symbols simply because you like the aesthetic of them. With most tattoos, simply want a tattoo because it looks good isn’t an issue at all.

However, when it comes to culturally relevant tattoos, there is a problem. Once again, this is because these tattoos have meaning to people. Therefore, simply getting them because they look cool or pretty isn’t giving these symbols or images the due respect.

Misunderstanding the Meaning of Japanese Symbols

The other issue with getting a Japanese tattoo is that most people misunderstand the meaning behind tattoos.

Pop culture has made Japanese culture and Japanese tattoos popular. However, you should bear in mind that books, movies, and TV shows that haven’t been created by native Japanese can often get quite a few things wrong.

Therefore, if you don’t do enough research on various designs and symbols, you can end up getting a tattoo that has a different meaning to what you wanted.

Take the Japanese dragon, for instance.

It is believed that dragon mythology was brought over from China. Nevertheless, this mythology evolved quite differently in Japan.

In China, dragons are seen as forces of good and define positive traits like strength, wisdom, and courage. In Japan, though, this isn’t always the case.

While Japanese dragons can be considered god-like, they can be either good or evil. More often than not, the dragons in Japan are the villains of the story. Therefore, getting a dragon tattoo isn’t necessarily a good thing.

If you do want to get a Japanese tattoo, always do your research. This is the only way to ensure that you aren’t culturally appropriating images and symbols.

Can You Get a Kanji Japanese Tattoo?

Tattoos written in the kanji script are arguably some of the most tattoos around. And, it is only natural to want to get such a tattoo.

The script is so beautiful and majestic looking and as it is quite old as well, it can lend greater meaning to the word or phrase that you want to get tattooed on your body.

Here is the problem, though, kanji is an incredibly complex and intricate script. As such, if you aren’t proficient in the written language, you are likely to get your tattoo wrong.

In fact, if you were to ask native writers to look at kanji tattoos, they would inform you that the majority of these tattoos are wrong.

Keep in mind that getting a kanji tattoo wrong isn’t just like misspelling a word in English. No, in some cases, even the slightest shift in the positioning of a character can completely change the word.

It is due to this that you shouldn’t trust online translators. They will lead you astray and you could end up getting a tattoo that is offensive or insulting to the people who can actually read it.

If you do want to get a kanji tattoo, make sure to find someone who is fluent both in English as well as kanji. This is because there are rarely direct translations from one word or phrase to another. As such, you will require someone who is fluent in both languages to get an accurate translation.

The History of Tattooing in Japan

Before you get a Japanese tattoo, it is also important to understand how permanent body art is viewed in Japan.

Tattoo Artist in the studio

Tattoos in Japan are a lot older than most people realize – before 300 AD. However, between 300 and 600 AD, they began to take on a negative connotation. During this period, criminals were increasingly tattooed as a way of marking them out from the rest of the population.

As the tattoos began to become associated with criminal gangs like the Yakuza, they were outlawed within the country.

Even today, you may not be let into certain hot springs, public water parks, and similar public spaces with visible tattoos.

You should also be aware that the older generation is especially disapproving of tattoos in general. As such, you may get some stares or accusing looks.

If you are planning on living in or visiting Japan, then this is something to think about.

Are All Japanese Tattoos a Form of Cultural Appropriation?

No, not all Japanese tattoos can be considered a form of cultural appropriation – however, you do have to be careful when choosing your design, symbol, or image to ensure that your choice doesn’t encroach on the cultural or religious elements of Japan.

Understanding the Historical Significance of Japanese Tattoos

When considering the cultural implications of Japanese tattoos it’s crucial to understand their historical significance.

In Japan tattoos have a complex and often taboo status.

Traditionally tattoos were associated with criminals and morally impaired individuals leading to their stigmatization.

These negative connotations still persist today with tattoos being linked to organized crime in Japanese society.

As a result Japanese tattoos are almost non-existent in Japan itself.

However outside of Japan Japanese tattoos have gained popularity thanks to Western influence.

It’s vital to recognize the historical context and societal attitudes towards tattoos in Japan to ensure respectful engagement with this art form.

By acknowledging these nuances individuals interested in Japanese tattoos can navigate the issue of cultural appropriation with caution and thoughtfulness.