Although Japan, South Korea, and China share a similar history of tattoo criminality, in modern times they all hold different legal policies concerning the practice. South Korea has the strictest laws, requiring a medical doctorate to legally tattoo, while China has few restrictions on body art. This paper explores this interesting difference via observational fieldwork in Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing as well as interviews with local people. This paper hopes to explain the connection between a new tattoo culture supported by younger generations and the level of democracy and development of each country. Although a strong social stigma towards the art remains salient due to the historical criminal connection, a new, younger generation with greater access to the internet and the outside world has been able to adopt a tattoo culture unrelated to previous trends. Tattoos in East Asia are becoming less about rebellious self-expression, which could be threatening to authoritarian governmental systems, but are instead symbols of a modern society rising alongside a younger middle class, one unburdened by previous decades of poverty. The rising prevalence of a tattooed population may be less an indicator of a strong counter-culture but instead, a signal of a globalized developed society.
University of Puget Sound
East Asia, Tattoos, Youth, Development, Modernization
Digital Commons Discipline
Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai, China
Politics and Government; Asian Studies