Big win for tattoo artists: Japan's Supreme Court rules medical licenses aren't necessary -- Sep 23
Tattoos aren't illegal in Japan, but the social stigma against them is severely strong.

Associated with yakuza and crime, tattoos can get individuals — guests from overseas or not — barred from certain establishments such as hot springs, gyms, swimming pools, and even beaches.

Tattoo artists also face the burden of this stigma, and in the case of one tattoo artist from Osaka, Taiki Masuda, tattooing without a medical license led to a 150,000 yen fine (US$1,433).

His case was moved to Japan's Supreme Court in 2017, and after nearly three years the country's highest court has made its decision: tattoo artists are no longer required to obtain medical licenses to practice their art.

The Supreme Court's logic for their ruling was that tattooing isn't a medical practice, and is not something exclusively practiced by doctors, thus the law forbidding tattoo artists without a medical license from their craft lost its legal grounding.

For Taiki, who is also part of Save Tattooing, an advocacy group created to support the country's 3,000 tattoo artisans, the ruling is certainly a win. But what exactly makes this ruling so important for tattoo artists in Japan?

In many countries, such as South Korea and now previously Japan, tattoo artists were legally barred from their craft if they didn't obtain a medical license. Basically, you had to become a doctor to be a tattoo artist. Otherwise, if you were a tattoo artist in Japan caught without a medical license, you could be fined up to 1 million yen ($9,563) and/or receive up to three years of jail time.

The main logic behind this law was that since tattoo artists have to use a needle to tattoo their customers, they need to go to medical school first to learn how to handle a needle properly.

Considering how tattoo artists who simply want to make body art without ties to the yakuza already have a hard time getting a steady flow of clients due to social stigma, the law necessitating a medical license acts more as a deterrent than an actual measure for safety and hygiene practices, given the burgeoning costs of medical school as well as the time and labor needed to graduate.

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