Tattoos’ Statuses in East Asia: The Description of Tattooing Practices in Chinese and Japanese Newspaper articles

Document Type


Document Subtype


Presentation Date

Spring 4-17-2009

Conference Name

North Central Sociological Association

Conference Location

Dearborn, MI


This study explores how tattooing practices are depicted in news media and what statuses the practices have gained and reached in contemporary East Asia. In particular, examining Chinese and Japanese newspaper articles on tattooing published between 2000 and 2007, I explore cultural meanings of tattooing practices in those societies. While reviewing a brief history of tattooing in China and Japan, I demonstrate how tattooing has been treated and how its statues have been shaped in their media accounts.

The newspaper accounts reveal the practice of tattooing as a complex phenomenon emerging at the intersection of multi-layered cultural meanings. Contemporary tattooing practices in China and Japan reflect the expanding tensions associated with the intersection of localization and globalization. In China, for instance, tattoo books published in North America are now translated into the Chinese language and are becoming available to the public. In Japan, tattoo conventions are regularly held in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Tattoo artists and clients are invited from overseas as well as all over the nation. Despite the increasing popularity, however, tattoos are often considered as a rebellious response to those societies where Confucianism strongly influences many socio-cultural aspects. Various dimensions of polarity in the globalized society are observed.

The influence of Western cultures may liberate individuals from the intense social constraints imposed by the Confucius tradition, which makes interesting attitudes toward tattooing. While tattooing in the past tended to demonstrate social meanings (e.g., tribal customs, gang membership, and personal identification), the motivations of contemporary tattooing may be more individualistic and personalized as seen in the West. The co-existence of Asian traditions and western cultural values creates complex meanings of tattooing practices.


tattoo, body modification, subculture, East Asia, globalization


Asian Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology

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