Japanese Tattooing: Popularity, Resistance, and Cultural Complexity in Postmodern Practices

Document Type


Document Subtype


Presentation Date

Winter 2-5-2011

Conference Name

Midwest Japan Seminar

Conference Location

Valparaiso, IN

Peer Review



Tattooing is one of the oldest practices surviving in contemporary societies and represents the complex nature of globalization, not only transitions from modern to postmodern periods but also the unique intersection of pre-modern practices with modernity and postmodernity. In Japan, where Confucian teachings strongly reflect many aspects of its culture, the recent global consumerism has created polarized attitudes toward tattooing. Traditionally, Confucian doctrine claims that bodies are given to people by their parents and that intentionally hurting bodies is contrary to the Confucian concept of filial piety. Due to historical and sociocultural reasons, tattoos are often associated with criminal activities (e.g., yakuza or Japanese mafia’s custom) and rebellion against society (e.g., going against the concept of filial piety). Although tattooed people still tend to be stigmatized and frequently conceal their tattoos, more tattooists and tattooees openly present themselves as members of a tattoo culture. This paper examines the popular culture of tattooing in Japan and extricates the cultural complexity and multiplicity of meanings of the practices. Describing values, beliefs, and practices associated with tattooing during the pre-modern and feudal periods, this paper, then, discusses how these have shaped and modified the modern cultural practices and how the latter are being impacted by globalization and postmodern values and practices.


tattoo, body modification, subculture, Japan, globalization


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

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