Tattoos were considered taboo back in the day. Usually associated with criminals or societal rejects, tattoos only started rising to popularity in the 1970s in the West. The athletes at the Tokyo Olympics have been observed to be big on tattoos this year. 

Participants have been sporting a plethora of tattoos during the Olympic games. From sharks to bright Olympic rings, you’ll find it all. However, the ink culture is a far cry from Japan’s take on tattoos, which are still considered taboo in society. 

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Going back in time

The first record of tattoos in Japan dates back to 247 C.E., according to research by Banaras Hindu University in India. It is believed to be an art form whose popularity grew during the Edo period from the 1600s to 1868. According to the Center for Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco, it was born out of woodblock printmaking. The lower class in the society rebelled against the restrictions through colourful tattoos. 

However, tattoos and the act of tattooing were banned in 1872 out of fear that the West would look down upon Japan. 

In a surprising change, the traditional Japanese tattoo style called ‘wabori’ is now very popular and much in demand. 

Furthermore, the 1960s saw tattoos being associated with criminal gangs called ‘Yakuza’. Many places in the country have still banned tattoos for the same reason. 

The Osaka court, in 2017, ruled that only medical doctors can administer tattoos under the law. 

Although tattoos have become widely accepted in Japan now, they are still stigmatised in parts of the country. The Tokyo Olympics this year have been witnessing a display of tattoos in full swing, with Olympic rings being the most popular design.