Imagine that you work like the custom skateboard maker. You get a board, a bumper, bearings. With this stuff you do magic. And in the result of your magic is clients leave your garage with a new custom skate. You are good in your work. Perhaps, in this world, there are some bad makers, but at the end of the day they lose their clients and start to be better or stop their business. And you actually don’t care, because you have a very busy schedule for at list one month forward. One day you open the post box in your garage and find the letter from the federal police. You don’t remember that you did something illegal and open the letter calmly... The Police tell you that you make engineer work without engineer education. And you have to get the education or stop making custom skates. And you also get the fine in the amount of 3 000 $.
To be honest, you are very surprised. Six years of higher engineer education has never been the priority in your life. "Wait, where is the engineering activity in my work? Why do I need to know the Schrödinger equation to keep board and bumper together?" And others logical questions come to your mind... Skateboards are your passion and they actually, feed you. And you decide to fight the system.
Taiki Masuda, Japanese tattoo artist, experienced this. Surely, he did not make skates, he made Japanese dragons, samurais, masks, peonies, lions and suits on the bodies of his clients. But then he was arrested due to the illegal doctor practice and was charged 300 000 yens.
The official reason for his arrest is the infringement of the Medical Practitioners' Law. The police started interpreting the injection of needles with ink to the skin like a medical act. But all medical acts could be done only with the medical license. Earlier the police observed only the cosmetic saloons, because in the past there were some bad precedents of cosmetic injections. In accordance with the order of Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare only person with the medical license can make beauty injections, piercing and tattoo. This order never exercised both by the tattoo- artists and the police. The police have never checked the existence of the license until 2015. But in 2015 they started to arrest tattoo-artists. Many tattoo-saloons closed their business refunding the money to the accounts of their clients who wanted to make new anime picture on the skin , some tattoo artists changed the country of living. Taiki Masuda was also arrested but decided to fight.
He organized the international movement
which is called SAVETATOOING
Using the hashtag #SAVETATOOING you can follow the events of the movement. The activists created the petition on change.org, which can be signed by foreigners. If until the end of 2016 the petition is signed by 100 000 internet users, the Japanese tattoo artist will get the opportunity to change the position of the state regarding to the tattoo art getting the regulation of tattooing instead of the prohibition. The petition contains a legislative propose to introduce the license system of tattooing, creates the demands for the tattoo-saloons regarding to the hygiene, creates an educational course for future tattoo artists.
The movement also creates a lot of offline activities. In april and july 2016 they organized Ink Symposiums. The legal team is focused on solving some law issues. These activists participated in the parliamentary sessions.
One of the protest actions was called “Doctor or artist?”. Surely, it was a rhetorical question. How many therapists or endocrinologist, who can draw, you know? The occupation of tattoo artist has already become very complicated. They need to be perfect painters, know the rules of hygiene, art, management and psychology.
Historically tattoo students in Japan spent many years or sometime decades to become a tattoo artist. Students did all dirty work, got boring lessons of classical drawings, repainted the gravures, observed the process of creation tattoos by artists, studied books about Japanese art. А job of tattoo artist was mysterious and unmentionable.
Nowadays, modern tattoo artists prefer using tattoo machines, have education in design, illustration and fine art. The atmosphere of mystery disappeared, but that feeling of prohibition still exists. The government still interferes in the tattoo business without formal prohibition for tattooing. This situation forces tattoo artists to prolong illegal tattooing with a risk of jail, relocation or termination of tattooing at all. Kamikadze, who decided to get a medical education, could organize the campaign of funded platforms by supporters, probably they will get the required amount very quickly, because not a lot of Japanese tattoo artists want to get the medical education.
SAVETATTOOING provides an opportunity to observe the vindication of a human right to dispose own body and creativity. And we can also observe how Japan with all their amazing technology, with earthquake-safe skyscrapers and hydroponic strawberry makes the medieval witch hunt, trying to prohibit tattoo art, what is developing rapidly under the influence of globalization process and what, surely, can not be liquidated in one country.
- Haku, tell us little bit about yourself. What is you background, why did you decide to become a tattoo artist and where do you work now?
About my work now. Actually, I have already been working in Japan for 9 months and will be here until mid-October. I work at Shiryudoh, in Tokyo.
- How long have you been tattooing?
- How does it look like to be a tattoo artist in Japan?
Japanese people are very surprised when I told them "I'm tattoo artist", because they have the image of the Yakuza, so when they see my face, I think they cannot imagine that someone completely "normal" can be tattoo artist. There is a big misinformation about a tattoo in Japan. But I'm sure that after few years, it will change :)
- Tell us about the preconditions of these legislative changes?
We are not doctors, but artists. The government therefore believes that we have no right to touch the needles. But it does not establish codes, such as a license (such as acupuncturists, for example) so that we could practice our profession.
Doctors are clearly not trained to do the tattoo, as we are not trained to be doctors, these are two different jobs. So, if this law passes, we will be clearly outlawed. Currently, a tattoo artist in Osaka is on trial against this law, he was arrested by the police because he practiced tattooing. This tattoo artist create the movement "Save Tattooing in Japan", which I highly recommend to follow. They explained the situation very clearly.
- How is the situation now? Does it affect all tattoo artists or are these just demonstrative actions? What are the actions of artists who had troubles with the police?
- Is it due to the fact that tattoos in Japan have criminal overtone?
And after at the Edo period, there is a codification of the tattoo. They distinguishes in fact the "prestigious" tattoo reserved for heroes and great, and "villainous" tattoo reserved for bandits and criminals. And because of the augmentation of the criminality, the police generalized tattooing as a punishment to deter potential criminals.
There are many things to tell about Japanese tattoo history, I feel bad not to be able to resume everything here, but Yakuza haven`t got tattoo since long time, and today, there are not a lot of Yakuza, who haven't tattoos, too. I find it so sad to associate Japanese Tattoo with just a small part of the history.
s an opinion in Russia that tattoos are still illegal and socially disapproved in Japan. For example, you cant get a job with a tattoo. Is it true?
But yes, for the job, if you have tattoos, it's complicated... Not in Tokyo, it's more easy, even if sometimes happens. But in Osaka, at the interview, the guy in front of you can ask you to undress for check if you don't have a tattoo... Because they still thinking "if you have tattoos you are a member of a gang".
- You are collecting signatures for the petition: how is it going and can foreigners help you with their signatures?
- Haku, tell us about your professional plans?
The works of Japanese tattoo artists are the classic of the tattoo art. It’s standart, perfect and inspirational. Modern Japanese artists introduce fresh tendencies to the classic patterns and create worldwide trends. An attempt to forbid the tattooing in 21st century in one country looks like the prohibition of skating by punishing the skateboard makers. Movement SAVETATOOING shows the irrationality of the state requests, desire of society to fight for their values an possibilities, steps to the self-regulation and provides everybody an opportunity to change the history.
Who will do it instead of us?