Two years ago, Osaka police raided the tattoo parlors of Taiki Masuda and roughly 30 others, arresting many of the tattoo artists mid-way through their work. Authorities justified the sweep using a 2001 “medical practice notice,” which they argue criminalizes giving any tattoo without a medical license. The regulation was originally intended to ensure safety during cosmetic tattooing (such as procedures giving permanent eyebrows), but in a country with a deep-seated stigma against the practice, police have begun applying the law to tattoo artists, placing them in in ambiguous legal territory.
That could be changing. While many of the tattoo parlor operators caught in the 2015 sting operation paid their fines and illicitly continued their practice elsewhere, Masuda chose to defend himself and his shop before the Osaka District Courts.
The court’s ruling, slated for July, could explicitly confirm that the country’s “medical practice notice” applies to anyone giving a tattoo. Or it could vindicate Masuda, easing recent legal prohibitions around tattooing in Japan. A key question: Is the practice a medical procedure or art?
In the case’s first hearing on April 26th, prosecutors defending the regulations asserted a public health interest, stating that ink “has a risk of injuring the skin and causing bacterial infections and allergic reactions.” Masuda disagrees, saying that a properly trained tattoo artist following standard practices in a safe environment runs minimal chance of harming a client.