Japan top court sides with tattoo artist in test case

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Tattoos are often associated in Japan with members of criminal groups known as the Yakuza
Tattoos are often associated in Japan with members of criminal groups known as the Yakuza Behrouz MEHRI AFP/File

Japan’s top court has sided with a tattoo artist who was fined for practising without a medical licence, in a case that revived debate about the country’s uneasy relationship with body ink.

Though tattoos have a long history in Japan and the nation has long boasted leading artists, body ink is still often associated with “anti-social” elements, particularly members of criminal groups known as the yakuza.

People with tattoos are often prevented from using public facilities like swimming pools or baths, and in 2015, Osaka tattooist Taiki Masuda was arrested for allegedly violating the Medical Practioners’ Act by tattooing people without a doctor’s licence.

Masuda was fined 150,000 yen ($1,400) by an Osaka district court, but the ruling was overturned on appeal in 2018.

Prosecutors decided to take it to the Supreme Court, which this week rejected their appeal, a court spokeswoman told AFP on Friday.

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The Supreme Court backed the earlier ruling that tattooing should not require a doctor’s licence because it carries little risk of injury or health problems.

“Tattooing is not considered medical treatment nor an act linked to health care,” the verdict upheld by the Supreme Court said.

The upheld ruling noted tattooing is “a practice seen since ancient times as part of regional customs” in Japan.

While there is still widespread aversion to tattoos in much of Japanese society, attitudes have started to change, especially after the country hosted the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The event featured a large number of players sporting tattoos, including Samoans for whom the body art is an important part of their culture.

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