Irezumi are traditional Japanese tattoos done with a needle attached to a wooden dowel manually poked into the skin, while tattoos are western-style pieces, done with a machine needle and ink.
Tattooing itself is hard to date in terms of Japanese history, and there is not a lot of concrete research on its origins. The negative social implications of the ink, however, are said to have begun as early as in the 7th Century, when irezumi was used by the then-Emperor as the first official punishment for rebellion. The rebel, Hamako, Muraji of Azumi, was forced to feel the physical pain of being inked, and carry the punishment on his body as an officially “labeled” criminal. Tattoos continued to become a regular form of punishment for criminals and thereby the Japanese society was led to associate ink with crime, shunning away those who carried prints on their bodies.
Though steadily changing nowadays, for many Japanese tattooing is still synonymous with yakuza, and many businesses still refuse to allow inked people to hot springs, public baths, gyms, beaches, water parks — and even certain jobs. In 2001, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare classified tattooing as a medical procedure based on the argument that it involves a needle piercing the skin and inserts ink. Based on this law, only people with medical licenses can give you a tattoo. Just this September Osaka fined a tattoo artist for “illegal practice” and violation of this Medical Practitioners’ Law.
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