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Tattoos in South Korea: Are They Unlawful?

Tattoos in South Korea: Are They Unlawful?


Tattooing is an historical custom all through many cultures worldwide, however the artwork kind has loads of controversies to go together with it. In East Asia, tattoos have been a sensitive topic for hundreds of years, and now, cultural shifts are going face to face with old-school methods of pondering and lawmakers are attempting to make sense of all of it.

Korea is a uniquely fascinating case, that includes all the weather of a contemporary society grappling with custom and the newer methods of the world. Tattooing in South Korea is on the rise, however there’s way more to the story than the stats counsel. 

Let’s take a look at the distinctive tattoo tradition of South Korea, previous and current, and determine the authorized panorama of the scenario at this time for youthful generations. 

Historical past of Tattoos in South Korea

You would possibly affiliate South Korea with harsh tattooing legal guidelines and a historical past that appears down upon the artwork kind completely. Nevertheless, a better take a look at the previous reveals a extra complicated scenario, so let’s take a look at the foremost eras of Korean historical past and see how issues have formed as much as the present day.

Historical Beginnings

Like so many cultures at their basis, everlasting physique artwork in Korea started as a revered and well-established type of artistry. Lengthy earlier than trendy borders have been established, tribal confederacies all through the land practiced tattooing as a type of magic safety, safeguarding warriors, hunters, and fishermen from monsters and different enemies.

This reveals an fascinating conundrum about tattooing generally since many related tales could be discovered all through different historic archives. Tattooing usually started as a option to symbolize power and provide safety within the non secular realm, however this stuff have been misplaced or missed by extra structured governments and civilizations shaped.

The individuals and the land have been the identical as at all times. Nonetheless, the affect of tradition, faith, and different societal orders modified how individuals considered tattoos, tattooed individuals, and numerous different features of life.

Three Kingdoms Interval

Starting with the institution of the Goryeo Dynasty within the early 900s, Korean tattooing began to alter considerably from its tribal origins.

This pattern coincided with rising centralized management within the area following the rise of the three Kingdoms dividing the peninsula into near-equal components. In actual fact, Korea received its identify from “Goryeo,” which has stood the take a look at of time for greater than a millennium.

Whereas the brand new society ushered in agriculture and development, this got here with harsher legal guidelines and the introduction of a Confucian view of the world with strict ethical buildings. On the one hand, peace and prosperity helped propel Korea into the fashionable period. Nonetheless, tattooing was pushed to the outskirts of society to mark criminals, gangsters, and different members of the underclass.

These attitudes about tattooing have been deeply engrained into the tradition of Korea, even because the dynasties fell and new types of authorities emerged. 

Trendy Korean Tradition

In its present kind, Korean society is a mixture of the previous, the brand new, and the futuristic. South Korea enjoys a secure, safe, and extremely technological lifestyle and has lastly damaged via cultural boundaries to incomes a spot on the worldwide popular culture stage. 

With this fast modernization has come large curiosity in tattooing, and an rising portion of younger Koreans are desperate to get inked. Even a number of the largest Okay-Pop stars have tattoos, although they should be coated to be proven on Korean TV.

This leaves us at an fascinating crossroads for tattooing in Korea, with an older era rooted in custom clashing with younger individuals enthusiastic about tattooing and different artwork varieties.

Most of the views concerning tattoos in Korea usually are not upheld by legislation however quite by the social norms and pressures that have been established for a lot of lots of of years. Solely now are we seeing Korea reexamine its views of tattooing, although many individuals nonetheless view the subject from a conventional standpoint and see it as taboo.

For example, it’s not unusual to see tattoo bans at spas, gyms, and swimming pools all through Korea, and other people will put on rash guards and sleeves to remain coated. Media retailers and advertisers will keep away from displaying pictures of tattoos, as some nonetheless declare they showcase poor morals or ignorance.

This hasn’t stopped hundreds of younger individuals from lastly getting tattooed in Korea and overseas, although tensions nonetheless exist within the day-to-day life between tattooed and non-tattooed South Korean residents.

Current Tattooing Legal guidelines in Korea

It may be laborious to think about a tradition with such a pointy distinction between tattoo enthusiasm and conventional methods of pondering. Nevertheless, trying on the authorized scenario of tattooing in Korea, we are able to make extra sense of the scenario.

Tattooing in South Korea just isn’t one hundred pc unlawful, neither is it unlawful to have a tattoo. Whereas sure institutions and establishments reserve the proper to make patrons cowl tattoos, there are not any authorized penalties for sporting tattoos in public. 

With that in thoughts, the legal guidelines round tattooing in South Korea are unusual, to say the least. Right here’s what we all know and the way issues are altering.

1992 Legal guidelines

The Sixth Republic of South Korea took kind within the early Nineties, and a brand new authorized code was applied with a stabilized democracy. Nevertheless, this meant tattoos have been nonetheless frowned upon, and legal guidelines have been established to require medical licenses to manage tattoos.

That’s proper: solely licensed medical medical doctors got the proper to carry out tattooing in South Korea, and this legislation nonetheless stands to today! It might sound mind-boggling to these within the west, however this was the legislation of the land, and it stays regardless of the nation’s latest cultural evolution.

2015 Evaluations

As South Korea rapidly was an financial powerhouse, cultural attitudes modified quickly, with tattoos on the entrance strains. In 2015, legislators gathered to rethink how tattooing ought to be considered via the lens of the legislation following a string of arrests and lots of tattoo artists leaving the nation.

Nevertheless, the lawmakers put the dialogue on the again burner for the following a number of years, whilst tattooing turned more and more well-liked within the nation with different high-profile authorized instances happening. 

2022 Supreme Courtroom

It lastly got here time for South Korea to look at the longstanding guidelines for tattooing in 2022, however a authorized overhaul was shot down earlier than it received very far. 

The constitutional court docket ordered that tattooing remained unlawful for tattooists with out a medical license, drawing a lot criticism from tattoo unions and younger individuals nationwide. This legislation would state that tattooing is a medical process and might solely be achieved by medical professionals. Equally, tattoo studios and parlors should be as much as medical requirements.

This type of legislation would require extension examine and time for future tattoo artists, limiting their means to create their artwork. Comparable legal guidelines have been thought of in Japan for Japanese tattoo artists.

It could be a number of extra years earlier than Korean lawmakers rethink the principles round tattooing, however for now, artists and patrons will proceed to hunt workarounds to remain secure.

How Koreans Are Getting Tattooed Right this moment

As regards to workarounds, how precisely are Korean tattoo artists staying in enterprise, staying out of the legislation’s fingers, and delivering tattoos to different Korean residents and vacationers each day?

Right here’s how the tattooing course of seems in Korea at this time and a few tricks to contemplate should you’re planning a tattoo tourism journey to the peninsula.

Underground Tattooing

Regardless of the occasional high quality and some arrests, most tattooers can function safely in South Korea with out overwhelming strain from the police. Artists should preserve a low profile and preserve their data personal when speaking with prospects.

Fortunately, hundreds of impartial tattoo outlets function comparatively safely in South Korea, even when the method must be stored beneath wraps.

Tattooers in Medical Workplaces

Some tattooers have gone undercover inside medical doctors’ places of work to cover in plain sight from the authorities. Medical medical doctors have the proper to carry out tattoos, however only a few have the ability or will to take action.

Subsequently, some medical doctors will secretly rent skilled tattoo artists to function of their places of work with an additional degree of safety. The danger continues to be there, but it surely’s one which some places of work are keen to take.

Touring Overseas

Tons of nice tattoo artists could be discovered all through South Korea, so many Korean residents are glad to take a threat and get tattooed on their residence turf. Nevertheless, others are desperate to journey overseas to locations just like the U.S. or Europe to get tattooed with a bit much less strain. 

On the flip facet, vacationers from the States typically go to Korea to get tattooed with the danger as a part of the enchantment. This strikes a chord with the rebellious nature of tattooing generally, and a few are keen to pay high greenback for the expertise.

When you select to journey to get tattooed, be sure to’ve received the proper gear to care to your new ink, irrespective of the place you’re at on the earth.

The Way forward for Tattooing in Korea

Tattooing in Korea started as a practice however rapidly turned a taboo matter earlier than reemerging within the trendy period. It has been a rocky historical past, however we’ll doubtless see loads of superb tattoos come from South Korea from right here on out.

Within the meantime, pay attention to rising South Korean tattoo artists as they cleared the path with technical precision and artistry. And take a look at this piece for Korean tattoo design concepts.


Altering Views on Tattoos in South Korea | KEI

Tattoos in East Asia: Conforming to Individualism | College of Puget Sound

South Korea Simply Upheld a Legislation That Makes Tattooing a Crime | CBC



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