Ultimate Guide to Getting a Tattoo in Japan

By Thao | April, 2022

Getting a tattoo in Japan can be a unique and wondrous experience, whether it is your first or second tattoo (or twentieth!). When it comes to tattoos in Japan, many questions may come to your mind: How do you make sure you get a tattoo of high quality in Japan? How do you get a tattoo while abiding by local traditions and customs? If you are inked and heading to Japan, what do you need to know in advance? BFF Tokyo’s Ultimate Guide to Getting a Tattoo in Japan will provide you with a detailed and helpful explanation of inking experiences in Japan.

This article is part of our extensive series on learning about Japanese culture through online Japanese lesson at Japan Switch.

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    Tattoo in Japan

    How do tattoos in Japan compare to other countries?

    Before getting a tattoo in Japan, you’re probably curious about how others in Japan, especially locals or your Japanese colleagues, will perceive your new tattoo.

    Do Japanese people get tattoos?

    Although Japan has been long known to be less welcoming than many of its fellow Asian countries when it comes to getting a tattoo, there are signs of positive changes in recent times. Tattoos in Japan are still considered uncommon, but they do exist. It is totally legal to get a tattoo in Japan, and just in 2020, tattoo artists  have been approved  by law to work without a medical license.

    The history of tattoos in Japan

    Historians studied that tattoos in Japan emerged around 5000 BC but were recorded in written form in 300 AD. However, the relationship between Japan and tattoos got rocky when it was discovered that, in 720 AD, tattoos were used in Japan to punish criminals. As those who committed horrible crimes would have their foreheads tattooed to inform civilians of their offenses, tattoos started to be considered a mark of a criminal.

    Things changed drastically during the Edo period (1603–1868), to the point that this period was recorded as the golden age of tattoos in Japan. Tattoos in Japan gradually became a fashion statement thanks to the inspiration from the Chinese novel Suikoden (Water Margin), which features characters with bodies covered in ink. The Edo period's rulers, on the other hand, were not fans – in Suikoden, the authorities were antagonists, while tattooed men were heroes. Hence, the authorities tried to ban this art form. 

    The prohibition got stronger in the 19th century when Japan was influenced by Western culture. The Japanese government feared their Western counterparts would regard them as barbaric and look down on them if tattoos were allowed. Tattoos in Japan had been suppressed until 1948, when the ban was lifted by the U.S. occupation forces. The tattoo ban's lifting in Japan was quickly followed by the "explosion" of yakuza films that portray heavily inked heroes, inspiring young wannabes, bad boys, and aspiring mob members to use who donned tattoos as a means of self-expression.

    What do people in Japan think of tattoos?

    There is no clear answer to this question. During this period, the parallel development in the on-screen depiction of tattooed yakuza and actual tattooed bad guys in real life created an impression on older generations that having tattoos meant being rebellious and bad.The older generations may be prejudiced against tattoos as they comprehended tattoos via TV’s demonstration of the strong relationship between yakuza and tattoos in Japan. The younger generations are more open-minded and considerate of this kind of body art. This implies that in the near future, changes in perceptions of tattoos in Japan are unavoidable, but so are resistances to such changes.

    tattoo and yakuza

    Wait, but are tattoos allowed in Japan?

    As Japan has slowly opened doors tofor globalization, tattoos in Japan as a fashion statement have gained popularity as well. Tattoos' historically clashing with traditional values and links to yakuza are gradually fading, most likely due to celebrity promotion and increased exposure to different tattoo perspectives in other countries. As more foreigners and tourists with tattoos are heading to Japan, businesses, especially local and small-sized ones, here have realized the demand for tattooed customers and are leading the change in customer policy regarding tattoos. 

    As a side note - Sanja Matsuri is also a special occasion when people in Japan can proudly showcase their tattoos. Sanja Matsuri is a Shinto celebration hosted by Shinto Shrines every year in theon the third week of May. During the festival celebrations, inked patrons, including yakuza members, can happily present their traditional Japanese-style tattoos as a way to appreciate delicate and intricate artisanship.

    The anti-tattoo policies and regulations have been loosened for foreign tourists and visitors, yet are still tight for their own citizens and those planning a longer residence. This double standard will undoubtedly affect people considering living and working in Japan; companies and coworkers may not always necessarily are unlikely to welcome your tattoos, visible or not.

    Firemen & Tattoos

    During the Edo period, the capital was haunted by recurring and destructive fires. As a consequence, the tattooed construction workers were appointed as firemen and became heroes. Their tattoos became symbols of courage and bravery; tattoos became a point of their pride for them. Even in this day and age, there is an assumption that the bigger the tattoo, the better the fireman. This is because it is perceived that tattoos require guts and pain tolerance; hence, getting big tattoos showcases manliness and bravery. Moreover, death in the line of duty wasn’t uncommon for firemen either, so the tattoos could help families identify their loved ones.

    If you are inked and heading to Japan, here are some things you should know.

    Prior research is a must-do in your preparation before heading to Japan with your tattoos. You can look up previous reviews of your intended places to see if tattoos are allowed, or even call them or ask your friends to make sure. You can search some sites regarding tattoo-friendliness, such as Tattoo Friendly or Gaijin Pot, which are excellent sources of information for those who want to visit a public bath or onsen. In general, you should cover the tattoos as much as you can without feeling too uncomfortable and be friendly and polite. The Japanese people are very welcoming and understanding! We have more tips at the end of this article, so keep on reading!

    Side note: Onsen (hot springs) are an absolutely integral part of the Japanese experience. Like the baths themselves, however, tattoos are a bit of a heated topic. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Private Onsen where, since you’re on your own or with a partner, tattoos aren’t a problem!

    Tattoo etiquette

    The ongoing social stigma against tattoos in this country may make you rethink your decision to get a tattoo in Japan. Tattoos in Japan are often considered taboo. Some places, such as onsen (hot springs) and sento (bathhouses), gyms, and even public beaches, are most likely to stop people with tattoos from entering.

    The tattoo taboo has its origins in the Meiji period, as explained above in the history of tattoos in Japan. The tattoo taboo grew stronger, especially when yakuza-themed movies and films were in vogue. As all yakuza members are required to have tattoos, people tend to associate tattoos with them. Even after the legalization of tattoos in Japan, the negative image of this body art form has been deeply embedded in the minds of the Japanese people. In 2012, the mayor of Osaka even demanded companies fire tattooed employees; and now (2022), if you’re tattooed, there’s a chance that your entry will be turned down by some facilities such as hot springs, golf clubs, gyms, public baths, even some restaurants, depending on the size and visibility of your tattoo.

    The Benefits and Drawbacks of Getting a Tattoo in Japan


    Although there is still a tattoo taboo in Japan, your tattoos are unlikely to have a significant negative impact on your quality of life in Japan, even if they are visible or eye-catching.The majority of Japanese people are not surprised to see a foreigner covered in tattoos; they are aware that tattoos may be viewed differently in your home country than they are in Japan and respect cultural differences. You will not get into much trouble in your daily life with tattoos in Japan, and displaying your tattoos in public places such as restaurants, bars, parks, and beaches is generally not a problem.

    Most importantly, Japanese tattoos are well-known globally for their quality, and many people visit Japan with the idea of getting inked on their bucket list. The long history of tattoos in Japan bespeaks their assured quality. Many tattoo artists will have to go through a long period of apprenticeship under a master before they can actually practice on their customers. Some tattoo artists have their own special techniques passed down from previous generations, which makes most tattoo studios you find in Japan high-quality.


    With that said,  there are still some disadvantages to having a tattoo in Japan that may cause you trouble. As mentioned above, some public establishments and facilities may deny access to those with tattoos. Many workplaces in Japan, especially those that are traditional Japanese-style or involve facing clients directly, are reported to not allow visible tattoos while working. It is difficult for such businesses to ease their requirements since they don't want to upset their regular older-generation clientele who still hold a negative view of tattoos. Therefore, job-seekers in Japan may have to resort to tattoo removal or purchasing tattoo covers (like bandaids) in order to grasp job opportunities or aim for private sectors or foreign-owned companies where regulations are more lenient. Aside from public bathhouses, amusement parks, sports clubs, beaches, swimming pools, etc. may also turn you away from any tattoos that are deemed inappropriate.

    There's much to learn about Japanese culture and Japanese literature with our further guides: Ultimate Guide to Japanese Superstitions or Guide to Japanese Culture Shock – Short


    Irezumi - Traditional Japanese tattoo art

    There are two different words used to refer to tattoos in Japan: "tattoo," which means smaller tattoos done as a way to express oneself, and "irezumi," which implies larger tattoos often done by the yakuza. As explained, there remains a social stigma attached to irezumi (literally "insert ink"—the native word for tattoos) in Japan, mostly due to tattoos in Japan’s complicated evolution over time.

    What is Irezumi?

    Irezumi are traditional Japanese tattoos that distinguish themselves from normal tattoos in the west by having a vastly different method and a unique history. Traditional irezumi are created completely by hand with special tools: a wooden handle, a metal needle connected by silk thread, and the famous Nara ink—a special ink type that turns blue-green under the skin. The traditional irezumi tattooing method involves no mechanical equipment whatsoever. As a result, getting an irezumi will be more time-consuming, more expensive, and (probably) more painful than the common tattoo gun method. Full body tattoo designs cost at least 1 million yen and can take up to 6 years to complete. 

    In order to become an irezumi horishi (irezumi master), one must undergo a special period of apprenticeship. The tattoo apprentice will live in the master's house, clean and prepare the equipment, observe and practice on their own skin, and "graduate" when the master acknowledges their skillfulness. On top of that, only a few irezumi artists still practice their art in the traditional way, and it is more common in Japan to get a tattoo made with a mechanical ink gun, despite the hand-free outline. 

    Getting an irezumi is a life-long process and will be a big decision in life. You have to communicate well with your Japanese tattoo artist and save up money since they are pretty pricey. On average, irezumi artists will charge you around 10,000–15,000 per hour of tattooing with a minimum charge of 1 hour. As the classic Japanese irezumi will cover a decent part of your skin, you will have to work from a few hours or sessions to 50-100 hours depending on your tattoos. It's such a big investment, but I’m sure the results will be worth the pain and money out of your pockets!

    Sources and types of Irezumi

    Every tattoo art aims to convey a unique and memorable meaning. Irezumi, in particular, tends to utilize nature as the tattoo’s reference, owing to the culture's reverence for nature as well as the inspiration derived from Ukiyo-e prints. Not only realistic figures such as portraits of geishas and literary characters, but also mythological images like Tengu (ghosts), Oni (demons or troll-like creatures), and deities from both Buddhist and Shinto religions often appear in Japanese tattoos, Irezumi. Irezumi’s depictions of those subjects will be a breath of fresh air in your body art collection thanks to their traditional touch and sophisticated designs.

    These days, traditional Japanese motifs, designs, and stylistic sensibilities are still considered a valuable source of inspiration. There are countless characters and subjects within Japanese mythology and iconography that will intrigue you. Considering Irezumi’s high price tag and the lifetime commitment, naturally, you will be especially picky about the design, but it is hard to decide on "the one" and where on your body you want to have your tattoo. We suggest you stroll around the cities, looking at Japanese traditional drawings and historical documents for inspiration. You can pay a visit to the Horiyoshi Tattoo Museum or look up samples on the Internet. After considering the designs, it is best to contact your tattoo artists for more idea exchange and development. Japanese tattooers are very creative and are always looking to do their best to design a tattoo that will be perfect for you. 

    Pro Tip: Politeness is essential everywhere, but especially in Japan. When talking to a Japanese tattoo artist, foreigners should remember to be very polite and humble. That will go a long way, especially if you are looking for a big tattoo (you will have to spend a lot of time with the artist). If you’re looking to brush up on your conversational Japanese, have a quick read of our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Conversation or check out our list of Useful Japanese Phrases

    One of the best ways to find inspiration is to scroll through the Japanese tattoo shops' Instagram accounts. You will see all their work on there and often have other tattooed people commenting. If you are looking for a traditional Japanese tattoo design or something more new-school, make sure you're sure it is perfect. No going back!

    Tattoo in Japan_Irezumi


    So, what exactly lies behind those culturally influential and beautiful drawings? Many, if not all, symbols in Japan have a specific and fascinating meaning. In this article, we would like to briefly introduce you to some famous and popular irezumi motifs, as well as their characteristics and subliminal meaning.


    In Japan, respect for natural life is a very important aspect of Japanese life – it is not surprising to see animals as key characters in Japanese mythology and folktales. Hence, animals are a popular source of inspiration for the creation of irezumi. Japanese toads are symbols of prosperity, wealth, success, and good luck, which is why you may see a lot of toads holding gold coins in irezumi motifs. 

    • The Koi fFish, a Japanese fish that represents good fortune, success, and longevity, is a popular design as it appears not only in tattoos but also in many artistic and cultural aspects of Japan. 
    • Japanese foxes are deemed extremely intelligent creatures, rumored to be immortal as well as magical. Some even believe that they will continue aging until they become Tenko (celestial foxes) and ascend into the heavens, which is often featured in Irezumi’s designs. 
    • Another iconic irezumi feature is maneki neko (beckoning cat) tattoos with cute little upraised paws meant to bring in fortune, wealth, and luck. A tattoo of this cat will signify luck and good fortune for its owner. 
    • A monkey is also a common tattoo figure as this animal is revered as a mediator between gods and humans. 
    • Another extremely popular element of Japanese tattoos is the depiction of cranes, which are highly revered birds in Japan and are referred to as the "bird of happiness". Crane tattoos are symbols of longevity, as well as good fortune, and are thought to live for thousands of years. 
    • How about adding Tanuki (a Japanese raccoon dog) to your irezumi collection? These clever and mischievous little Japanese raccoon dogs are adored by Japanese people and capture people's hearts with their cute appearance and cheeky acts. 
    • Animals associated with strength, courage, and protection—like lions and tigers—are tattooed in the belief that they will guard against evil spirits and diseases.

     Thinking about a maneki-neko or saru (monkey) tattoo? Before you get inked, you might want to read a little more about the fascinating history behind them in our Ultimate Guide to Shrines in Tokyo. 

    Moreover, some mythical animals are also in favor: the Phoenix symbolizes rebirth and triumph, while the Japanese dragon expresses wisdom and strength. In Japan, the phoenix is the symbol of the imperial household and is believed to descend from heaven at times of peace. In this way, its presence is regarded as a sign of new eras, justice, and the sun. On the other hand, the Japanese dragon, also one of the most recognizable creatures in Japanese iconography, signifies profound blessing, wisdom, and strength, as legend has it that they can utilize natural elements as their power to help humankind. There are many different versions of dragons available, but in general, they often have a camel-like head, a snake-like torso, fish scales, etc. 

    The Kappa, also a mythical creature, is a monstrous bipedal turtle notorious for troublemaking and tricking people. Looking like a turtle, Kappa has a small cavity (or plate) of water on his head, which is the source of his power. The Kirin is another chimeral creature of Japanese folklore that represents a good omen and predicts a better tomorrow than you can see. You can see them as emblems for many Japanese product brands. This creature is said to have a deer-like body, a dragon’s head, fish scales, etc., but especially a set of-or-single horns. The mythical nightmare-eating creature Baku is a great talisman in Japanese culture. Baku is often described as having the head of an elephant, the claws of a tiger, the body of a bear, and the tail of an ox.

    Animal tattoo
    Koi fish
    dragon tattoo

    Portrait designs

    Additionally, humans, ranging from realistic people to heroic figures, as well as characters from literature and folklore, are also featured in Irezumi designs. Prevalent mythological subjects include Youkai (supernatural ghosts, demons, and spirits) and deities from both Buddhist and Shinto religions. Youkai Tattoos can range from deeply evil to kind of cute. There are countless options, so you may have a headache choosing your favorite. You can try reading and watching some Japanese fairytales or Ghibli movies (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, etc.) and choose a youkai tattoo that resonates with you. 

    Tengu (ghosts) and Oni (demons or troll-like creatures) are common forms of youkai. Tengu is generally imagined as looking angry and wrathful in the form of either birds or humans. Thus, they are frequently associated with themes of destruction and war. Oni (the demons and devils of Japanese art) are believed to represent disasters, disease, and other things that plague humanity. People frequently depict Oni as humanoid, but with claws, fangs, horns, and brightly colored skin. 

    Some Shinto deities that emerge in Irezumi’s designs include Fujin and his rival brother Raijin, whose combat will result in stormy weather. Fujin is the god of wind, whereas Raijin is the deity of lightning and thunder. They are both described as demon-like with a green or blue glowing complexion, but Fujin holds a tapestry as a weapon while Raijin uses drums. 

    Portrait tattoo designs of people rooted in realism often include warriors and geishas, whose likenesses were favored for their expressive faces and bright colors, respectively. Religion can be a sensitive matter, so consider carefully before adding tattoos of Shinto or Buddhist deities to your collection. It would be a blunder to overlook the Geisha tattoo design.Geisha tattoos depict one of the most famous aspects of Japanese culture—they appear in many famous fairy tales and legends and exist in real life.


    Fruits and flowers

    Furthermore, fruits and flowers are also the perfect epitome of artfulness and creativity and represent the life cycle of nature, which the Japanese respect. Sakura (or cherry blossoms) remains the most popular floral motif found in Japanese tattoos due to not only its beautiful characteristics but also its symbolic meaning of ephemerality. Peonies, another favored flower tattoo, have many meanings that range from bravery, courage, honor, good fortune, romance, and prosperity. In addition, lotus flowers and chrysanthemums, with their alluring aesthetic, are desirable tattoo figures in Japan. Like many other flowers and fauna, the fruits of Japan also carry their own special symbolism. 

    As for fruit tattoo designs, peach tattoos, like the juicy food they depict, are associated with the elimination of evil and misfortune, as well as long life. Unlike Western peaches, Japanese peaches are very large, about the size of a small grapefruit, and are usually white or light pink in color. But, beware: Japanese peaches should be peeled before eating them as their soft skin is slightly prickly.

    Japanese scenery & objects

    If animals, human figures, and flowers are not to your taste, how about adding tattoos of Japanese objects and scenery to your body art collection? The most famous is the Japanese Wave Tattoo which derives inspiration from the famed Ukiyo-e woodblock print created by Hokusai called the Great Wave off Kanagawa. The art is part of the Hokusai series, namely "Thirty-Ssix Views of Mount Fuji," and most wave tattoo designs often overlook the detail of Mount Fuji looming in the background. If you are thinking of getting this design, you should capture the beauty and majesty of both the sea and the mountain. The Torii gate, one iconic symbol of Japan, is also worth considering as a tattoo motif.

    Our last important Japanese mythological design icon is one that you can see all around Japan. Torii tattoos are visual representations of torii, gates that mark the entrance into a sacred or spiritual place. Usually, they are painted red, which is a color symbolizing protection against evil. They are typically found directly in front of Shinto shrines, but you can also find them dotted amongst Japanese landscapes, such as in forests or resting in water, such as the famous Itsukushima Shrine "floating" torii. Perhaps the most well-known torii collection is that of Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, which has a collection of over 30,000 torii gates. Getting a torii tattoo is an incredibly special piece to collect, especially if you are a spiritual person.

    Kanji characters are gaining favor as a tattoo, but make sure to ask your tattoo artist to check the meaning for you. Don't get a tattoo you'll regret... Learn Japanese online or take Japanese lessons with our easily accessible and affordable lessons: Guide to Taking Online Japanese Lessons with Japan Switch

    We hope you get some inspiration for your irezumi from this article and may consider them for your future body art.

    Flower tattoo

    Irezumi Tattoos in Modern Japan

    Today, Japanese and non-Japanese tattoo artists alike often look to traditional Irezumi for inspiration. Though the practice has been legal in Japan since 1948, it is still somewhat taboo. Thus, finding a tattoo shop in the country can sometimes be challenging. As I mentioned previously Additionally, inked individuals are often prohibited from entering some public places, like bathhouses, hot springs, and gyms (though some of these spaces allow entry if the tattoos are concealed).

    Nevertheless, tattoos have proven popular among Japan's younger generations. While many embrace contemporary tools like electric needles, some wish to preserve ancient approaches like Tebori, or hand-tattooing. These pieces are created using a rod made of either metal or wood and can take considerably longer time to render than those made with more modern techniques. To many tattoo enthusiasts and artists, however, preserving the ancient craft is well worth the extra effort. Often, many ink artists opt to combine the old with the new to create pieces that range from playful prints and patterns to delicate works of art. Regardless of their specific style, these Japanese-inspired tattoos have one thing in common: roots in Irezumi, or traditional Japanese tattooing.

    Irezumi as Japanese Art

    Tattoo parlors in Tokyo

    In spite of the fact that tattooing is largely regarded as an underground activity in Japan, Japanese tattoo artists have persevered in their passions and have risen to international recognition for their skills and art. It is the endurance and dedication of these tattoo artists that maintains Japanese tattooing as a genre of art through thick and thin. Irezumi is now well-known worldwide for its artistry, lineage, historical symbolism, and intricate design. In Tokyo, there are some tattoo museums such as the Yokohama Tattoo Museum and Bunshin Tattoo Museum that are worth a drop-by to nurture inspiration for your irezumi design. With the expectation of increasing tattooed tourists, people are hoping discrimination against tattooed people will fade away into insignificance.

    Tattoos influence Japanese contemporary art

    The meanings that Japanese tattoos hold and convey are seemingly instrumental in the development of contemporary art. For instance, the Japanese female artist Fumie Sasabuche cultivated the inspiration for her works from the interplay between the traditional Japanese tattoo motifs of the Yakuza and the aesthetic impulses of Western mass culture. Irezumi's influence extends beyond the borders of Japanese contemporary art and is felt all over the world. Foreign artists, such as sculptor Enrique Marty and Spanish concept artist Santiago Sierra, question the societal effects and contributions of yakuza tattoos. The list goes on – Irezumi has influenced contemporary art in one way or another, be it domestically or internationally.

    Tattoo in Jaoan_Tattoo in Art

    A Quick Guide to Getting a Tattoo in Japan

    First, choose your tattoo studio and artist.

    It’s a huge decision to get a tattoo in Japan, considering this is a life-long commitment and a way to express yourself! Deep research to outline your dream tattoo is a must, and you can simply look up inspiration from various sources, most popularly on Instagram or places like Redditthe Internet. Tattoo studios now have their own social media accounts where they showcase their previous work and tattoo rooms, so you can check them out and see which one appeals to you. You should also pay attention to the specialty of the tattoo artist—if you want a delicate tattoo, look for tattooists who make fine lines and subtle gradients, whereas if you want colorful ones, look for artists who fancy making vibrant and colorful designs. Most importantly, you should make sure that the tattoo service you are using is reliable by connecting with previous clients or carefully reading the feedback and reviews.

    Because Japanese society has yet to completely welcome tattoos as an art form and a way of life, the majority of tattoo parlors in Japan are hidden in private studios and can only be visited with appointments in advance. Open and walk-in tattoo studios also operate in a similar manner where appointments and deposits are preferred. The increasing number of foreigners who would want to get an authentic Japanese tattoo right in Japan has led to the application of English-speaking services in some tattoo studios.

    So, how much does getting a tattoo in Japan cost, and how long will it take to finish one? We have summarized as below:

    Tattoo size


    Session count

    500-yen coin size

    6,000–10,000 yen

    1 session

    10 x 10 cm.

    20,000-30,000 yen

    1-3 sessions 

    A4 size

    30,000-50,000 yen

    1-2 sessions

    Postcard size

    60,000-90,000 yen

    1–5 sessions

    A large tattoo

    From 80,000 yen (7000-15,000 yen/hour)

    1–10 sessions, depending on the size of the tattoo and the tattoo artist

    You will be required by some studios and tattoo artists to pay a refundable 10,000 yen to 13,000 yen as the payment to schedule an appointment or to start a custom-designed tattoo concept. Deposits are sometimes not returned if you cancel your scheduled tattoo without informing the studio or the tattoo artist in advance. These deposits however can be deducted from your final payable amount. Additional costs may be incurred depending on the complexity of the design and pattern of the tattoo. Other credible tattoo artists who are experts in the field would also charge an additional 10% on top of the published rate based on the tattoo artist's expertise, so the actual cost might be a tad bit higher. It is best to check in advance with your tattoo artist before sealing the deal.

    In general, we recommend communicating with a studio (or studios, if you’re shopping around) to ask for a price quote and how much time it will take. If it can’t be finished in one session, ask how many times you’ll need to visit and how much time you’ll have to wait between each visit. If you’re looking to brush up on your Japanese speaking from overseas, Japan Switch offers affordable online Japanese lessons to help you learn to communicate from the comfort of your own home! Learn Japanese in your favorite PJ’s with a coffee!

    Tattoo in Japan_Tattoo drawing 3

    Second, get a tattoo!

    Contact the tattoo studio.

    Before getting a tattoo, it is important to keep yourself in the correct physical health and mindset for the tattoo. After all, a tattoo will probably grow with you during your life journey, so you will have concerns about whether you 100% want that design on your preferred body part. You should contact the tattoo parlor that you have chosen for booking, asking for information about payment policies and consulting about your imagined tattoo. 

    Once you’ve found an artist or studio that feels right, get in contact through their preferred means of communication, which could range from a form on their website to a phone call or a walk-in. But don’t just stop by without warning unless their website states they accept walk-ins! If you arrive unannounced, the artist may be in the middle of a session and unable to give you the time of day; it doesn’t make a great first impression. In short:  

    • Email or call the studio instead. 
    • Have a good idea of what you want and be sure to give the artists information like preferred dates and desired size of the tattoo so they can figure out how long they’ll need and if they have time. 
    • Then, try your best to arrive on time for your appointment, since some studios will forfeit your deposit fee if you show up late or do not show up at all without prior notice.

    Here are some helpful vocabulary and phrases to make your communication with the parlor easier!

    eep yourself in the correct physical health and mindset for the tattoo. After all, a tattoo will probably grow with you during your life journey, so you will have concerns about whether you 100% want that design on your preferred body part. You should contact the tattoo parlor that you have chosen for booking, asking for information about payment policies and consulting about your imagined tattoo. 

    Once you’ve found an artist or studio that feels right, get in contact through their preferred means of communication, which could range from a form on their website to a phone call or a walk-in. But don’t just stop by without warning unless their website states they accept walk-ins! If you arrive unannounced, the artist may be in the middle of a session and unable to give you the time of day; it doesn’t make a great first impression. In short:  

    • Email or call the studio instead. 
    • Have a good idea of what you want and be sure to give the artists information like preferred dates and desired size of the tattoo so they can figure out how long they’ll need and if they have time. 
    • Then, try your best to arrive on time for your appointment, since some studios will forfeit your deposit fee if you show up late or do not show up at all without prior notice.

    Here are some helpful vocabulary and phrases to make your communication with the parlor easier!





    Yoyaku dekimasuka?


    Can I book an appointment?


    Kono dezain onegaishimasu 

    Can I get this design please?



    Japanese design tattoos 


    Afutaa kea wa arimasu ka?

    Do you offer aftercare products?



    Ikkai ijou ga arimasu ka? 

    Do I need to visit more than once?




    Dono gurai jikan wo kakarimasu ka?

    How long will it take?



    Iikura ni narimasu ka?

    How much does it cost?



    Tattoo artist




    Tattooing of fine lines or of hair on tattooed figures.



    Outlining, the outline of a tattoo.



    "Yo" (Western) tattooing The Japanese-English slang term for tattooing done with the machine is "tattoo."



    Arm tattoo, to the wrist


    Tattoo in Japan_Tattoo drawing 2

    Our recommendations for studios to get a tattoo in Tokyo

    1.Tattoo of the Three Tide

    Three Tides Tattoo, one of the first Western-style establishments to open in Japan, is world-renowned and talked about in a number of art, culture, and tattoo-centric publications. Three Tides’s long history contributed to its stand as a pinnacle of excellence in the tattoo community. Moreover, this tattoo parlor has a number of artists to choose from at Three Tides, plus a selection of rotating guest artists hailing from around the globe. You can also visit the online gallery on the shop’s site to view the artists’ work.

    Price: Coin-sized designs from 10,000, postcard-sized from 50,000, larger sizes by the hour (12,000/hour).

    Walk-ins are welcome

    3-24-2 Jingumae Shibuya-KU Tokyo, Japan 150-0001

    Contact: http://www.threetidestattoo.com/aboutus

    Shibuya Station is the nearest train station: Shibuya.


    Osakabe represents a return to form for true old-school tattooing. These aren’t your typical neotrad tattoos; they’re proper Sailor Jerry-Esque classic American tattoos, with a Japanese twist. Taking the American style of tattooing from decades past—the kinds of tattoos we associate with sailors and bare-knuckle boxers—and applying that style of tattooing to Japanese designs like geisha, maneki neko, and even yokai, is a stroke of genius. The styles and influences blend so seamlessly,which is super satisfying to the eyes.

    Consultation is required for pricing.

    Walk-ins are welcome.

    Location: 2-10 Setagaya-ku Kitazawa, Tokyo

    Contact: https://www.instagram.com/osakabe/

    Shimo-Kitazawa Station is the nearest train station.

    3.Tattoo: Red Bunny Tattoo

    This spacious studio emphasizes quality and originality and has four artists on hand—this is fairly unusual since most Japanese studios are run by single artists and require appointments, but Red Bunny Tattoo offers same-day service. This place suggests tattoos of Standard dragons and yokai (monsters) which have become more popular recently. They claim that their customers can bring a picture and they will create a design for you. Tourists sometimes get their travel memories 'inked.’

    Price: Coin-sized designs from 10,000, postcard-sized from 50,000, larger sizes by the hour (12,000/hour).

    Walk-ins are welcome.

    3F, 2-8-1 Kichijoji-Honcho, Musashino-shi, Musashino-shi, Tokyo

    Contact: www.red-bunny.com

    Station Kichijoji (Chuo, Sobu, and Keio Inokashira lines)

    4. Oh, Shi Ryu Doh!

    For those looking for distinctive, artistic tattoos or refined Asian-style pieces, this place is highly recommended. The artist, Ron, is well-traveled and enjoys bringing together different cultures at his studio, so Shi Ryu Doh attracts a cosmopolitan group of customers. He’ll lead you through the entire process, which includes deciding on an image, size, theme, and so on, and often comes up with a design as early as the following day. In general, Japanese tattoo artists like to take their time with design and preparations, so same-day inking is rare. The studio is located on a quiet backstreet in Jiyugaoka and the signage is not very visible, so give yourself a little extra time in case you can’t find it immediately.

    Price: Prices vary by design and size. from 32,000.

    Additional information: An appointment is required. English is the language of instruction.

    Address: 2-45-8 Okusawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

    Contact: Shiryudoh.jp

    Jiyugaoka Station (Tokyu Toyoko line), Midorigaoka Station (Tokyu Oimachi line) are the nearest train stations.

    Tattoo studios may not be the only places you would like to drop by in Tokyo. Check out Ultimate Guide to Visiting Shrines in Tokyo or Ultimate Guide to Japanese Festivals 

    After getting a tattoo in Japan,

    You should be careful in order for your tattoo to heal quickly and properly. If you have to remove the initial wrap, do so in a sterile or clean environment. When cleaning your tattoo, you should sanitize your hands, and clean the tattoo gently and patiently with mild soap, then clean it with soft towels. After cleaning, apply a thin layer of tattoo aftercare cream. 

    Unfortunately, there are no special tattoo aftercare cream brands you can easily get in Japan, so you can bring with you Bepanthen or Aquaphor with you. If you don’t have either, you can get a non-fragrant healing lotion at Family Mart or any drugstore, such as Urea Cream from Shiseido. 

    Please remember to wear clothing that is comfortable, clean, and loose-fitting while your tattoo heals. During the healing process, you should avoid heavy workouts or exercises that stress the newly tattooed body parts, swimming in fresh or chlorinated water, or exposing the tattoos to direct sunlight. 

    It is also best to sanitize your hands before touching the tattoo, or at least try not to touch it or have strong physical contact with it. If you feel pain or unwanted reactions to the tattoo, call a doctor and get an appointment immediately. The healing process takes approximately 10 days to a month to heal, depending on the person, so be patient and moisturize your tattoo consistently.

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    How to enjoy Japan with a tattoo

    Although tattoos in Japan are gaining recognition as fashion statements, there are still chances that you may be denied access to a hot spring, pool, or even public beaches. Here are some tips to enjoy your trip to Japan with your tattoos to your heart’s content!

    Tattoo concealment

    For small-sized or relatively tiny tattoos, you can simply cover them with a bandage or plaster, which is normally allowed. But you can call the locations and check ahead to avoid any possible problems. For large tattoos, some bathhouses and hot spring premises have started offering tattoo covering "patches" to attend to their customers who are tattoo lovers, or you can always prepare yourselves by buying "tattoo covers". Tattoo covers are waterproof stickers that guarantee to cover up your offending body art for a long period of time. We'd like to recommend three of the most popular types!

    a. Aqua Tattoo Cover Aqua

    Tattoo Cover Aqua is one popular choice to effectively hide your "offensive" ink while relaxing in an onsen. Tattoo Cover Aqua contains a set of four postcard-sized sheets, each in a different skin shade, and features strong resistance against water and body sweat, and promises no ink color loss or transfer. Printed using an industry-first water-pressure technique, Tattoo Cover Aqua is advertised as being able to conceal not only body art but also stretch marks, bruises, and other markings on the skin. Tattoo Cover AQUA works like a temporary tattoo – it will be dampened with a wet tissue or cloth and pasted to your body.

    Price: 2030 yen with tax (10 sheets/package)

    b. CAXEL is a medical-grade film.

    CaxEL, a famous brand that produces tattoo covers, has an ultrathin medical-grade film used to cover tattoos, which is available in 2 skin shades and several different shapes to cater to different needs. CaxEL has both sticker and film types, but their film tattoo covers are unique – they are exceptionally thin, breathable, and natural. Their features allow them to cover you comfortably yet efficiently.


    M size: 1296 yen with tax (5 sheets/package)

    L size-1620 yen with tax (5 sheets/package)

    c. Foundation tapes

    Last but not least, foundation tapes are also a popular option for tattoo covering in Japan due to their strong sticking power and wide range of available matching skin shades. They are even claimed to be difficult to peel off even after several days and sit on the skin like nothing. The application process is similar to using a bandage, which is very easy and convenient.

    Price: 2376 yen including tax (12 sheets/package).


    Tattoo in Japan_large size tattoo

    Asking your hotels, intended places, etc. about tattoos. 

    If you are still unsure, calling the intended locations, such as staying with a host family or Air BnB, and especially bathhouses, to inquire about your tattoos in Japan is the best option to avoid disrespecting any etiquettes or causing an unwanted fuss.The phone number or email will be available on their website, so if you are not confident with your Japanese speaking skills, you can use email for communication.

    Here are some Japanese phrases that you can use:

    Tatuu wa daijobu desu ka?

    Are tattoos OK?


    Hairemasu ka, tattoo ari no gaikokujin?

    I’m a foreigner with a tattoo. Is it OK to enter?


    Totemo chiisai tatuu ga arimasu. Daijobu desu ka?

    I have a very small tattoo. Is it OK?


    Ookii tatuu ga arimasu. Daijobu desu ka?

    I have a large tattoo. Is it OK?


    Tatuu no haitta gaikokujin desu ga, onsen ni hairemasu Ka? 

    I’m a foreigner with a tattoo. Can I use your onsen?

    Private and public areas

    Another easy yet luxurious option is to go to private or exclusive premises such as kashikiri-buro (private baths), which are available at larger onsen and many ryokan (Japanese inn). Moreover, if you are shy and would rather not bathe with strangers, private baths should be more suitable for you. Depending on the place, private baths are bookable upon check-in, in advance or whenever available and often cost extra money.

    1. Use Google Translate or DeepL to avoid unwanted misunderstandings.

    Traveling to Japan with tattoos and a language barrier may cause you some trouble. Having access to Wi-Fi and using Google Translation or DeepL to communicate can help both you and the staff translate any misleading or confusing situations regarding your tattoos in Japan.

    1. Tattoo-friendly locations

    Some places in Japan happily welcome tattooed tourists. For those with obvious and huge tattoos that are impossible to cover or those who are not fond of hiding their body art, do not worry because there are some sites that provide comprehensive lists of tattoo-friendly onsen and sento.

    Link: https://tattoo-friendly.jp/


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    Tattoo removal

    If all the cons tattoos bring you outweigh the possible pros, you may unfortunately have to resort to getting your body art removed. There are several ways to approach tattoo removal: laser removal, surgical excision, and dermabrasion. In any case, tattoo removal will be efficient, but in some cases, tattoo removal will be bothersome. For example, older tattoos, stick-and-poke tattoos, or tattoos of simple colors like black, brown, etc., are easier to remove. As a matter of fact, large and more colorful tattoos will typically take longer time and more effort to get off. Some tattoo removal procedures may irritate your skin if you have darker skin or skin-related health conditions – it is best to consult with the clinic before the procedure!

    Types of tattoo removal

    When it comes to picking the tattoo removal option, cost, scarring risk, effectiveness, and time commitment are important factors that need to be taken into consideration. Here’s a quick look at how different types of tattoo removal compare to each other, followed by a more in-depth look at each.


    Average cost



    Scarring risk

    Laser removal

    30,000–60,000 yen for each tattoo

    7-10 sessions 

    With proper aftercare, the tattoo will be significantly lighter, but may not completely disappear.


    Surgical removal

    100,000–200,000 yen for each tattoo

    7-10 sessions

    Though larger tattoos may require more time, the tattoo will be completely removed.



    100,000–200,000 yen for each tattoo

    1-3 sessions

    Differs from person to person

    Differs from person to person

    Tattoo cover

    Laser hair removal

    Most experts consider laser removal to be the most successful and cost-effective way to remove tattoos. Laser tattoo removal provides the convenience of removing unwanted tattoos without undergoing more invasive methods like surgery or dermabrasion, but unfortunately, lasers don’t completely remove tattoos. Instead, they significantly lighten or fade it, so it’s much less noticeable. 

    Today, most tattoos are removed with a Q-switched laser, which sends out energy in one strong pulse. This pulse of energy heats up the ink in your skin to dissolve it. You’ll need to receive a number of laser treatments over several weeks or longer to remove your tattoo. Older or less complex tattoos will require fewer sessions, while newer or more complex tattoos will require more. In Japan, people also favor Picosure lasers. Typically, conventional Q-switched lasers can only eliminate large ink particles, but the PicoSure laser can destroy smaller ink particles in half the number of sessions of conventional ones. In general, it takes about 7 to 10 sessions, with a 6-week rest in between.

    Laser tattoo removal typically carries a lower risk of scarring than other removal options. Just be sure not to pick at the area as it heals, as this can increase your risk of scarring.

    Surgical removal 

    Surgical removal, also called excision tattoo removal, involves cutting off tattooed skin and stitching the remaining skin back together. It’s the most invasive method of tattoo removal, but it's also the only guaranteed way to completely remove a tattoo. It’s often less expensive than laser removal, but it will always leave a scar. As a result, it’s usually only done on smaller tattoos.

    Surgical excision is usually done in a plastic surgery office. You’ll be given a local anesthetic before the surgeon uses a sharpscalpel to cut away the tattooed skin. Then, they’ll stitch the remaining skin back together. The procedure itself can take a couple of hours, depending on the size of the tattoo. The healing process will last for several weeks. During this time, you’ll want to apply the prescribed or recommended ointment for several days to help heal your skin and avoid the risk of infection. Keep the site clean and out of the sun for at least 2 weeks, and follow your surgeon’s aftercare instructions.


    Dermabrasion involves using a sanding device to remove layers of skin to allow ink to leach out. Its effectiveness varies widely from person to person, making it a less popular option. You’ll want to skip dermabrasion if you have very sensitive skin or a skin condition like eczema. If you take blood thinners, you may also have a higher risk of experiencing bleeding, bruising, and changes in your skin color following the procedure. People with darker skin may also have a greater risk of skin pigment changes.

    During a typical dermabrasion session, a clinician will administer a local anesthetic to reduce any pain. They’ll use a high-speed rotating abrasive device that sands off the top layers of the skin to let tattoo ink escape. Usually, this is done during one procedure at a cosmetic surgeon’s office. The length of time the procedure takes depends on the size and color of your tattoo. Larger tattoos with many colors may take more than an hour to treat.

    Concluding remarks

    After all, getting a tattoo in Japan will be a unique experience – the meaningful design, the memory attached to it, and the journey of getting the tattoo. We hope our article will guide you through what you need and demystify the process of getting a tattoo in Japan. Good luck! We look forward to seeing your new tattoo!


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