In Japan, Getting A Tattoo Means You Can Never Go Home

At last night's launch event for Final Fantasy XIII, Square Enix boss Yoichi Wada showed up with a Fal'cie symbol from the game tattooed on his hand. He tweeted that he "probably" would not be able to return to Japan.

Wada, of course, was being lighthearted. The tattoo, of course, is fake. It appears in the game, and this is a publicity stunt. It is worth noting that there has been a bizarre thread of sorts in which game execs have gotten game titles tattooed on their bodies. Actually, it's not really that big of a trend. As far as Kotaku can tell, Wada is the second to do this. The first is former Microsoft exec Peter Moore who apparently got Halo 2 and its release date tattooed on his arm. Later, he got what was supposed to be a Grand Theft Auto IV tattoo emblazoned on his bicep in white and black.

Moore later joked how upset his wife was about his decision. But if Wada actually did get a visible tattoo on his hand, he'd have more to worry about than Mrs. Wada.

During the 20th century, tattoos have meant one thing in Japan: organized crime. They are the mark of the yakuza. The intricate full body tattoos are not only expensive and artistic, but they also are dangerous, as the way the ink is inserted under the skin used makes it impossible for the skin to breath, turning the tattooed flesh clammy even in the dog days of summer. These tattoos show that the individual has konjyou, or "guts". The image of tattooed yakuza is both striking and frightening, while at the same time being oddly beautiful.

Since the past ten years or so, tattoos have taken on a different meaning for Japanese youth. They're fashion. The tattoos that some twenty-something year-old guy or girl gets are drastically different from the tattoos gangsters get. The fashionable tattoos are decorative in the Western sense and stylistically very similar.

That still has not stopped public bathhouses, swimming pools and hot springs from turning away individuals with tattoos. The rationale is that traditionally only yakuza have inked their bodies, and they obviously do not want any trouble that could arisen. Discerning between yakuza tattoos and fashion tattoos could lead to awkward situations — hence why the blanket ban still remains in many places.

This carries over to the business world, where younger gangsters working in white collar crime do not even get tattoos. And even those who do have tattoos make sure that they are hidden under shirt sleeves and not displayed openly like this Final Fantasy Fal'cie tattoo.

When Wada talks about not being able to go home, joking or not, he means it.

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    Oh I get it, he's like drawing a humorous parallel between the Yakuza and L'cie. Chortle chortle chortle.

    After spending 18 months in Japan early last decade I can confidently say that there is a much more relaxed attitude towards tattooing now than there may have been even a decade earlier. Tattoo shops are as blase (if physically smaller, go uber-rent) as western shops, and plenty of younger Japanese folks are treating tattooing the same way as we do over here.
    Plenty of bathhouses are actually fine with tattoos, especially the smaller local/suburban ones, possibly because there are a few Yakuza living in the area and everyone likes a bath? Spotted one in the very first place I visited.
    These are my own observations, let me know if you've had any different experiences.

    Would have been funny if he'd gotten one saying "Imperial Hot".

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