by

Most people know that Japanese culture generally frowns upon tattoos. Historically, tattoos have been a sign of the yakuza in Japan, so if you whip off your clothes to jump into an onsen and an “I ♥ Mom” tattoo is on your chest, you’ll probably get a few odd glances (or possibly kicked out altogether).

But that attitude is beginning to change very gradually. Not only are yakuza much, much more discrete nowadays about overt signs like tattoos and sliced pinkies, but more and more non-yakuza are getting inked in Japan.

yakuza-tattoo

Photo by Ari Helminen

A dying breed

I was curious if the same was true for piercings. Generally, I think that piercings aren’t viewed as harshly as tattoos. You can take them out in situations when they might be inappropriate, and in most cases if you leave them out for a while, they’ll heal up.

How do the Japanese view piercings? Is that view changing at all? Let’s find out!

The Numbers

A recent poll published on What Japan Thinks showed that the overwhelming majority of people polled have no piercings whatsoever. A whopping 85.3% of people polled indicated that they have no piercings at the moment, leaving only a measly 14.7% with piercings.

There are a few qualifications to those numbers: some of the people polled (9.7%) used to have a piercing, and others (8.9%) want to get one.

How does that stack up against people in other countries like say, the US? One report I found, Tattoos and body piercings in the United States: A national data set, claimed that 35% of people surveyed had a piercing of any kind, obviously a much higher number than you’ll find in Japan.

The Factors

Even if Japan lags behind the US in terms of piercings, it’s clear that piercings aren’t completely unheard of in Japan; but that’s not to say that all piercings are seen as acceptable all of the time. There are a lot of variables to this equation.

Unsurprisingly, more younger people have piercings than older people. I hesitate to make a blanket statement, but in almost every culture that I can think of, younger people embrace body modification much more than older generations.

Piercings are often forbidden in schools. Considering that most schools in Japan have all kinds of other restrictions on appearance (uniforms and the like), this shouldn’t be completely unexpected. And in the workplace, piercings are often seen as unprofessional.

japanese-man-piercings

Urban areas are usually more accepting of piercings than rural areas—it’s likely that nobody will bat an eye at your lip ring in Harajuku but out in the boonies, you run the risk of little old ladies throwing disapproving looks your way.

Where your piercing is on your body matters too. Ear lobe piercings, like in the West, are fairly normal for girls and women. Other locations on the body, however, generally aren’t as accepted. (Gender can matter too.)

Of course, being a foreigner as opposed to a native Japanese person changes the equation a bit too. I think it’s safe to say that most Japanese people have a slightly different set of expectations for expatriates than they do native Japanese people.

In short, there’s no one right answer to how people in Japan view body piercings; Japan isn’t as homogenous as you might think and, in the eyes of a lot of people, not all piercings were created equal.

Have your body piercings been an issue in Japan? Be sure to share your story with us!


Wallpapers!

Our amazing illustrator Aya has provided us with some desktop backgrounds of the header image. Enjoy!

1280×800
2560×1440

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I have no piercings, not even in my ears. I’m not a huge fan of them, but of course I accept people who have some. I just don’t like them on myself! ^^;
    I also have no tatoos.
    Thus, I’ve never had any problems here in Japan.

    Actually I’ve never really thought about it until I read this blog post, but now that you mentioned it I can’t remember that I EVER saw a Japanese person with body piercings at ALL!!! Only on TV, but never in real life.

    I’ve seen a lot of crazy fashion, but I can’t remember any piercings to be honest.

  • bluhacker

    I got my ears pierced two days ago! Its interesting how not as many people have their ears/body pierced in Japan…

  • JoJocelyn

    Hmmm, I wonder if of the Japanese getting piercings recently if people would opt for more traditional (ear) or noticeable body piercings, or something more discreet like a dermal that can be hidden under clothing or easily and un-awkwardly covered by an ace bandage like a tattoo?

    I always felt bad that one of our Japanese exchange students got beautiful earrings from our dean as a gift and she couldn’t wear them. Although she did joke we should pierce her ears Parent Trap Style

  • CHLORIEUS

    Piercings are often viewed as rebelious, punk or dangerous AND THIS IS IN THE WESTERN WORLD.

    My best friend has 3 piercings (ear, nose, lip) and people generally assume she isn’t the nice girl she actually is. I don’t think it’s a surprise that young people like tattoo’s more than old(er) people though I expected more people to have piercings in Japan.

  • Viet’s secret brother

    Conclusion: Hashi will get a piercing because Koichi will not mind. Am I right?

  • Xaromir

    Totally OT, but:
    You guys should do a “pat-your-own-back” special article on your story headers some day. Even when i’m not interested in a story, i usually come to visit to look at the header, sometimes i actually make them my desktop wallpaper, like the maneki neko one. <3 They are really nice.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Maybe I already have piercings, just not where Koichi can see them . . .

  • pinkbarry

    I have a pair of pierced butt cheeks which people seem to react with horror to whenever I bear them on the subway. Total prudes.

  • Ryushi Lindsay

    The last couple times I was over there (2008 and 2009 I think) flesh tunnels and plugs were all the rage amongst the “urban” youth. Has that gone out of fashion then?

  • Datte baru

    In my country , it’s weird to see a girl without piecing , men tend to and it’s quite normal nowadays

  • Datte baru

    Awesome ! :D

  • Datte baru

    I think he will notice wherever you put them , Just don’t get slapped !

  • Spiky Mikey

    My wife is Japanese and has 2 nose studs, while we were living there she was flat out told in job interviews that she’d never get a job in Japan … that was of course until a foreign owned company employed her. I never wore my 4 earrings to the high schools I worked at as it just was a no-go. I saw piercings the same way as showing my tattoos – I was always sick on swimming day for example. What it comes down to is that Japan is a conservative place – its like Australia in 1950 (but also 2250 at the same time)

  • Skai

    Really? I was just going to ask how extreme plugs would be looked down upon. I’ve always wanted to live in Japan all my life, no plans soon or anything, but eventually, but I also never want to have to sew up my ears… They’re actually more important to me than just a trend or appearance thing. haha

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    We’re very lucky to have Aya working for us :D

  • DAVIDPD

    I never had the urge to commit to a piercing. Maybe I never will.

  • legendofleo

    I have dated two Japanese girls and both had belly button piercings!

  • Lee Hericks

    Tons of high school students pierce themselves because tattoo and piercing parlors are not as available in Japan as in other countries. I’ve seen tons of piercings in Tokyo these days and I’m sure these people are not the people being surveyed.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I’m not sure. I think in bigger cities, especially in Tokyo you’ll still find them.
    I live in the countryside and there are really NO people at all with piercings.
    Also the fashion is less … “extreme” than in Tokyo or Osaka for example.

    Among teenagers you won’t find it as most schools don’t allow piercings!

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Yes, normal ear piercings are common, but body piercings especially where you can see them (= face) aren’t so common.

    Japanese fashin doesn’t show the belly, so they can hide their belly piercing well. Maybe that’s why they had it there. Of course, that’s just my theory.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    It’s really sad, but that’s still the reality.
    Same goes for tatoos and dyed hair.
    The only exception are certain fashion or music stores.

  • Melting Pot

    “Japan isn’t as homogenous as you might think ”
    Well, no duh.

    Seriously, though, the myth of Japan-as-homogenous-society is an especially stupid and pernicious one. Japan has never been and will never be “mono-ethnic.” The Japanese as we know them were foreign invaders who displaced aboriginal peoples. Korean, Chinese and even Indian immigrants comprised major components of Japanese society for centuries – Japan was Confucian before it was Buddhist, and much of its ancient society was explicitly modeled on Chinese patterns of government and education.
    That’s not even getting into the gradual cultural diffusion that has happened over the years – even during “Sakoku” seclusion, the island nation was slowly taking in European ideas and technology, and adapting it to their needs. Japan, even when it tries to close its doors, just plain can’t quit “gaikoku.”

    Which brings us back to the statement, “Japan isn’t as homogenous as you might think.”
    Well, considering that Japan as we know it wouldn’t even exist without vast cultural diversity, how homogenous could anyone POSSIBLY think Japan is without falling into a trap of “Japan-for-the-Japanese”? It’s just a massive understatement. Tofugu already presents Japan as a diverse culture – why not go the full nine and portray Japan accurately as multi-ethnic melting pot it is?
    Because, see, Japan as monoculture is a subtly racist idea, because it discredits all the vast contributions non-Japanese people have been making to this country for centuries. It portrays Japan as a Japan-for-the-Japanese and everyone-else-is-foreign, the very core of racism as it exists in Japan. “We’re all Japanese” implies that everything Japan built was done solely by them on their own – it wasn’t. And people KNOW that, but by repeating the myth of Japan’s homogeneity, people easily forget how much they owe to “gaikoku.”

  • Christine Gris

    I’ve been living in Japan now for two months, and I’ve gotten a lot of comments from strangers (at bars, from shop staff etc) about my snakebites, but never directly negative ones! The first thing they say is: 痛くないの??, which I also will get asked in any other country. I will however, take out my piercings for my job interview tomorrow, just in case :)

  • Dave k

    I have my ear pierced, and the people I went to college with, and photographers I worked with seemed to think it was cool. I never really got any negative feedback, but I’m pretty oblivious so maybe people were giving it and I just wasn’t paying attention…

  • sora_1326

    I don’t really remember but I think that someone told me that Japanese boys pierce only their left ear. If they have piercings on the right ear, they show that are interested in boys… Something like that???

    I wish I could remember how someone explained that to me and be sure if it’s a lie or not =___=;;

  • erika quinonez

    My best two best friends are Japanese exchange students and they both have piercings. On the ears only. My best guy friend has both his ear lobes pierced and my best girlfriend has many holes in each ear. At least 3 or 4 in each ear. Both of them say its really normal in Japan :)

  • Flora

    I HATED having my ears pierced. I got them done as a baby & was made to wear earrings until I was 8, when I finally put my foot down and refused to wear them for another second. I sometimes think about getting a tattoo, but I will never get another thing pierced.

  • Jacinda

    I went to a department shop in Nagoya (outskirts – near Issha for anyone who knows the area) where you could buy ear piercing kits (like the guns pre-loaded with earrings) which I found quite scary. But I also hung out with some Japanese people who were into heavy metal and tattoos – which meant I came across more of the body mods crowds. Still it wasn’t that out there. At the tattoo studio in Osu the receptionist had the most amazing back tattoo and I added her onto Myspace (hey, it was 2007 after all!) but she didn’t even have any pictures available of it. I’d say its definitely considered a much more private thing than it’s considered in here in the West.

  • Sarah

    I have a bridge piercing, which is in the skin between my eyes. Mine looks a lot tidier than the one shown in this article though!
    Anyways, I have not heard anything negative about it, but I think it is offset by the fact that I dress fairly conservatively and have a love for Hello Kitty. When I am at work (teaching English in a Japanese high school) I wear glasses, which kind of hides it, but I have had students ask me about it still. When asked I usually get the “Did that hurt?” followed by “Is it through the bone?”, a little and no by the way. Anyways, I haven`t had any issues but I am aware of how it makes people look at me a little differently. I am friendly and offer a smile though and that usually seems to be enough to overcome any preconceptions. It would probably be different if I was into a grunge/goth kind of look rather than dress pants/blouses/ and colourful dresses.

  • EvieTee

    I have 8 ear piercings. Two on my top left ear and three on each of the lower lobes. I have to take them out for school (I work at JHS and Elementary in one of the most rural prefectures in Japan) but I wear them at enkais and at the weekends. Nothing has ever been mentioned then but I’ve had students ask about them as you can see the holes pretty clearly. They are always amazed and think it’s very cool… A few of my male sannensei students have pierced ears actually but they can’t wear them for school, I just see them sticking paper clips threw them at lunch. It’s certainly not as common as in the West but I don’t think it is super strange. I actually think the main reason students don’t have piercings is simply because of the school dress code. I think they certainly would otherwise.

  • HalfNote5

    That is true in parts of the USA, too, I know for a fact. Or at least, it was 15 years ago. But I don’t think people pay too much attention to it anymore.

  • http://fluent-language.blogspot.com/ Kayla C.

    Maybe I should start learning Japanese. I have no piercings and no intention of ever getting one, even in my ears (I’m a young woman so I *could* get earrings… but no.)

  • waffle-king

    When i first came over to Japan, i had 2piercings in my tongue, and was told by my trainer that i could take them out, or i could hop back on the plane and head back to Milwaukee…i later found out he was being a dick. The company generally doesn’t make an issue of tongue piercings unless your speaking style makes them obvious and students complain.

    That being said, there is a no visible piercings policy at NOVA (where i work), which sucks. i’ve got to keep my retainer for my septum piercing up, and always have to wear long sleeves so the students don’t see the bar in my left arm (used to have one in the right, also, but it’s a long story).

    i’m friends with a chap who runs a mod shop here, full on stuff like microdermal implants and split tongues, along with your run-of-the-mill piercings. He’s had trouble with the cops in the past, and a number of shops got shut down when the police started to get serious on the “modifications can only be performed by medical professionals” law that’s been ignored by everywhere but Osaka for like ever. Apparently the law’s been changed, or modified, and there’s a licensing-type thing going on (i’m not 100% certain, to be honest). At any rate, he gets to have his storefront, instead of operating on the DL out of his apartment. A lot of his long-term customers are also friends of mine, and from what i gather, they’re pretty much screwed when it comes to working any kind of normal job, though with the amount of work some of them have had done, i imagine it’d be the same story about anywhere. And so it goes.

    Saa…i really want a split tongue.

  • DatGrl

    I remember when I used to think trolling was funny…then I graduated high school.

  • Bianka

    I’ve been to Tokyo 2 years ago, and as far as I remember you could see a lot of facial piercings in harajuku, rarely elsewhere. And even though you said that ear piercing is fairly normal for girls, more common are so called ヤリング(yaringu), which are basicly ear clips – the same look, no holes.

  • Mokomoko

    Why is it sad? Just take the piercings out. They wouldn’t be appropriate in the west either.

  • Rohini Ns

    In my country parents get their child’s ear pierced to help ward off evil. Its called karna vedha in sanskrit.

  • Jessica

    I have got my tongue, nose, upper ears all pierced and I have also got 25 mm stretchers; Although every younger Japanese person I’ve met or have walked by have admired and were amazed by my piercings, most of the older generations of Japanese people disapproved of my piercings, they’d give me looks, it was quite obvious to me whether they liked it or not.

    There was other older or middle-aged Japanese people who liked and complimented me about them. I really do think it really just depends on the type of person you are dealing with, personally I can always tell whether one would be accepting of self-expressionism with body modification or not. It is like every other culture and country really.

    And remember, everyone to their own. :)

    Coming from a 16 year old.

  • jazz

    Thats soo cool im studying japanese at highschool in australia and looking forward to working with projects like nova… Im wondering whatjapanese peoples thoughts are of scarrification? Its a form of a tattoo but no ink

  • Sarah

    Why would piercings not be appropriate in western countries? I’ve never been frowned upon or discriminated against in a work situation. It’s becoming so normal with tattoos and piercings in part of the west you can actually see them almost anywhere now days. I consider that a GOOD thing since me having piercings or tattoos don’t effect the way I am or my worth as a person or a employee. I can do any job just fine any way.