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