Tattoos in Korea: why are they controversial?


Did you know that in some countries, tattooing is illegal? That’s how it is. Maybe we are so used to seeing tattoos as something normal that sometimes we forget that in other parts of the world, tattooing is a frowned upon and even illegal activity. Many cultures have a rejection of tattoos. It is due to different causes and factors that have to do with its history. Korea is one of those countries that consider tattoos synonymous with illegal behavior. For this reason, tattoos in Korea are a bit frowned upon. Today in Korean Fashion Trends, we will talk about tattoos in Korea: why are they controversial? We will learn more about this practice in the South Korean country, and we will clarify some doubts while we discover a little more about the subject. If you’re ready, let’s get started! Keep reading.


Why are tattoos illegal in Korea?


Korean-Fashion-Trends - Jungkook from BTSTattoos in Korea: why are they controversial? In South Korea, just like in Japan, the opinion of others and social position are valued above other things.


Therefore, it is not surprising that tattoos get considered a bad thing. The world of body modification is gradually becoming normalized in Korean society, but it is still a controversial topic. Why? Because in the Joseon era, those who stole received the punishment of inscriptions on their body. They tattooed on their skins the crimes they committed. They also marked those women who were unfaithful.


Because of all that, in Korea, tattooing is technically illegal, but it’s not illegal to wear it. However, there is one exception: you can tattoo if you have a medical license because tattooing is a discipline derived from acupuncture. Or at least that’s how Koreans think of it. Physicians can obtain such a license from the Ministry of Health. That means it’s legal to have a tattoo. But only if a doctor did it. The problem is that someone who spends so many years getting a degree in Medicine gets usually very well regarded socially. For this reason, Korean medical professionals don’t even cross their minds to dedicate themselves to tattooing; and no hospital will have a “tattoo area.”


Are tattoos forbidden in Korea?


Korean-Fashion-Trends-Are-tattoos-forbidden-in-KoreaNo, it is not forbidden, but it is a complicated matter. Tattoos in Korea: why are they controversial? They are controversial mainly because they are frowned upon. Those who wear tattoos are, for many Koreans, people who defy the norm, like criminals.


However, despite this conception, more and more Koreans are getting tattoos. More than a million South Koreans have a tattoo today. In addition, the talent of its tattoo artists is an attraction for tourists and curious people who travel to the country, among other things, to get a tattoo.


However, young Koreans turn to professionals working illegally to get a tattoo. Even many choose not to hide their tattoos. The media and social networks greatly influence the new generation. TV and movie stars, sports figures, and K-Pop bands and singers wear them, and their thousands of fans love them too. Furthermore, when soccer player Ahn Jung-Hwan shocked the entire country in 2003 by revealing his tattoo after scoring a decisive goal in the World Cup, an opportunity for the acceptance of tattoos opened up. From that time on, everything changed. He was famous, and suddenly, it began to be considered that maybe getting a tattoo was not a bad thing.


Are tattoos disrespectful in Korea?


Korean-Fashion-Trends - Jay ParkFor some people, tattoos are disrespectful. Especially for older people and high society.


The reason? Before, in South Korea, people who got tattoos were gangsters or engaged in illegal business. They used it as codes to communicate, leaving a stigma on the tattoos.


For this reason, many people continue to mistakenly think that tattooed people are criminals, which is why, on many occasions, having a tattoo is disrespectful.


However, that is not the only reason tattoos are disrespectful to some people. It is also due to religion. Korea is mostly a Confucian country. They view body modifications as disrespectful to your body, which is your sanctuary. Korean society has been evolving. But it still has a very traditional, ceremonial, and conservative dynamic. For many Koreans, tattoos directly relate to street gangs or thugs, creating a stereotype in the people who have them.


At what age can you get tattoos in Korea?


Korean-Fashion-Trends - I.M. from MONSTA XIn Korea, you can’t get a tattoo at any age because there is a lot of controversy surrounding tattoos.


You need to be of legal age. Meaning, you need to be 18 if you want to get a tattoo.


Otherwise, it would be a difficult legal problem to resolve. Many young people in Korea also choose to get a tattoo (in addition to getting eye surgery when they come of age.)


Although many people still consider it disrespectful, due to the influence of the media and artists, young people want to have tattoos.


For this reason, they even go to clandestine places to get their tattoos.


Are K-Pop idols allowed to have tattoos?


Korean-Fashion-Trends-Are-K-Pop-idols-allowed-to-have-tattoosYes, K-Pop idols can have tattoos. After all, they are Korean citizens and have the right to do so. But in their appearances on television or in other media, they usually cover their tattoos with some bandages. Or they do it in editing to avoid conflicts and some controversies.


When you see an idol hiding their tattoos, it’s because they’re going to perform on some public broadcaster, like KBS, where the protocols are strict.


For that reason, when they release promotional material that can be advertised through some traditional medium in South Korea, idols choose to cover their tattoos with clothing, patches, or bandages. Everything is because in Korea it is not well seen to show tattoos in public. Especially if you are a public figure. But yes, K-Pop idols can have tattoos. BTS’s Jungkook and Twice’s Chaeyoung have tattoos, and that’s just to name a few very famous K-Pop idols.


Tattoos in Korea: why are they controversial? Because Koreans associate tattoos with criminals. In addition, they are also controversial because, in Korea, the body is considered a temple that should not be modified or altered. And while getting a tattoo in South Korea is often difficult due to it being done in underground places, many young people get their tattoos without caring how others will see them. In the end, each person has the right to make the alterations they want to their body. Many K-Pop idols know that too. What do you think about it? Tell us in the comments. See you in an upcoming Korean Fashion Trends blog!

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