In Japan and the United States, tattoos face an uphill battle of acceptance. Even the most artistically and culturally revered tattoos are still considered taboo in many social circles. However, the general perception of tattooing as an art form differs. In Japan, those who appreciate tattoos see them as high forms of art, relating strongly back to Japanese culture and tradition. That being said, the stigma for tattooed women remains a dominating force. In the United States, particularly for women, having a tattoo is rarely associated with any positivity, as they are typically labeled promiscuous or esoteric in a negative way.
Given the uphill battles Japanese tattoos face for public acceptance, those who do embrace it appreciate the close ties to Japanese culture. Tattoo culture was born in Japan during the period of woodblock printing and kabuki. Horiyoshi III, one of the most renowned Japanese tattoo artists, has his own antique room with a lot of influence from the aforementioned periods. Horiyoshi III draws a lot of his inspiration from his antiques, by putting double entendres and humor into his pieces. In essence, one needs to be fully immersed in Japanese culture to understand and appreciate the tattoos. This direct lineage to culture and tradition makes the tattoo experience, for those who look past the social faux pas of having one, a really enriching art form.
Those who embrace tattoo culture in Japan also embrace the role of an outsider that comes with it. However, Japan remains very patriarchal at its core. The nuclear family is still very much revered and gender inequality still exists. The eldest male in a family is the alpha male, and has businesses passed down to him. For this reason, there are very few female tattoo artists in Japan. Women who get tattoos, for these reasons, are often extremely frowned upon. Many tattoo pieces in Japan are extensive, and cover most of the body. However, a tiny tattoo or a gigantic tattoo on a woman will garner the same reaction, and that reaction will seldom be positive.
In the United States, the reaction towards heavily tattooed women is similar. The definition of “heavily tattooed” is fairly arbitrary, as perception is reality. The same problem does not really exist for men. Although tattoos are still not entirely embraced, men are not stopped or gawked at to the same degree for similar tattoos. Essentially, if a woman has a number of visible tattoos, it becomes immensely difficult for them to go about their daily business, as they become a spectacle. A trip to the mall suddenly turns into an invitation for strangers to gawk at women, or even approach them, touch their tattoos, and make rude or inquisitive remarks about them.
Social context plays a big role in the interactions that heavily tattooed women have. Some women are asked to cover their tattoos by friends and family at familial gatherings. In religious families, women feel shame from their parents for having tattoos, and constantly struggle to feel accepted. When some women are shopping, they have other customers or employees come up and ask them questions, either as a means of over-compensation of acceptance, or questions of why they would get a tattoo.
Ultimately, having tattoos or being in the tattoo industry is immensely difficult for women, both in Japan and in the United States. Both cultures have a tattoo culture that is struggling to be accepted by the mainstream. Even with Japanese tattoos having more of a lineage to high art and tattoos in the United States not being as well respected, neither country has truly had a breakthrough. However, women face that battle the hardest. Whether that manifests by not being granted tattoos, a job as a tattoo artist, or even having tattoos, women are treated differently, and in many cases worse, for having any sort of affiliation with tattoos. The tattoo industry mirrors mainstream culture in this way, as women are often behind the curve on earning the same respect and treatment for engaging in the same activities as men.