Applying tattoo was repeatedly prohibited and accepted in Japanese history.
In the Yayoi period (c. 300 BC–300 AD) tattoo designs were observed and remarked upon by Chinese visitors. Such designs were thought to have spiritual significance as well as functioning as a status symbol. But there’s also evidence to the contrary, According to Kojiki, there was no tattoo tradition on the ancient Japanese mainland and people with tattoo traditions were recognized as aliens. And there is a record in Nihon shoki that only Ainu people (inhabited Nord island Hokkaido) get tattoos.
Starting in the Kofun period (300–600 AD) tattoos began to assume negative connotations. Instead of being used for ritual or status purposes, tattooed marks began to be placed on criminals as a punishment.
Until the Edo period (1600–1868 AD), the role of tattoos in Japanese society fluctuated. Tattooed marks were still used as punishment, but minor fads for decorative tattoos, some featuring designs that would be completed only when lovers’ hands were joined, also came and went. It was in the Edo period however, that Japanese decorative tattooing began to develop into the advanced art form it is known as today.
At the beginning of the Meiji period the Japanese government, wanting to protect its image and make a good impression on the West and to avoid ridicule, outlawed tattoos, and irezumi took on connotations of criminality. Nevertheless, fascinated foreigners went to Japan seeking the skills of tattoo artists, and traditional tattooing continued underground. Tattooing was legalized by the occupation forces in 1948, but has retained its image of criminality. For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the yakuza and many businesses in Japan (such as private baths, fitness centers and hot springs) still ban customers with tattoos.
Although tattoos have gained popularity amongst the youth of Japan due to Western influence, there is still a stigma on them amongst the general consensus. Unlike the US, even finding a tattoo shop in Japan may prove difficult, with tattoo shops primarily placed in areas that are very tourist or US military friendly. According to Kunihiro Shimada, the president of the Japan Tattoo Institute, “Today, thanks to years of government suppression, there are perhaps 300 tattoo artists in Japan.