You might have seen many amazing Korean tattoo artists on instagram (And if you haven’t, definitely check out the ones mentioned in this blog), tattoos are gaining more popularity amongst Kpop idols these days. But when you decide to get a tattoo whilst in South Korea, it will be quite tricky to even make an appointment. It’s not illegal to have a tattoo, but getting one can be!
Jay Park, BTS’ Jimin and EXO’s Chanyeol with some nice ink
Tattoos are still frowned upon by the elder people, just like most Asian countries (such as Japan and China) they go way back. Back in the 4th century, it were usually fishermen getting tattooed, to wish them luck on their journey and for a safe return. This changed during the Joseon Dynasty. If you comitted a crime during this time, you were marked with said committed crime, so people would always see you as a thief, or whatever crime you had committed. Slaves were marked with their owners’ name, so you can imagine it was all but anything positive. The Korean belief is, that your body should not be be altered in any way. If you do so, it’s disrespecting your parents and the body they gave you. This negative view on tattoos continued in the 20th century, where it was associated with gangs and crimes they committed.
Elder people still feel that way about tattoos, it’s a gang sign or atleast means you’re up to no good. This is why a lot of places, such as hot springs, saunas and public places alike might ask you to leave if you sport a tattoo. Korean men with big, or many tattoos can even be denied from their military service!
So how do you get a tattoo in South Korea? It can’t be that hard! Well, it’s probably easier to find a plastic surgeon, or find people who have had plastic surgery. Getting a tattoo, legally, means the tattoo artist must be a qualified medical practitioner (This also goes for body piercings) as the law states that, getting a tattoo is a medical service. This is where it gets tricky, because a lot of artists have not studied to become a medical practitioner. They operate from their homes or underground tattoo parlours.
As said before, you’ll find most artists on instagram, here are a few worth checking out;
You often find their kakao ID or email in their biography, this is how you set up an appointment. Make sure you do this on time! An artist might have a very packed schedule. Also note that many artists do not speak English, or at least aren’t fluent in the language.. It helps to send images of what you’d like along with a descriptive message (best would be in Korean of course) of your piece. Usually you keep in touch through Kakao talk or mail, you set an appointment and the tattoo artist will give you directions as to where you can find their shop. In my case, this was a basement somewhere in Hongdae. The windows were covered with curtains, so it wasn’t easy to find at all. Inside, the decoration was very minimalistic and otherwise the same as any other tattoo studio. Once he double checked the design, it was tattoo time. It might all sound very dark and sinister, but artists usually have not much of an other option.
Many young people choose to rebel against the strict rules, the gouvernement and pressure to look cool, this is how tattoos are slowly getting more accepted in South Korea. Please share your experience with getting a tattoo in South Korea, or artists you think we should totally check out!