TL;DR – Tattoos in Korea
Ah yes, the famous tattoos in Korea question: I say famous because we’ve received a lot of emails asking us about how tattoos are received in Korea. So, not really that famous. Not like, Lebron James famous. Just…eatyourkimchi famous, which isn’t really famous at all. Um. Ok this is starting to get awkward.
The question! Yes, let’s answer that: so, there aren’t tons of tattooed Koreans running around, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a tattoo culture in Korea, either. We’ve seen it grow a lot more since we first came to Korea. In fact, there is even a tattoo convention that happens once a year or so, and they’ve had a few famous tattoo artists visit from different parts of the world to show of their skills. Or should I say…skillz. With a “zee”…mad ones…*throws up a hello kitty gang sign*
Anyhoo, although there is a tattoo culture, it’s not huge, so its popularity still remains underground. It seems like the only people we see with tattoos are artists, musicians, and gangsters. Oh and foreigners! If you have a tattoo, some younger people might be like, “cool” but if you’re coming here to work it’s best to cover it up to avoid issues with your boss and/or the parents who find out about it from your students (if you’re a teacher, that is). Even when Simon and I are on TV, some of the producers want Simon to keep his tattoo covered so the audience watching isn’t turned off by it. Simon usually says, “okay” and then wears a t-shirt anyways…teehee! We’d really like to change the image of “tattoos = bad people” to something more like “tattoos can also equal happy drug-free married couples!” I heard Germany is awesome for this kindof attitude change. Is it true? Anyone?
Also, tattoo artists have no way to be officially certified in Korea (at least not yet) since we heard that the only people who can legally give tattoos are doctors. Needless to say, there aren’t many doctors who went through years of medical school in order to open up a tattoo parlour. Doubt their parents would be happy with that. However, we’re really not sure if this has changed lately, so if anyone is in the tattoo field in Korea, we’d love to hear an update on what’s happening regarding tattoo laws. Supposedly there are ways around this: you can get certificates in dermatology, I think. We spoke with a tattoo guy at a bar in Korea who was saying something along these lines, but he was very drunk at the time. Not sure if we should believe him or not…
All we know is that there are tattoo parlours you can go to, but it seems like 90% of them are kindof hidden (as in, they aren’t advertising with neon “TATTOO INSIDE” signs). In our case, we needed to have a contact to find the location and meet the tattoo artists. For our parlour, it had a great reputation with Korean and Korean-American artists, and although it looked like a typical Korean apartment from the outside, once we got inside it looked like an office. It had all the sterilization machines, clean leather chairs, tattoo covered workers, and the typical smell of disinfectant that is ubiquitous in every tattoo parlour. If you’re planning on getting a tattoo done in Korea, make sure you go somewhere clean and ask to see the sterilization machines and make sure you can see that they’re using new unopened needles. A good parlour won’t be insulted by these questions, but if they seem hesitant or try to convince you verbally that they do that, don’t stick around and give them your money.
We’ve only seen very few places that overtly advertise themselves as tattoo parlous, and from what we’ve heard from our Korean friends, tattoo parlours can get raided by the police, who will then slap a heavy fine on the shop and sometimes force them to close down. Outside of the shops, we’ve heard about a lot of travelling tattoo artists that you can call who will come directly to your house, or you can go directly to theirs, since they don’t own a physical shop. You know, it’s odd: it’s like, we see tattoos on people occasionally, and even Kpop Idols have tattoos. Don’t people ask them how they got the tats? Will they say they got them in Korea? I’m not sure.
Things surely must have changed since we got ours done here a couple of years ago, so our info might be a bit out of date. We’re definitely thinking of getting more tattoos, so we’ll be able to update you more on it when we get those done, if we get them done in Korea!