Why Korean tattoo artists are most likely to break the law?

Be a tattoo artist in South Korea and you could be jailed for 5 years

Doy, a well-known Korean tattoo artist who tattooed Brad Pitt and Lily Collins, was fined 5 million won in a Seoul court for "violating the medical law."

The reason is that the video of him tattooing a Korean actress was so popular that it reached the eyes of law enforcement officers.
"When I went abroad to tattoo stars, everyone called me a big artist," said the 20-year tattoo artist.

In South Korea, being beaten by the police is every tattoo artist's nightmare.
According to South Korean law, tattoo artists need to have a medical license to practice, otherwise they will face "up to 5 years in prison or a fine of up to 50 million won." In order to "invisible" under the eyes of the police as much as possible, Korean tattoo studios are often opened in inconspicuous places, usually underground, without signboards, and finding the entrance is like playing an escape room. "Once the police come to the door, we can buy as much escape time as possible."

Despite K-pop stars pushing tattoos into the mainstream, models with face tattoos allowed to appear at Seoul Fashion Week, and the military service system updated to reflect social realities, South Korea's definition of "tattoo" is still far away.

Because "tattoo ink and needles may cause infection," South Korea's Supreme Court defined tattooing as a medical practice in 1992. The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare believes that tattooing has the same origin as acupuncture and must be performed by professional medical personnel. This means that tattooing is legal in Korea, but you need to go to a licensed tattoo artist and they can only do two for you Semi-permanent eyebrows.

In South Korea, tattoos are often associated with gangsters or street crime, and were once a means of evading military service.

Veteran tattoo artist Cho Seung-hyun recalled the past and said: "25 years ago, when I first started getting tattoos, 80% of my clients were gangsters. They stabbed tigers and dragons repeatedly, and mastered at least 180 variations."

"My schedule doesn't work when people start using tattoos to skip drafts."
Due to the decline in the number of strong men, at the end of 2020, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense issued a set of revised bills that "men with tattoos can be recruited into the army".

In this regard, an official of the Ministry of National Defense said: "The society's negative perception of tattoos has decreased, and we judge (people with tattoos) can perform military service normally." There are more than 220,000 unlicensed tattoo artists. “There are about 30 tattoo studios around Hongdae alone,” said Rian, a 28-year-old tattoo artist who shares a small studio with three other partners. "We must be very cautious when dealing with customers. In the past, we were often reported maliciously because the other party did not want to give money." "Now we only accept regular customers, old customers bringing new customers and cash payment."

Many people have accepted that they are "recidivists" who are hindered by tattoos in their daily lives.

Tattoo artist Kim Kwang-seok, 54, has been tattooing for more than 20 years at his "secret" studio in the southern city of Ulsan. He has been convicted three times for tattooing, which carries a maximum sentence of eight months in jail. When I was imprisoned for the second time, I admitted my status as a "recidivist", although I was just honestly poking people. "

To call for the legalization of the tattoo profession, tattoo artist Doy has formed a tattoo artist union in 2020. "Tattooing is illegal and professional discrimination. We hope to be recognized by the society." However, less than a year after the establishment of the alliance, he himself was sued because of the widespread dissemination of tattoo videos. "This ruling has dealt a heavy blow to the industry. Tattooists dedicate their lives to painting and in return get criminal records, broken lives and colored eyes."

At the end of 2021, Doy appealed to the Seoul Northern District Law on the grounds of "misunderstanding of the law".
He said it "feels bad" to be judged by laws made in ancient times, but felt he "had to do something". "I just want young talented tattoo artists to take pride in their work and be able to work freely, just like normal office workers."
"If you keep the status quo, nothing will change."


Dear tattoo artists, if you can create freely, have a comfortable studio, and have a group of regular fans, you must be grateful!
Be thankful for what you have.
In the meantime, thank you so much for reading this story I wrote.
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