How Perspectives on Tattoos Differ Across Cultures

How Perspectives on Tattoos Differ Across Cultures

With the slowly disappearing stigma surrounding tattoos in the U.S., it got us thinking about how other cultures interpret body art. Some may see it as simple decoration, while others believe they signify religious belief, the accomplishments one has achieved, and sometimes something far more sinister.

Tattoos are almost as old as mankind itself. In times and places where the next meal was an uncertainty, humanity still found time to adorn its skin with permanent ink. It’s no secret that people have always sought out ways to irreversibly decorate themselves throughout history, but the practice has continued even until today. Here are five cultures with vastly different views on tattoos.

Scandinavia: people from Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Norway commonly wear tattoos containing Nordic text, written symbols of the ancient Northern European civilization. Also known as Vikings, these people used their letters as ingredients for many spells and magical uses. Although recipients of these tattoos may not be faithful to the ancient rites, they are worn in honor of their heritage.

Japan: tattoos continue to hold a negative connotation amongst Japanese culture as a result of some criminal elements. Japanese gang members tend to wear tattoos across their bodies with different symbols representing a variety of crimes that an individual has committed. This activity has bled into all tattoos amongst the culture, so much so that even those who wear tattoos without any criminal association are met with criticism.

India: many people are likely familiar with the art of Henna tattooing, but did you know that it is often used as part of the Hindu wedding? Patterns are painted on the bride to symbolize the many joys of marriage. It can take as long as eight hours and is often performed the night before the wedding by the bride’s future mother-in-law.

Of course, Henna is not a permanent form of tattoo. Throughout history and even today, to some extent, regions of India use tattoos as a form of jewelry, ensuring that the owner’s most valuable possession is impossible to steal.

Polynesia: the people who inhabit Polynesia are made of many different nations grouped across more than 1,000 islands, but much of this region has shared history and culture, and that extends to the use of tattoos. What at first appears as a collage of patterns actually consists of various patterns each with its own meaning. Even the placement on the body comes with its own significance and drives a belief system that is ages old.

Ireland: Irish tattoos vary widely in design but primarily relate the culture’s rich history and many traditions. Whether it’s something as simple as the Irish flag and Irish clover, or something a little more traditional such as the Celtic cross or Celtic knots, they tend to represent the wearer’s heritage and national pride. Of course, some people still follow Celtic tradition and wear these symbols with a deeper understanding of their meaning.


With this small sampling of tattoos from around the world, it’s clear that there are varied styles and beliefs that accompany each and every one. What may at first seem like a “cool” design could hold far more significance for someone else. Then again, that may be the case for any piece of ink. Maybe you’ve got one of your own that means something a little more than a sweet design.

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