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Why do Koreans cover their tattoos?


Korean culture is known for its unique and interesting customs, and one of them is covering tattoos. While tattoos are becoming more popular worldwide, Koreans still cover them up in public. This article will explore the reasons behind this cultural practice.

History of Tattoos in Korea

Tattoos have a long history in Korea, dating back to the Three Kingdoms period. However, tattoos were associated with criminals and outcasts during the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from the late 14th century to the late 19th century. This negative perception of tattoos has persisted to this day.

Buddhist Beliefs

Buddhism is a major religion in Korea, and it prohibits tattoos because they are seen as a defacement of the body, which is considered sacred in Buddhism. Buddhist teachings also stress the importance of modesty and humility, which are not associated with flaunting one’s tattoos.

Confucian Values

Confucianism is another major influence on Korean culture, and it emphasizes respect for authority and social norms. Tattoos are seen as a form of rebellion against these values, and they are often associated with gangsters and other criminals.

Association with Criminality

As mentioned above, tattoos are often associated with criminality and delinquency in Korean society. This stereotype has been reinforced by media portrayals of gangsters with tattoos. As a result, many Koreans see tattoos as a sign of moral depravity.

Professional Image

In Korea, appearances matter a great deal, especially in professional settings. Tattoos are often seen as unprofessional and may hinder one’s career prospects. Many companies have strict dress codes that prohibit visible tattoos.

Fear of Discrimination

Due to the negative associations with tattoos in Korean society, some people may fear discrimination or judgment if they have visible tattoos. This can lead to a desire to cover up tattoos in public.

Stigma against Body Modification

Korean culture places a high value on natural beauty and purity, and body modification is often seen as a violation of these ideals. Tattoos are just one example of this stigma against body modification.

Western Influence

While tattoos have been a part of Korean culture for centuries, they were not as popular as they are now until recently. The rise of Western influence and the spread of pop culture has contributed to the growing acceptance of tattoos, but many Koreans still prefer to cover them up.

Modesty and Humility

As mentioned earlier, Buddhism emphasizes the importance of modesty and humility. Tattoos are often associated with arrogance and self-importance, which goes against these values.

Family Values

Family is highly valued in Korean culture, and tattoos may be seen as a betrayal of family values. Some parents may even disown their children if they get tattoos, especially if they come from conservative families.


In conclusion, there are many reasons why Koreans cover their tattoos. These reasons include religious beliefs, cultural norms, negative associations with criminality, and professional considerations. While tattoos are becoming more accepted worldwide, it is important to understand and respect different cultural practices.

Do you have to cover your tattoos in Korea?

According to Kim, even though it is illegal for nonmedical practitioners to do tattooing, it is not against the law to display tattoos in public. It is unreasonable to make people conceal their tattoos in shared facilities just because others disapprove of them. South Korea only permits medical doctors to perform tattooing by law.

Why can’t you show tattoos in Korea?

Tattoos have been historically associated with criminal and slave markings in some countries, leading to a taboo surrounding their use. Additionally, tattoos became associated with criminal gangs as members would openly display their affiliation through their tattoos.

What is the Korean tattoo rule?

In South Korea, only medical professionals with licenses are allowed to operate tattoo parlors, while it is not against the law to have a tattoo. The military is the only organization that forbids tattoos, but individuals are allowed to get tattoos after military service.

Why are tattoos illegal in South Korea?

Tattoos, known as munshin, have a history of being stigmatized in South Korea for centuries. During the Koryo dynasty, which was in power from 918 to 1392 A.D., people were sometimes forcibly tattooed on their faces or arms to indicate their criminal offenses or status as slaves.

Can I travel to South Korea with tattoos?

Although tattoos are not prohibited in South Korea and many young people have tattoos, it is actually illegal to get a tattoo. South Korean law categorizes tattoos as a medical service, meaning it can only be performed by qualified medical practitioners.

What is the legal tattoo age in South Korea?

Similar to the majority of the United States, the legal age to receive a tattoo in South Korea is 18 years old. Therefore, Young deceived the tattoo artist by claiming to be 20 years old. When she actually turned 20 and was attending college for fashion, her depression became so severe that she was unable to continue attending classes. Consequently, she ceased attending college.

Another reason why Koreans cover their tattoos is that they want to avoid causing offense or discomfort to others. In Korean culture, it is considered impolite to draw attention to oneself or to make others feel uncomfortable. Visible tattoos can be seen as a form of exhibitionism or self-promotion, which goes against the values of modesty and humility.

Furthermore, many Koreans view tattoos as a permanent and irreversible decision that should be carefully considered. Getting a tattoo is seen as a serious commitment, and some people may fear making a mistake or regretting their decision later on. For this reason, some Koreans may choose to cover up their tattoos or opt for less visible placements.

It is also worth noting that attitudes towards tattoos are slowly changing in Korea, especially among younger generations. As more people travel abroad and are exposed to different cultures, they may become more accepting of tattoos and see them as a form of self-expression rather than a sign of delinquency. However, it will likely take time for these cultural shifts to fully take hold.

Overall, the practice of covering tattoos in Korea reflects a complex interplay between religious beliefs, cultural norms, and social attitudes. While it may seem strange or restrictive to outsiders, it is important to understand and respect the cultural practices of other societies. By doing so, we can foster greater understanding and appreciation for the diversity of human experience.

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