Date of Award

Spring 2013

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Studies: Global Track--Race, Class, Gender

First Advisor

Jeffrey Bayliss


Studies of the yakuza generally agree that full body tattoos would be one of the hallmarks of the criminal bands, simply another intimidation tactic. This mindset most likely comes from the idea that centuries ago, criminals tattooed as punishment would often seek out tattoo artists to convert their punitive markings into decorative ones. In attempting to hide the perhaps shameful proof of their misdeeds and their exclusion from society, criminals unconsciously used tattoos as a way to prove that they were still included in the group that rejected them. Still, with the negative view of tattooing that remains to this day, authors and scholars could argue that tattooing is a self inflicted stigma, a declaration to the general public that the bearer is choosing to reject what is acceptable in an attempt to express some deeper meaning: their own individuality. This is usually the way that tattooing is understood in the Western context; however, we could argue that because of the constant incorporation of Japanese iconography and national symbols in yakuza tattoos, the tattoos are meant to show that yakuza maintain a strong connection to Japanese national identity—they do not reject society but show themselves as embedded in its traditions and values, ideas of which are literally engraved into their skins. The use of the tattoo to show this identification is the unique way in which yakuza choose to present their understanding and appreciation of the values that shape their country.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in International Studies.

Included in

Asian History Commons