Will and I both love tattoos and getting tattoos and while that has caused some problems while traveling (mainly in the onsen in Japan) there’s nothing we love more than scoping out a talented artist on our travels.
History of Tattoos in Korea
Korea has had a turbulent history with tattoo culture, similar to the views amongst the older generation in the West, tattoos have been associated with crime and general ‘untrustworthy sorts’. Visiting performers in Korea have had to, in the past, cover up tattoos while on stage to avoid offending anyone.
While having tattoos in Korea isn’t illegal, there’s still the issue of the law stating that actually getting a tattoo is illegal if not performed by a licensed medical practitioner (currently the same in Japan). Obviously, this makes it very difficult for talented artists to become licensed.
The history of tattoos in Korea actually goes back to the 4th century when fisherman would get tattoos to ward off evil spirits but during the 19th century, things took a more negative turn when criminals were branded with tattoos. Later, in the 20th century, they became associated with organised crime.
Additionally, there’s the issue that it goes against traditional Confucian values, which is similar to the religious argument in other countries, that you shouldn’t change the body your parents (or God) gave you.
Thankfully, tattoos are very quickly becoming de-stigmatized in Korea (compared to neighboring countries) and it’s not unusual to see young people on the subway with tattoos. Having tattoos ourselves has led to many conversations with curious locals that we just wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Getting a Tattoo in Korea
If you’re considering getting a tattoo in Korea I wouldn’t hesitate. The standards are equal to what you’d expect and with some of the incredible artists below to choose from, you’re bound to come out with something special.
Most tattoo artists have an Instagram page so if these aren’t your thing, that’s the best way to find someone who is. Find the best way to message them and fire over your ideas or visit the store and have a chat.
Most of these artists are based in Seoul but many of them do guest posts at tattoo conventions and studios around the world. If you need help with booking or want to find more artists, this Facebook page is a huge help.
10 Incredible Tattoo Artists in South Korea
Huge is one of my favourite artists, adorable block black and white Asian/anime inspired tattoos. If you’re looking for a cute kitty in a ramen bowl or a Kaonashi (No Face) in a box, this is your guy. e occasionally sells stickers and t-shirts of some of his most iconic designs.
Pitta uses gorgeous traditional colours from Korean paintings (the gold is stunning) to create scenes from Korean, Korean inspired art, bold animals, or anime themes tattoos. He often works in block shapes so his tattoos are instantly recognisable.
Another artist whose colours blow me away. From beautiful florals, birds, fans, and talismans. I could look at this Instagram account all day.
For bold colours, a traditional style, and full body works then Shiryu tattoo is the one.
Hongdam creates fine lined and whimsical watercolor tattoos. If you’ve been looking for a floral design or some script then this is a great choice. I’m a big fan of their tiger designs too.
Delicate fine art, watercolour tattoos. They create highly detailed pictures in the smallest of sizes.
Nana specialises in the ever growing in popularity neo-traditional designs, beautiful bold colours and thick black lines abound.
This is one for delicate, small tattoos and that make a statement. Thin lines, high detail, and watercolours.
Based in Busan, this studio specialises in traditional Japanese designs and sleeves. Beautiful dragons, waves, and cranes.
Ridiculously cute, small heart and cartoon based tattoos with bold lines. Totally unique and fun to look at.
If you like this then you might like: South Korean Films That Aren’t Oldboy.
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Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, it's literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.