While some parts of mainstream culture in the West still have yet to fully accept tattoos as a form of art, there are other places in the world where the public attitude toward ink is even more strict. After all, people with tattoos in the U.S. may get sideways glances or even comments, but it's safe to say that the likelihood of a tattoo landing a person in jail is slim.
Believe it or not, some countries and regions are so vehemently against tattoos on a cultural level that the act of simply displaying your ink can get you deported or imprisoned. Here are some places around the world where tattoo regret may be the least of your problems.
The former seat of the historic Ottoman Empire is known for its grand architecture and delectable local cuisine. But the Middle-Eastern country recently made headlines for a different reason. According to the Washington Times, the nation has instituted a legal ban on tattoos. The decree came from the country's Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanet. As the country is largely Muslim, the tenets of Islam are deeply embedded in its legal and political dealings as well. The source noted that the Diyanet recently issued the policy as a fatwa – an official decree pertaining to religious decisions on interpretation and dogmatic law. While at this point the directive is spiritual and not penal in nature, it closely resembles a decision from 2014 in which the government banned tattoos, piercings and makeup for students.
Tourists who flock to the crystalline sandy beaches and turquoise waters of southeast Asia should be careful of what they put on display when they don their bathing suits. BBC News reported that many countries that are devout in their practice of Buddhism can react harshly to tattoos that officials may view as offensive to the faith. Sri Lanka recently deported a traveler from the U.K. because her tattoo of an image of Buddha on her arm was deemed disrespectful. The source reported that the country also denied entry to another tourist for similar reasons.
Thailand is also seeking to implement more stringent policies on which tattoos are acceptable and which aren't. According to the Phuket Gazette, Thai culture minister Niphit Intharasombat is pushing to have provincial governors around the country ban tourists from getting religious tattoos depicting images of Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus Christ.
"It is culturally inappropriate and erodes respect for religion," Niphit told the source.
While the push from the culture ministry is strong, the initiative is being met with a fair amount of pushback from those in the country who are concerned about the human rights implications of such a measure.
Another southeast Asian country, Malaysia, made its policy on religious tattoos clear in 2012, when officials canceled a concert from singer Erykah Badu. The singer from the U.S. was shown in pictures to have the word "Allah" tattooed on her upper body in Arabic, as well as several Hebrew words. The country, which is predominantly Muslim, cited her tattoos as the reason for the cancelation, calling them an "insult to Islam."
Japan's history with tattooing is complicated, rooted partially in the criminal underworld – tattoos were once strictly reserved for members of the organized crime syndicate Yakuza. As such, the country has had a more difficult time opening up to the art form in recent years. One report from Forbes indicated that many of the country's onsen, or public bath houses, had previously instituted tattoo bans as a way to keep criminals out of their businesses – and many still uphold the policy to this day. Similarly, the mayor of Osaka recently passed a regulation requiring government employees to have their tattoos removed or face loss of employment.