In the large and multicultural world of tattoos, everything seems possible. You can get a tattoo in almost any part of the world, on any part of your body, in a variety of settings and in a wide range of manners. Traditional stick poke in Thailand? Yes. Old School sailor flash down by the bay in San Francisco? Yup. In the window display at the Mile Mall in Las Vegas? Of course. With everything seeming to be on the table in the world of tattoos, are there any no-nos? Any tattoo don'ts or taboos? What I'm getting at is, are there certain images or phrases you should NOT get tattooed, anywhere, anytime, or in any manner? Yes.
Tattooing has been around for milleniums, and the rules and societal norms that surround tattooing have shifted dramatically over the course of history. As Westerners, we tend to sift everything through our own particular filter, tattooing included. However, tattoo traditions exist in many cultures and freely employ what would have been considered taboo traditons in our Western culture. Things like tattooing women, tattooing faces and hands or large portions of the body are only recently accepted in our culture, but were considered a normal part of other cultures that have a much longer history of tattooing than Europe and Norh America.
If this interests you at all, seek out some of the fascinating books that cover this topic. If you are Googling in front of the tattoo shop, trying to figure out if those Russian stars on your shoulders are a good idea - read on.
Russians have been the defacto bad guy in movies for a while now. I blame this on YouTube and the amount of videos of Russians doing completely crazy shit and then just walking away like, "Is no big deal." You have probably heard of the Russian mafia and you should go way out of your way to not annoy them in the slightest. Organized crime in Russia has many secret rituals of which I thankfully know nothing. That being said they take their tattoos - and the meaning of those tattoos - very, very seriously. One of the most common images you may see is the Russian star. According to the premiere expert on Russian criminal tattoos, these signify "crimanal authority" and have to be earned. My advice? Don't get that tattoo, bro - just. don't.
OK so those cool looking stars are out. What about some nice Japanese imagery?
YAKUZA BODY SUIT
The Yakuza are Japanese organized crime members and their history of tattooing stretches back centuries. Tattooing in Japan became associated with criminals and was eventually outlawed. This is an ongoing issue in Japan even today with politicians trying to make it illegal once more. Due to its illegal status, and the secretive nature of the organization, the Yakuza would have full body suits done that could be completely covered up. No hands, feet, face or neck, and with ample room for sleeves and slacks to cover the ink. Having a completed body suit showed courage, determination (it was done stick poke style - ow and double ow), and success in the organization due to the significant cost.
Imagery revolved around traditional motifs like samurai, dragons, and koi fish. Approximately a ziilion people have appropriated these images today for their various tattoos. Are you pissing off the Yakuza? Most likely not, but I would still cover my tattoos while travelling in Japan as a nod towards cultural sensitivity (and stigma). And if you do have a traditional Yakuza style suit, I wouldn't go around bragging about what a bad ass you are to the wrong people lest they ask you to prove it. Just saying.
Still want to walk on the wild side? How about a good old fashion...
PRISON TEAR DROP TATTOO
This guy is the poster child for tear drop tattoos. Just remember; this is his mug shot and that tear probably means he killed someone.
Probably the most famous prison tattoo (in Western culture) is the teardrop below the eye. The most common meaning is that the wearer has killed someone. It can also signify the murder or death of someone close to you. It also might symboliza a prison rape, an attempted murder, or more than ten years behind bars, depending on which blog you read. This one appears open to interpretation. It also doesn't appear to be just for prisoners. Lil Wayne has his for departed (murdered) friends. Amy Winehouse had hers for her (dirtbag) husband's continuing incarceration. Chances are you could get this tattoo and not get killed for having it - but it will still make you look like you did a stretch in the big house. So you have to ask yourself, is that the look you are going for?
In the end, it is your tattoo and your body - but it always pays to think before you ink...and be nice to Russians.