Reader PP is arriving in Japan soon to begin a stint as an assistant language teacher (ALT). He writes: "I am very interested in getting an irezumi (traditional tattoo) in Japan. Are there any artists that will tattoo a foreigner? If so, who and where? My interviewer for the teaching position tried to warn me that tattoos are a 'no-no'. "

He goes on to describe a story he heard about another ALT: The man had taken off his shirt to water some plants on his balcony, when a student's parent happened to walk by and saw his tattoo-riddled back. The parent apparently called the school, claiming that they had hired a member of the yakuza — the Japanese mafia, who traditionally have tattoos. The ALT had to change jobs and cities as a result.

It's true that many Japanese people, particularly the older generations, still associate tattoos with yakuza, and that many in mainstream society shy away from being inked. However, partly fueled by growing interest from overseas, tattoos seem to be gaining a modicum of acceptance among younger people. Just the other day in downtown Tokyo I saw a Japanese woman with a toddler on one arm and a full "sleeve" tattoo on the other.