Osaka tattoo artist

'There are tattoos that you can show and ones that you should hide," says Shura, an Osaka tattoo artist. "Traditional tattoos are only OK to show at festivals, certain public baths and during fights.

"The cute, fashionable ones, they are OK to show whenever."

That sentiment is now well established in a country that has long felt conflicted about tattoos, often revealing its feelings in officially sanctioned public prejudice.

In many ways, women are leading the way. Tattoos on starlets such as Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki are thought of as stylish by a younger, pop culture- hungry generation, while overseas fashion trends have made "getting ink" much less of a radical lifestyle choice.