Photo/Illutration A man has his tattoos removed. (Reuters photo)

BANGKOK -- Like many other young people in Vietnam, Thanh Hung regretted getting tattooed, especially after he developed a desire to work in Japan, where the body art is still frowned upon.

The removal of the ink, however, had rather disastrous consequences for Hung.

An official at a Hanoi-based organization that dispatches technical interns to Japan said there has been a noticeable increase among Vietnamese people getting their tattoos removed since Japan lifted its COVID-19 restrictions.

The official said that although Japanese companies have their own recruitment terms and conditions, they tend to shy away from tattooed job seekers because of tattoos’ association to yakuza and other anti-social organizations.

In late May, VnExpress (VNE), a local news website in Vietnam, carried an article about young people having difficulties getting their tattoos removed.

The ordeal of Hung, 25, who lives in the northern Nghe An province, was featured on the site.

To increase his chances of finding work in Japan, Hung decided to remove the large tattoos of dragons and phoenixes on his shoulder.

He visited a tattoo-removal studio near his home twice a month for half a year.

Although the tattoos appeared to be fading away, he developed dents on his skin around the shoulder blade, which also changed color.

The removal treatments were severely painful.

“The ink couldn’t be forced out even though my skin became rough and deformed, and I had to suffer for a long time,” he recalled.
Hung signed up for two more sessions to completely remove what remained of the tattoos.

The entire removal treatment cost him more than 30 million dong (about 170,000 yen, or $1,280).

“It hurts only once when you get a tattoo, but it hurts 100 times to have it removed,” Hung said.

Despite the pain and expenses, he didn’t go to Japan. He said his application to work in Japan was rejected because of the scars left on his body from the removal sessions.

The scars were also cited in job rejection notifications from Vietnamese companies, Hung said.

He is currently working at a local machine factory, earning 5 million dong a month.

According to Japan’s labor ministry, Vietnamese accounted for more than 25 percent of foreign workers in Japan as of October 2022. They also made up more than half of the technical interns.

The number of Vietnamese staying in Japan on “specified skilled worker” visas introduced in 2019 is also increasing.


Tattoos have gained popularity worldwide in recent years, and Vietnam is no exception. But the tattoo-removal market is also widening.

According to a survey published by U.S. research firm Allied Market Research in 2020, the global tattoo-removal market was worth $478 million in 2019. It is expected to expand to nearly $800 million in 2027.

A Hanoi-based tattoo-removal specialist told VNE that her client numbers have increased by five to seven times over the past five years.

Many of them are women between 18 and 30, she said.

Some say their parents have demanded the tattoos be removed. Others say the tattoos are now unwanted because they are associated with former lovers.

There has been a particularly sharp increase in tattoo-removal demand for work overseas since COVID-10 restrictions were eased. These people now account for about 40 percent of her customers, she said.

VNE also shared analyses by a culture expert and a doctor.

They said an underlying cause of the popularity of tattoos is that more youths are casually getting inked to express themselves or leave memories.

The culture expert said that while getting tattooed for fashion is not a bad thing, people need to think carefully about it first because tattoos are intended to be permanent and cannot be easily changed, like clothes.

In addition, health hazards have arisen because of unlicensed tattoo removers.

Many customers have ended up in hospitals after developing keloid scars or getting infections due to botched removal treatments, according to the doctor.