Why You Can Only Get Massages from Blind Masseurs in South Korea
A one-of-a-kind law with a noble reason behind it
Massage services are in demand in many parts of the world for they are relaxing, therapeutic, and in some instances, even medically necessary. In South Korea, there is an interesting catch to having massages legally and an even more interesting reason as to why this happens. One can only be licensed to be a masseur/masseuse if they are visually impaired. It would be illegal for anyone who is not visually impaired to work in this profession and they would be susceptible to a fine of 30 million won($23, 047 as of writing).
Japan was the colonial power that annexed Korea in 1910. Under Japanese authority, the law was introduced in 1912/13 according to different sources.
The Japanese engaged in terrible activities that often go understated during their reign in Korea, but this was not their wort law.
Fifty years after the establishment of said law, South Korea reinstated the law and held on to it. It would be in 2006 that protests would rock South Korea concerning the law, and those who were not visually impaired would question the validity of the law.
Justification for the Law
The law’s existence lies in the heavy support that successive governments have placed on it. Initially, the Japanese stated that the law existed to ensure that visually impaired people could have a livelihood.
Those that followed held the same notion and it became a hot issue that required the intervention of the law as non-visually impaired people in the profession felt it was a discriminative law.
Protests in 2006 against the law ended with the death of some visually-impaired people causing suicide. The abolition of the law would have meant that a considerable number of people would have been pushed out of their profession; many had no other skills.
Korean society was rocked by this decision as one side felt discriminated against(the non-visually impaired) while the other side viewed this as the government taking their livelihoods away(visually impaired).
In a landmark ruling in 2008, the constitutional court decided to allow the monopoly the visually impaired enjoyed to continue. At the time, it was still an open question and more appeals against the law could allow more changes to occur.
Predictably, the openness of this question led to more appeals over the years, and they happened 4 times. Every appeal was rejected and the constitutional court stuck to the ruling that only visually impaired people can operate massage parlors.
Additionally, the Korean constitutional court reiterated that they see no problem with the ruling as it ensures a consistent income and improved possibility of living in a dignified manner. The reasoning is that people who are not visually impaired have a greater chance of getting other jobs than those who are visually impaired.
Whether South Korea made the right decision with this law is up to them to decide through debate and conversation. But it is a noble decision they made to ensure that one disadvantaged section of the society is shielded from competition to ensure dignified lives and work under the law.
 “`Blind Massage’ Law in S. Korea Draws Protests.” Chicago Tribune. Last modified November 23, 2006. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2006-11-23-0611230249-story.html.
Junghyun, Kim. “South Korea Court Says Only Blind Can Be Masseurs.” U.S. Last modified October 30, 2008. https://www.reuters.com/article/oukoe-uk-korea-blind-idUKTRE49T1RG20081030.
Yonhap. “Constitutional Court Sees No Problem with Only Allowing the Blind to Become Massage Therapists.” The Korea Herald. Last modified December 30, 2021. https://m.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20211230000644.