Getting Tattooed in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is probably the most interesting city I’ve ever been to. It’s by far the most multicultural, and it’s full of rich and interesting history.

Hong Kong also has a fantastic art scene with artists from around the world finding their style and inspiration in and among Hong Kong’s towering skyscrapers and narrow, winding streets filled with irreplaceable noodle shops, the all-important umbrella repair store, and a thriving tattoo scene.

Arguably some of the best artists in the world reside in Hong Kong, at some of the best and most interesting tattoo shops I have been to yet. This past month I received three different tattoos from two different artists at two different shops in Hong Kong.

Star Crossed tattoo

If you’re getting a tattoo in Hong Kong there’s a good chance you don’t live there and are either just passing through or visiting for a short time. I currently live in mainland China and though it’s only a short train ride into Hong Kong, it is a hassle, and it’s not called the world’s most expensive city for nothing. These two factors combined mean I have only spent around a total of eight days or so in the city, even though I’m so close.

If you are a visitor to the city like myself, then you’ll want to find your artist and get ahold of them well before your visit. I mainly use Instagram to find artists I want to go to, and a quick search on the old gram of “hktattoo” will yield seemingly endless results.

The Company tattoo

Alternatively you can google tattoo artists or shops in Hong Kong and you’ll have similar results. There are a number of artists and shops that will appear first in your searches such as Star Crossed, The Company, Freedom Tattoo, MoFo Tattoo, and Blackout, to name a few. For my own tattoos I chose Star Crossed and The Company.

If you prefer to find your shop one of the old school ways you can also wander through the streets and find ones to walk into, but there’s no guarantee artists will be available as Hong Kong is a bustling place. If you want to find yours by walking then your best bet is taking the metro into Kowloon or Central and starting from there.

The Company tattoo

Once you find your shop and artist send them an Instagram message or email if they prefer and find out if you need a consultation or if you can start talking designs and prices straight away. If you are coming from outside of Hong Kong there is a good chance you’ll have to pay your deposit through PayPal, and this is common practice. I did so for my tattoo on Japan and Hong Kong, both.

Tattoo day has come finally and you’re excited, and possibly nervous if it’s your first tattoo. If you are getting your first tattoo and it’s in Hong Kong I have a few tips for you. 1. If you are like myself and not used to blistering heat then you’re going to want to drink a fair amount of water before your tattoo, and bring a cold drink with you as even with AC some places in Hong Kong can be pretty hot. 2. Sanitation in parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, are a little different compared to Western cities, so you’ll want to make sure the shop has hygienic practices, and afterwards you’ll want to do a good job washing your tattoo with soap and hot water. 3. This one is again to do with the heat. If you’re a sweater then you’ll really want to make sure you clean your tattoo twice a day to make sure it’s not getting caked in sweat while it’s trying to heal.

Myself and Cathy from Star Crossed

At Star Crossed Tattoo I was tattooed by their resident apprentice and local Hong Konger, Cathy (as of July 2019). Cathy tattoos in an American traditional style with an HK twist. I got some script and a good luck piece from Sailor Jerry’s Hong Kong flash that Cathy updated a bit and made her own. If you’re going to get a Chinese character tattoo, make sure you can read it, or get it from an artist who fluently reads and writes the language (that goes for getting a tattoo in any language you don’t actually speak). And this goes both ways, I have also seen people in China with English words tattooed on them that make absolutely no sense. Don’t be that person. The script I got reads jiāyóu, which literally means “add oil”, but is used to say “you got this” or, “keep fighting”. Cathy’s work is often inspired by punk music, and she has many punk rock pin-up ladies you can choose from to get tattooed on you. She mixes old school motifs with a bit of a Neo-traditional colour scheme. Meaning my Sailor Jerry piece has some popping blue and green in there in addition to the black, red, and yellow. Cathy is extremely friendly and Star Crossed has an open and inviting atmosphere. I highly recommend checking it out.

A Sailor Jerry re work done by Cathy
Chinese characters from Cathy

The next shop I visited was The Company. I was tattooed by black work artist James Lau, another Hong Konger, born and raised. James tattoos in a heavy black work style, using thick, bold lines and dark shading to create stunning original pieces. James is known for tattooing finger and palm pieces that really last. James is also a very friendly guy, joking and inviting as soon as the door of the shop opens. The Company has a similar open-floor plan to Star Crossed, so the whole place is very free and open feeling. The Company is also a must visit shop in Hong Kong.

James and the finished product on me!
Heavy black work piece on the back of my neck done by James

Getting a Tattoo in China:

So you’re travelling to China, or maybe living there short term like myself, and you want to get a tattoo. This might be a more different experience than you’re used to in Western countries, and it’s good to do your research.

Some flash on the walls of Sick Rose

I’m living in Shenzhen, but travelled to Shanghai for a week, where I was tattooed by Kai at Sick Rose Tattoo.

Kai drawing up my dragon head.

Before getting to Shanghai, I found Sick Rose on Instagram so I could check their quality of work, and I was very happy with what I saw. All of the artists there are professional and do quality work! The shop mainly deals with old school style pieces. Strong bold lines and bright colours that will last a lifetime.

Cute shop cat

I messaged the shop before arriving and talked to Kai to make sure I could do a walk in. Sometimes you may want to actually schedule an appointment if you have a specific day in mind, but if like me you need to keep your schedule open, then make sure the shop takes walk ins. 

Dragon head hand drawn by Kai.

If you don’t speak Chinese then it’s also important that the artist you go to can speak some English. Everyone at Sick Rose speaks English and they are all very friendly. Kai was very professional and a soft spoken guy. 

Stencil ready to go on my ribs

I had my ribs tattooed, which took around three hours, and he made it as good an experience as possible, considering the painful placement. I also had one of the shop cats sleeping on me for most of my experience, which was a good distraction. Back in the West cats wouldn’t be allowed into shops, but here in China you come to expect the unexpected. The shop did follow all other health protocols, such as using new needles and ink, and wearing gloves the whole time. This is important to check as I know many shops in China don’t follow Western health standards as closely. Since Sick Rose followed everything else by the book I was able to overlook the shop cats since I had followed them for so long and seen the healed results, with no issues. On day four now and my own piece is healing nicely. 

Finished product next to my stomach piece.

I highly recommend Sick Rose and Kai if you are in Shanghai! Always be sure to thoroughly research a shop before going, especially when visiting another country. Happy tattoo collecting!

Close up of the finished piece!
One more shop cat sleeping on another client getting her elbow tattooed.
Check out Kai’s Instagram at  https://www.instagram.com/kai.tattooer/

Artist of the Month: Rob Kelly

Rob Kelly is the owner of BLACKOUT Tattoo in Hong Kong. Rob has been tattooing since 2005, and has lived in Hong Kong since 1994. BLACKOUT Tattoo was founded in 2010 and features brilliant permanent artists as well as travelling guest artists.

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Realistic black and grey tiger.
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Realistic black and grey lion head.
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American traditional lady head butterfly.
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Black and grey Japanese Kitsune.

Rob tattoos in many styles including American traditional, Neo traditional, black work, Japanese, Chinese, black and grey, line work, realism, tribal, and more.

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American traditional butterfly.
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Water colour dragon.
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Tribal chest panel.

Rob has a book of flash you can choose from, or you can book a consultation with him and collaborate on something completely original for yourself.

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Blackwork half goat, half mermaid.
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Classic mom tattoo with a heart and dagger.
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Japanese lucky cat, Neko!

The shop abides by all health regulations, including using new ink and needles, so no need to worry about infections.

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Blackwork chrysanthemum.
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Chinese dragon in American traditional style.
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Bright red chrysanthemum.

Rob has incredible attention to detail and will make sure you leave the shop happy and with a badass tattoo! Check out his website and set up a consultation http://www.blackout-tattoo.com

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American traditional cherub and skull.
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Black and grey Harry Potter piece. Expecto patronum!
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Legend of Zelda sword.

Artist of the Month: Jimmy Ho

Jimmy Ho is a tattoo artist in Hong Kong. Jimmy has had his own shop since he was 14, and was tattooing before that, thanks to his father, James. His father opened Hong Kong’s first tattoo shop in 1946 called “The Rose Tattoo”, and by 1950 the shop was working non-stop to fill the demands of American soldiers getting tattooed. Jimmy has had his own shop since 1958.

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An in progress pic of chest panels and half sleeves done in traditional Chinese style.
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Jimmy tattooing a dragon onto Chinese movie star Michael Chan in the 1970’s.

Jimmy started tattooing sailors at night before he was 14, when his fathers shop was technically closed. He wanted to help out and make some money so he started doing them himself, and has been tattooing ever since.

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Three Chinese dragons.
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Tiger flash from 1983

During the Korean war he and the other artists at his father’s shop would tattoo 30-40 men per day due to the high demand. Jimmy would tattoo soldiers everyday from 11am until 4am, non stop.

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Chinese dragon as a full back piece.
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Raijin and dragons done in 1984 or 85.

Jimmy has his own style, modelled after his fathers. A mix of traditional Chinese and American traditional, but specializing in dragons.

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Dragon and lady done in 1975.
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Beautiful forearm dragon piece.

Jimmy still tattoos, but most of the pictures on his Instagram are from the 70s-90s if you’re trying to find a portfolio.

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Chinese movie star Andy Lau in 1997.
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Sign for Jimmy’s tattoos in Hong Kong.

There are some differences between Chinese and Japanese dragons, as you’ll see in Jimmy’s work. His dragons usually have 4 claws, which was used in ancient Chinese history for high ranking officials and nobility, while the 3 toed dragons were for common people, as well as the Japanese.

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Eagle and mudan flower from 1982 or 83.

If you can’t make it all the way to Hong Kong for a tattoo you can always get some of Jimmy’s flash off of big cartel here.   tattooflash.bigcartel.com

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Jimmy with some of his flash that you can buy on big cartel.

Tattoo History 7: China’s Hainan Province’s Tattooed Li Women

The Li people live in Hainan Province, China’s most southern point. Tattoos in Hainan can be traced as far back as 3000 years ago. Hainan is often referred to as “The Tail of the Dragon”, as it is the most southern point of China, though also used to be called one of the eyeballs of China (along with Taiwan when it was a part of China) as it is an island province.

Li face tattoo 1980
Li woman’s face tattoo, taken in the 1980’s.

According to one German ethnologist (branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationship between them), Hans Stübel, the origin of their tattooing came from a story about a descendant of the original Li. This descendant of Li had a daughter whose mother died early in the child’s life. When this happened, a colourful native bird called the hoopoe fed the child with grains to keep her alive. In remembrance of this, the Li women tattoo themselves to look more like the birds, both in their colour and the patterns of their wings.

Li geometric tattoos of a Basaadung Li woman from 1930
More geometric face tattoos, specifically of a Basaadung Li woman from the 1930’s.

Others still believe that the women tattooed themselves in order to be recognized in the afterlife.

A more practical reason that these women tattooed themselves, particularly on their faces, is the fact that their villages would be attacked often by many of their neighbors. In order to appear unattractive to the invading men, the Li women tattooed quite intricate designs on their faces and down their necks. Making themselves appear less attractive protected them from violence and rape.

Li married and un married women with leg and hand tattoos from 1930
Married and unmarried women, all with leg tattoos, and some with hand tattoos. Taken in the 1930’s.

Later on in history though, these women saw the tattoos as an enhancement to their beauty. When a girl turned 13 or 14, an older woman would tattoo her, first on the nape of her neck, then her face and throat over the course of 5-7 days. Then, over the next 3 years, she would continue to be tattooed along her arms and legs. The only thing that interrupted this would be the death of a family member. Once a woman married, her hand would also be tattooed, marking her as a married woman.

Li old woman
More beautiful geometric face tattoos, taken in the 1980’s.

Like many ancient cultures, the Li used a bamboo rod, with rattan needles to hand tap the designs into the skin. The patterns used did vary from tribe to tribe, but all used motifs taken from nature, such as plants, animals, and totemic symbols passed down through generations.

Li progress tattoo
Geometric face tattoo in progress. The old tattooing the young.

Information taken from:

-Carrie E. Reed. “Tattoo in Early China.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 120, no. 3, 2000, pp. 360–376.Liu, H. (1939).

-“Hainan: The Island and the People.” The China Journal 29(5-6): 236-246; 302-314.

-McCabe, M. [and Q.Y. Wang] (2008). “Tattooed Women of Yunnan, China.” Skin and Ink Magazine (11): 64-74.

-Stϋbel, H. (1937). Die Li Stämme der Insel Hainan: Ein Betrag zur Volkskunde Sϋdchinas. Berlin: Klinkhardt & Bierman.
 

Artist of the Month: Zhuo Dan Ting

Zhuo Dan Ting is the owner of Shanghai Tattoo as of January 2007 (located in Shanghai, China) where she tattoos people from all around the world. People seek out her art from far and wide, and are not disappointed with the results.

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Black and grey baby portrait.
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Realistic elephant half sleeve.
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Black and grey bio mechanical sleeve.

Zhuo Dan Ting has been an artist since an early age, where her father (an art teacher himself) and his friends would teach her new techniques. She went on to art school in Harbin after high school, but quickly moved onto something entirely different.

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Black and grey Asian leg sleeve featuring Fu Dog, peony, and great wall of China.
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Bio mechanical/ripped skin/ realism back piece!
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Bright dragon and flower half sleeve.
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Amazing realistic Greek Poseidon sleeve.

Ting found the subcultures of death metal and punk music, which is where she fell in love with tattoos. Ting started off tattooing her friends in Harbin’s underground music scene, where she quickly started making a name for herself in the tattoo world.

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Full black and grey realistic sleeve with monster, lightning, waves, etc.
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Ting doing her thing, tattooing a painful chest piece!
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Surrealist color sleeve with angel, skull, and watercolor.
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Color realism owl, skull, and eyeball half sleeve.

Ting does brilliant black and grey, photo realism, portrait art, and Asian styled pieces inspired by both Chinese and Japanese art. Along with making beautiful art, Ting was also the first woman in China to open her own tattoo shop, a big step for the Chinese tattoo community!

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Black and grey Monkey King half sleeve.
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Realistic color eye.
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Brilliant Japanese style peony flower.
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Realistic Japanese/Chinese style dragon sleeve.
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Realistic portrait.
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Terrifying zombie clown portrait.

If you’re in Shanghai, Shanghai Tattoo is the place to go!

Foo/Fu Dog Tattoos:

Foo, or Fu Dogs as they are known as in the West are Chinese lion guardians called Shi. These creatures are both guardians and good luck charms. When placed outside buildings they are meant to protect those inside from negative energy and to stop those with intent to harm from entering. These ancient symbols have been around since the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD).

foo Alex T. Frazer at Bravest Kids Tattoo, Manchester UK
American traditional Foo head by Alex T. Frazer at Bravest Kids Tattoo, Manchester UK.
foo Andy Pho at Skin Design Tattoos
Realistic Foo statue done by Andy Pho at Skin Designs Tattoos.
foo Danh Vu at Inkman Tattoo in Brooklyn NY
Huge rib piece with Foo and flowers by Danh Vu at Inkman Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY.

As a tattoo this creature is also meant to be protective. Keeping the wearer safe from harm. This creature is also tattooed to be a representation of the wearer’s strength, courage, and heroism.

foo David Hoang at Chronic Ink Tattoos, Toronto
Realistic stomach piece by David Hoang at Chronic Ink Tattoos in Toronto.
foo Tristen Zhang Chronic Ink Toronto
Back of neck foo by Tristen Zhang at Chronic Ink Tattoo in Toronto.
foo Hori Taka Kyoto, Japan
Brilliant Japanese backpiece by Hori Taka in Kyoto, Japan.

Foo dogs are firstly a Chinese tattoo, but are also associated with Japanese tattoo’s and can be incorporated into Japanese pieces. They are often also done as black and grey pieces, American traditional, and realism pieces.

foo Horiei Shinsu, Matsumoto City, Japan
Golden foo and daruma doll and flowers by Horiei Shinshu in Matsumoto City, Japan.
foo Jin Q Choi at Seoul INk Tattoo Studio
Foo and flower chest piece by Jin Q Choi at Seoul Ink Tattoo Studio.
Foo Kentzho Starbrade at Black Bamba Ink and Orc Tattoos
Black and grey foo by Kentzho Starbrade at Black Bamba Ink and Orc tattoos.
foo Steve Black at All of One Tattoo Studio
Forearm filler foo by Steve Black at All of One Tattoo Studio.
foo Sue Kidder Old Ironside Tattoo, Honolulu
Foo head chest piece by Sue Kidder at Old Ironside Tattoo, Honolulu.
foo Yan Jingdiao in China
Bright foo sleeve by Yan Jingdiao in China.

Foo dogs are often placed on hands, with the head fitting perfectly, lining up with the knuckles.

foo Anna Waychoff at Powerhouse Tattoo
Blue foo by Anna Waychoff at Powerhouse Tattoo.
foo Brian Donovan at Davidian Tattoo Studio
Red and blue foo head by Brian Donovan at Davidian Tattoo Studio.
Foo Nicolas Malagon Casas in Columbia
Black and grey foo with a third eye done by Nicolas Malagon Casas in Columbia.
foo @pandern8er at Main Street Tattoo Collective
Colourful hand foo by @pandern8er at Main Street Tattoo Collective in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Foo Dog’s make a brilliant and powerful tattoo for those seeking protection and good fortune.