Fukushi Masaichi (1878-1956) was famous for his interesting and macabre collection of human skin, specifically tattooed human skin. Dr. Fukushi was a Japanese physician, pathologist, and professor of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. He was studying moles and movement of pigmentation in human skin, which is how he became interested in tattoos; more specifically Japanese bodysuits. This interest led to him collecting tattooed human skin after people died (with their permission).
Dr. Fukushi worked for a long time at the Mitsui Memorial Hospital in Tokyo, which mainly helped the poorer and lower classes. At the time, these classes were largely the kind of people who were also getting tattooed in Japan such as gangsters, construction workers, and other day labourers.
The doctor had such a fascination and interest in tattoos that he even paid for some people to get full bodysuits, or to finish existing work on the condition that he could harvest their skin when they died.
This fascination also lead to him forming friendships with his tattooed patients, and helped form the Tattoo League of Japan. The League would meet in public bathhouses to show off their body art to each other and the doctor.
Don Ed hardy is one of the few lucky foreigners to have seen the collection in 1983 at the invitation of Dr. Katsunari Fukushi, Masaichi’s son, who also continued the collection. At the time there were over 3,000 photographs of tattoos, over 100 tattooed human skins, and notes and records from Masaichi.
Moon Cheon is a tattoo artist working out of Kodzunak in Seoul, South Korea. Cheon, tattoos traditional Korean motifs in various styles.
Most of Cheon’s work is done freehand in a more loose style that closely resembles an ancient Chinese style of painting called “Xieyi” or “写意.” This is mostly used for landscape paintings, and Cheon follows this style by applying this technique to land and waterscape tattoos, often including free flowing rivers and flowers.
Cheon also does delicate black and grey tattoos of Korean and East Asian animals, mythical creatures, and Gods and Goddesses.
While much of his work is delicate and beautiful, he also doesn’t shy away from blood, gore, and violence, in the form of severed heads, and Japanese ghosts and demons (yōkai and yūrei).
If you live near Seoul or are passing through, Moon Cheon is a must-see artist.
Hong Kong, a fascinating city with an equally fascinating history and culture. Tattoos are becoming more and more popular as they enter into the mainstream, making it hard to walk around the downtown area without spotting a tattoo either on a tourist or a local. But for a long time tattoos were seen as something only for criminals, mainly the triads (the Chinese mafia that also operates in Hong Kong and Taiwan among other places).
While tattoos of course existed in the area long before the 1940’s, the first official tattoo shop wasn’t opened until 1946 by the famous James Ho (father of Jimmy Ho). James Ho was a Shanghainese marine engineer in the navy in 1940 and was sailing on a ship in the Indian Ocean when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. James was lucky and survived by clinging to wreckage and was picked up by an American warship and brought to Calcutta where he first came in contact with tattoos; hand poked tattoos to be specific. James brought his new passion home to Shanghai where he made a machine from bike chains and other spare parts. He fled Shanghai towards the end of WW11 because of political conflict and went to Hong Kong, where he opened the first shop; Rose Tattoo Studio. James had seen mainly old school tattoos on sailors, so that’s what he brought back both to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and why old school Hong Kong tattoos follow similar tropes of hearts, flags, pin-ups and more, all with thick bold lines and vibrant colours. The shop did very well, mainly working on those in the Navy during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Along with these American designs, tattooers in Asia were adding imagery such as dragons, koi, and tigers, among other culturally significant iconography.
To keep up with the high demand, James took on four apprentices; Ricky Lo, Pinky Yun, Benny Tsoi, and Swallow, and later eventually his own son, Jimmy. Jimmy started officially working for his father at the age of 14 after already tattooing clients after hours from around the age of 12. His mother didn’t want him working there but he insisted, and when he showed his father James the earnings, he was finally gifted two tattoo machines of his own. Pinky eventually moved to the US in the 70’s and became very popular after first working with Ricky at “Ricky and Pinky Tattoo”, Benny has a shop still in Hong Kong run by an apprentice (his daughter also tattoos and runs her own shop), and Jimmy’s shop is also still being run by an apprentice in Hong Kong.
When business declined for all tattooers in Hong Kong after the Korean and Vietnam wars, tattooers were working more and more with triads. Only a “大佬” or, “boss” could get tattooed then, and some of the main designs included dragons on the arms or back, or eagles on the chest. Now triads are tattooed less and less, similar to the yakuza in Japan. But when they do opt to get tattoos they are more likely to get them in mainland China where they are significantly cheaper.
Apart from gangsters, the most common people getting tattooed from the 70’s-90’s were construction workers and truck drivers. These developed their own kind of style which consisted of only an outline without any shading, often because they would run out of money. As long as you could tell what the design was supposed to be, it was good enough.
Hong Kong style is also compared to Japanese, particularly for full bodied work with backgrounds such as waves and clouds. This is largely due to Japanese tattooers visiting Hong Kong, and vice versa. For example, James’ son, Jimmy Ho was visited numerous times by Horiyoshi in the 1990’s. Jimmy then borrowed Japanese ideas of tattooing but made them his own.
Today, artists such as Marcus Yuen and Samantha Fung, both working out of 59 tattoo alongside other great artists, and Dave Ryo Lau working out of The Company Tattoo, are all keeping Hong Kong style tattoos alive by continuing to tattoo in the unique style. Marcus in particular works hard to keep Hong Kong style tattoos alive by also sharing information about the old legends, and many historic pictures on his Instagram account.
Tsuchigumo is a Japanese yōkai, or demon. It’s a creepy crawly beast that according to legend can grow to a monstrous size, big enough to eat a person with no problems.
Tsuchigumo literally means “ground spider”, and is found in mountains, forests, and caves.
In legends, these beasts live in silk tubes in trees and caves, from which they trap their human or animal prey. Think Aragog from Harry Potter or Shelob in the Lord of the Rings.
Like a lot of Japanese yōkai, particularly snake and spider ones, Tsuchigumo relies on tricks and deceit to catch their smarter prey.
For example, one legend tells of a Tsuchigumo using an illusion to torun itself into a beautiful woman, with an army behind her, to attach Japan. Warrior Yorimitsu met army on the battlefield with his own force, and first attacked the woman general. When she was struck by a sword she transformed back into a creature, while her army disappeared as it had all been an illusion. she ran away back to her cave where she was sliced open. This led to thousands of babies spilling from her swollen abdomen, but each one was killed by the Japanese warriors.
Many more tales feature Tsuchigumo using illusions to trick their prey, leading to many people being eaten by the giant spider-beast.
As a tattoo, Tsuchigumo is usually done in a traditional Japanese style, as it comes from Japanese folklore. Though it can also be done with a more American traditional twist, Neo-traditional, or realistic style. It pairs well with Japanese warriors, or as fillers with webs, skulls, or flowers.
Over the last few years there have been numerous studies looking at tattoos and their effect on the immune system.
And for all you fellow tattoo collectors I have good news. Tattoos do in fact have a positive impact on your immune system!
Are they going to keep COVID-19 away from you? Unfortunately, no, but people who have more than one tattoo generally have a stronger and healthier immune system than those who do not.
In one test, a group of 29 people were tested before and after visiting a tattoo shop in Alabama. The researchers tested levels of cortisol, which is one of the body’s indicators of stress levels, as well as Immunoglobin A, which is in simple terms is an antibody that helps our bodies fight infections . This study showed that those going in with no tattoos yet showed a greater strain on their immune system with a dip in their Immunoglobin A levels, while those going in for their second, third, or even tenth or more tattoo, actually experienced a large boost in their Immunoglobin A levels immediately following the tattoo. The full test can be read here “Tattoos to Toughen Up.”
Another test done in American Samoa by the same researcher took 25 saliva samples at the start and end of tattoo sessions on both tourists and locals getting tattooed. They also measured the tattoo recipients height, weight, and fat density to account for general health. Again, both cortisol and Immonoglobin A were extracted and tested, as well as an inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. A similar finding was concluded here, with Immonoglobin A staying remaining higher in the bloodstream even after tattoos had healed. As well, people with more and larger tattoos tested higher Immonoglobin A levels than those with less or no tattoos prior to the start of getting tattooed. This effect also appears to be dependent on getting multiple tattoos and not just having some time pass after getting tattooed once.
Of course having lots of tattoos won’t guarantee your health, but based on testing it can be beneficial for general immune health, and in particular skin injuries and health.
A number of people have brought to my attention that Max Rathbone has a large number of sexual assault and abuse allegations against him. Whether they are true or not is not for me to decide, but the number of women making claims against him is outstanding. Hence I have deleted photos of his work and will not be including him in future articles.
If you or someone you know has been abused by a tattoo artist, please say something. It’s an industry that unfortunately all too often allows men to prey on innocent people that are in a vulnerable position.
Mathew is a tattooer at Trophy Tattoo in Hamilton, Ontario, formerly of Rebel Waltz in Winnipeg.. Mathew does crisp American traditional tattoos the way they were meant to be made. Bold as hell!
If you take a look through Mathew’s work, either online or in person, you’ll see he really does the classics. His Instagram is full of eagles, pinups, sailors and pirates, skulls, snakes, and more.
If you’re looking for a bit of a Japanese twist to an American style, Mathew is also your guy. He’s done both dragon heads and full bodied dragons, and Japanese flowers.
Mathew mentored under Don Ritson, the owner of Rebel Waltz, and you can certainly see Don’s influence in Mathews work. Both artists stick to a very traditional colour palette of mainly black, red, some green, and small amounts of yellow to make pieces pop.
Check out his work on Instagram @mathew.machado where you’ll find his email for making appointments. You can also watch Rebel Waltz’ Instagram to see when Mathew and the other artists there are doing walk-ins.