Hyottoko and Okame Tattoos:

Hyottoko and Okame are an endearing and comical pair of peasants that have been a part of Japanese folklore for centuries. They are two of Noh theatres most beloved characters and both are portrayed using very stylized masks.

Black and grey piece of them together by David Sáez
Okame by Owen Yu in Suzhou China

Hyottoko is a male character with an oddly shaped face, prominent cheeks that are red from drinking too much sake, with one eye larger than the other, pursed lips, and a white handkerchief with blue dots tied and knotted around his head and under his chin.

Hyottoko by Jeff Ma at Ukiyo Ink in Winnipeg
Hyottoko by Christos Serafeim in the UK

He is a kind peasant spirit who according to legend could remove gold from his navel and spit fire through a bamboo tube that he always brings with him. This tube is also why he is usually depicted with pursed lips as though perpetually ready to blow fire through his tube. He is also described as a drunkard who enjoys dancing and parties. The handkerchief around his head is also a nod towards him being a drunk as toothaches were common from drinking too much.

Hyottoko and flower half sleeve by Wootattoo_1 at Authentink Tattoo Studio in Australia
Okame and Hyottoko flash by Maiz Art

Okame is a female character (also sometimes called Otafuku) with a smiling face and large cheeks. She also has white makeup and red lips, in the style of a geisha. 

Okame by Rocky Burley at True Nature Tattoo Studio in Arcata, CA
Okame by Alec at Gastown Tattoo Parlour, Vancouver

She is meant to bring happiness and enjoyment, and also embodies the ideal of feminine beauty. Okame is also often associated with geishas because of her playful nature and more silent and secondary role in theatre and folklore. 

Okame by Jeff Ma at Ukiyo Ink in Winnipeg
Hyottoko and Okame by Baku Zumi in South Korea

Do you have a Hyottoko or Okame tattoo?

Edited by Harrison R.

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Artist of the Month: Christoffer Woien

Christoffer Woien is co-owner and tattooer at Blue Arms Tattoo located in Oslo, Norway.

Nure-Onna on the ribs
Dragon on the thigh

Chris is known for his notable work in two main styles, Japanese and traditional old school, with some black and grey or black work versions of both styles thrown into the mix.

Hannya and snake back piece
Black American traditional torso

Chris’ Instagram is full of both large and small scale work, including back pieces, full sleeves, one-offs, and job stoppers.

Hannya job stopper
Kintaro wrestling a wolf

His work is crisp and detailed, and you can tell how much pride he takes in his work by spending only a few minutes looking through his portfolio. Much of his work takes direct influence from woodblock Japanese artists as well as old school tattooers from the 19th-20th centuries.

Kyōsai’s frog
Black and grey Japanese sleeve

If you’re able to make the trip to Norway or are lucky enough to live in Europe where it’s easy to travel between countries, Chris is a must see artist.

Fujin and Raijin chest piece
Tiger 3/4 sleeve

Edited by Harrison R.

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Kintaro Tattoos:

Kintaro (literally translated as “golden boy”) is Japanese mythology’s equivalent to Hercules.

 

Kintaro vs the giant koi Done by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tokyo
Kintaro’s head Done by Diau Yīshēng in Cape Town South Africa

Despite being called golden boy he’s usually depicted as red-skinned. He is also always seen as quite a young boy, very muscular, squat, and usually either naked or covered by only a loincloth type material.

Kintaro side piece Done by Marco Rossettini in Spain
Kintaro sleeve Done by Ryo Niitsuma in Okinawa Japan

According to legend Kintaro was raised by an ogre in the mountains, and his feats of strength are just as well known in Japan as Hercules’ are in most Western countries. Kintaro defeated a bear and an eagle at the same time, uprooted a massive tree to form a bridge over a river, and most famously wrestled a giant koi fish into submission. 

A more old school take on Kintaro vs the koi Done by Kendi at Victory Tattooing in Vancouver, BC
Kintaro vs snake Done by Amar Goucem in the Netherlands

It is this last image of Kintaro wrestling the giant koi that is most often seen in tattoos. Utagawa Kuniyoshi most famously painted that specific image and made it popular for tattoo collectors. 

A bright and bold Kintaro Done by Davide Di Cintio at Cloak and Dagger in London, England
Black and grey Kintaro vs koi back piece Done by the Gioi Tattoo

Though Kintaro is a famous legendary figure, scholars believe he is at the very least based on a real person. The real Kintaro was most likely the son of Sakata Kurando, one of Emperor Suzaku’s bodyguards in the tenth century. Sakata’s wife Yaegiri was apparently a very beautiful woman, but when Sakata committed suicide after losing the Emperor’s favour, she took her son Kintaro to remote Mount Ashigara to raise him among animals, spirits, and mythological creatures. Here he gained powers of strength and was able to communicate with and control animals, and Yaegiri became a sorceress. Kintaro also eventually gained a powerful weapon, the very axe the god of thunder Raijin used. 

Kintaro vs the boar Done by Baki in South Korea
Kintaro head on the foot Done by Ordi at Black Rose Tattoo in Barcelona

Information found in the book “Japanese Tattoos: Meanings, Shapes and Motifs” by Yori Moriarty.

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Kirin Tattoos:

There is a mythological creature from Japan known as a Kirin. It is known to have the body of a lion, scales like that of a fish, with deer antlers and hooves. 

Kirin with flames as a back piece by Marco Biondi at Freak Show Tattoo Studio in Cesena, Italy
Forearm Kirin and flames by Samantha Fung at 59 Tattoo in Hong Kong

Some people believe it may be based on a giraffe that may have been brought to China after one of the emperors expeditions to Africa.

Kirin half sleeve by Kan Stroker at Stroker Tattoo in Japan
Kirin and flames back by Horitsubaki in Fukui City, Japan

It is always seen as a harbinger of good luck or some kind of positive event that will happen, such as a period of abundance.

Black and grey Kirin by Dokgonoing
Black and grey Kirin back by Horitomo at State of Grace in California

Kirin are also meant to have an abundance of rui, a Buddhist concept that can be roughly translated to “serenity” and “prosperity.” This is visualized usually by flames surrounding the creature.

Kirin and flames on the leg by Victor Martins at Sacred Cartel
A bold thigh Kirin by Ian Det at Psycho Tattoo Studio in Rome

It is quite a popular creature in Japanese and East Asian tattooing in general, and it makes for a great stand alone piece or as part of a larger piece of work like a sleeve or even back piece. 

A healed back Kirin by Greg Kinnamon in Omaha Nebraska
Shoulder Kirin by Hide Ichibay at Tokyo Three Tides

Edited by Harrison R.

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Winnipeg Artist 13: Rich Handford

Rich Handford is a tattoo artist working out of Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has owned the shop since 2003 and has a great team working at the shop, and his own experience as a tattooer dates back to 1999.

Sleeve featuring a Hannya mask and chrysanthemum
A tiger and snake back piece

Rich specializes in Japanese but also does great neo-traditional and occasional American traditional work. On his Instagram page you’ll find mainly colour work, but if you’re in the market for a piece without colour Rich can handle that for you as well.

An American traditional swallow and flowers
Neo-traditional panther, flowers, and jewel

Rich’s portfolio is full of mainly large scale work such as sleeves and back pieces, but if you’re looking for something smaller he can take care of it.

Koi fish sleeve and cherry blossoms
Bright Mahakala and cherry blossoms

In addition to owning and operating Kapala Tattoo, Rich has been instrumental in getting the Red River Exhibition Park Tattoo Convention up and running, taking place every summer.

Kitsune and cherry blossoms
Dragon and hannya sleeve

If you’re in the area or are passing through Winnipeg Rich is a must-see artist at a great shop.

Foo dog and peony back piece
Healed snake and crane back piece

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Fukushi Masaichi “the skin collector”

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. 

Edited by Harrison R.

Information from: Don Ed Hardy, Remains to be Seen, in Tattoo Time, Volume 4: Life and Death Tattoos, (1987).

Vice Magazine, June 29 2015, Simon Davis. Human Pelts: The Art of Preserving Tattooed Skin After Death

https://www.eikondevice.com/blog/tattoo-histories-skin-collector-fukushi-masaichi-1878-1956

Artist of the Month: Moon Cheon

Moon Cheon is a tattoo artist working out of Kodzunak in Seoul, South Korea. Cheon, tattoos traditional Korean motifs in various styles.

Beautiful traditional woman on the hand
Freehand river and flower sleeves

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.

Korean eagle as part of a sleeve
Black work freehand river

Cheon also does delicate black and grey tattoos of Korean and East Asian animals, mythical creatures, and Gods and Goddesses.

Freehand mountain landscape on the chest
Rooster on the stomach and onto the chest

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).

Healed namakubi (severed head)
Freehand river and flower sleeve ending with the hand

If you live near Seoul or are passing through, Moon Cheon is a must-see artist.

A darker version of a crane
Flowers right in the ditch as part of a sleeve

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Tattoo History 12: Hong Kong

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).

Tattooist James Ho, Hong Kong, 1961. Photo by Burt Glinn from vintage tattoo archive.
U.S. Navy officer getting a dragon tattoo at Ho Gee tattoo shop near Fenwick Pier, Hong Kong, September, 1957. Photo by Hank Walker from vintage tattoo archive.

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.

A full back piece done by Jimmy Ho.
Jimmy Ho still tattooing, from 2016.

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.

Marcus Yuen dragon on the left, based on Ricky’s design on the right.
A Ricky chest piece from the 1970’s. Photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

Unfinished eagle around 1975 Ricky and Pinky’s shop, picture from Marcus Yuen.
An old sign from Rose Tattoo. Photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

A Hong Kong protestor piece done by Samantha Fung.
Rose Tattoo that unfortunately no longer exists. The area is now all shopping malls. photo from Marcus Yuen.

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.

A dragon by Dave Ryo Lau.
A dragon done by Samantha Fung.

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.

An eagle by Dave Ryo Lau.
A tiger done by Marcus Yuen.

Have you been tattooed in Hong Kong yet?

To read more about Hong Kong’s tattoo history check out https://zolimacitymag.com/not-just-for-triads-hong-kongs-unique-style-of-tattoos/ and https://www.the4thwall.net/blog/2016/8/13/hong-kong, where a lot of my information came from. Special thanks also to Marcus Yuen for sharing information and photos and to Samantha Fung for pointing me in his direction.

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Japanese Blackwork Tattoos:

Japanese is undeniably one of the most popular tattoo styles, but heavy black pieces are changing the game.

Blackwork wave sleeve mixed with geometric patterns by Raimundo Ramìrez.
Spirited Away’s Yubaba done by Stephen Doan.

Japanese tattoos traditionally use lots of red and black, but also feature some yellows, orange, and shades of grey. Basically the same colour palette as original American traditional.

Blackwork tiger back done by Takizomoro.
Samurai Hannya done by Daniel Ra.

Blackwork is becoming a more and more popular style all the time, and can be done in many styles.

Blackwork leg sleeves done by Guy Le Tatooer.
Blackwork cloud sleeves with geometric patterns done by Gakkin.

Japanese blackwork often makes great use of negative space, making the subject pop, particularly when done on lighter skin tones.

Blackwork Bodhidharma by HoriNami.
Blackwork peony and snake sleeves by Lupo Horiōkami.

Some artists also mix styles such as Neo-traditional and geometric with their Japanese work. Both of these styles are often done as all black pieces, so it mixes well.

Blackwork namakubi by Damien J. Thorn.
Blackwork fish by Horihiro.

Which tattoo is your favourite?

Blackwork negative space sleeve by Oscar Hove.
3/4 sleeves and chest panels by Gotch.

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