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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Tattoo History 17: Shanghai Kate

Kate Hellenbrand AKA “Shanghai Kate” AKA “America’s Tattoo Godmother” got started as one of America’s most well known female tattooers in the early 1970’s, and still tattoos now (though she is semi retired). She works out of Holy Work Tattoo in Austin, Texas, and works tattoo conventions with her husband.

Classic rattlesnake
1970’s flash

Kate has worked alongside some of the greatest American tattoo icons of the 1900’s including Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Jack Rudy, and Ed hardy, and was also good friends with the late Lyle Tuttle. 

Classic pinup
Black cat and 13 for Friday the 13th

Kate has a background in art and became interested in tattooing when she lived in New York with her partner Michael Malone at a time when tattooing was actually illegal in the city. The two worked out of an apartment and would hand out business cards to anyone they came across who had a visible tattoo. Tattooing was difficult at the time, and they even had to make machines using parts bought at bike shops, or pretend to be nursing students to acquire medical equipment.

Crossed pistols and desert themed florals
1970 Jack Grice, Kate, Thom Devita, Sailor Sid

In 1972 Kate was invited to be one of the seven tattooers at what was the first international tattoo convention in Hawaii that was hosted by Sailor Jerry. This group was called “The Council of the Seven.” This lasted around one week, but when the other tattooers left, Kate stayed behind to work with Jerry for a number of weeks. Sailor Jerry was notoriously protective of tattoo culture and disliked most newcomers to the industry particularly women, but Kate seemed to be an exception and was welcomed wholeheartedly and taught a lot.

Bright and bold dragon
Fortune Teller

As well as still occasionally tattooing, Kate also sells tattoo memorabilia including old flash from the greats, tattoo books, and also gives talks at tattoo conventions around the US. 

Kate’s signature added to an old back piece by Sailor Jerry
Kate tattooing that same signature

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Battle Royale Tattoos:

The Battle Royale is an old school design that consists of an eagle, a snake, and a dragon, all battling it out to be number one (sometimes it is depicted as an eagle vs a snake, or even other animals fighting).

A more neo-traditional take on the Battle Royale by Sergio Latorre at Octopus Tattoo
Classic colours in this Battle Royale by Tim Pausinger at Pearl Harbor Gift Shop

This design has been passed down for generations through tattooers and tattoo collectors, usually as quite a large design like a full back piece, chest, or stomach, but also as smaller work on arms and legs. 

Black work Battle Royale by Nico at El Furgón Tattoo Parlour
Colour Battle Royale by Rudi Ridgewell in Worthing, England

This most famous design was tattooed on D.C (Dave) Paul by Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers, though there are a few older designs that are bit different. One was tattooed by George Burchett when he was working with Japanese artist Hori Uno in his shop in London, and the other by Percy Waters in Detroit. Ben Corday’s version is also quite popular.

Black work Battle Royale by Gil Guerra at Heart of Oak Tattoo in Belgium
A more neo-traditional Battle Royale by Erich XXX in Buffalo, NY

The Battle Royale is an American traditional design that has clear roots in Japanese tattooing as well as American. It was designed to represent the eternal struggle of keeping balance, particularly between the East and West, but life in general as well. Everything in life requires balance and hardship. This is a battle that will never be won.

Bold and colourful Battle Royale by JF Bourbon
Spaulding and Rogers version by Leonardo Maria Cardinali at Fat Cat Studio in Viterbo Italy

Most people choose to get this piece in full colour as the first wearers of the tattoo would have, but it also looks great without colour, or as a more neo-traditional piece. 

Black work Battle Royale by Alban at Lig Neverte Tattoo in Montréal
A very bright Battle Royale done by Alfy Iglesias at Old Ironside Tattoo in Honolulu, Hawaii
Ben Corday’s Battle Royale by Rich Hardy

Edited by Harrison R.

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Tattoo History 15: Myanmar

Tattoos have long been an important part of Myanmar (Burmese) culture. Legend has it that tattoos were first introduced to what was then called Burma around 200 BCE by ethnic minorities that migrated to the area from southwest China. 

Yaw Shen, who got her tattoos at the age of 15, entertains visitors by playing the nose flute, also a vanishing art. (Credit- Dave Stamboulis)

Tattooing was/is a very important part of belonging to Myanmar, and everyone from the kings to commoners would get work done, and continue to do so even today. Early on tattoos were a way of showing off masculine strength as well as feminine beauty, on top of cultural identity and aesthetic appeal. Lots of tattooed people also believed (like many ancient cultures) that tattoos would serve as a protection from evil and that they (tattoos) could protect the wearer from harm. Being largely a Buddhist country (90% of the population is Buddhist), Buddhist tattoos have also been important in the area. Tattoos related to Buddhism would often be created at temples by monks, thus ensuring that the wearer would be protected from harm. 

M’kaan woman (Credit- Dave Stamboulis)

Early on in Myanmar’s history it was mainly the Shan, A Ta’I ethnic group that were getting tattooed the most frequently. The Shan States still dominate Northeast Myanmar today. Men would mainly get their waists down towards their knees tattooed as a sign of virility. Early on it’s believed that both men and women were tattooed frequently, but by the mid 1600’s only women were mainly receiving facial tattoos, particularly women of the Chin State in Western Myanmar. The women of the M’uun tribe are easily recognizable with the looping “P” or “D” shaped tattoos on their faces, along with the “Y” on their foreheads. The M’kaan women have lines on both their foreheads and chins. There are six tribes in total in the area where facial tattoos were popular for women, though sadly in the 1960’s this practice was outlawed and when these women pass away a piece of history will die with them. 

M’uun woman (Credit- Dave Stamboulis)

Below are a few charts that show what kind of person was getting what kind of tattoo, and where on the body, with regards to military action. 

Other common motifs for tattooing in Myanmar include cats of various sizes from house cats to tigers, dragons, geometric patterns, and figures from Myanmar’s and Buddhism’s history and culture. 

Information from “Tattoo Art in Myanmar Culture: Special Reference with State Bondsmen of Cavalry Corps 2016” written by Moe Moe Oo from the Ministry of Education, Myanmar, and 

Tattoo Art in Burmese Cultures: History, Technique, Design, and Symbolic Functions of Tattooing in Burma/Myanmar 

9/1/11 to 11/20/11 Northern Illinois University School of Art DeKalb IL

Edited by Harrison R.

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Tattoo history 14: Percy Waters

Percy Waters was a well-known American tattoo artist from the early 1900’s. Born in 1888, in Anniston, Alabama, he was (allegedly) first introduced to tattooing through the sideshows of traveling circuses that passed through his hometown. At the time he was learning the trade of molder, and tattooing locals became a hobby on the side. 

Man tattooed by Percy Waters from Docks Weird Years
Percy Waters at work, featuring Pharaohs Horses. From Gabriele Donnini

He’s known to many as a Michigan artist, and not from a small town in Alabama, due to the fact that in 1917 he tattooed someone he shouldn’t have and got in trouble. He left Anniston and moved to Detroit, Michigan. He built up a successful tattoo business where he also sold supplies to other tattoo artists. In 1929 he even got a license for his tattoo machine design, which was an adjustable two-coil electromagnetic machine that hasn’t changed too much in modern tattoo machines. It had also taken almost 55 years (from 1875) for the tattoo machine to be adjusted after Edison’s machine. In 1939 he moved back to Anniston and ran what was most likely the biggest tattoo supply company in the world at the time until his death in 1952. 

Two men tattooed by Percy Waters
Man tattooed by Percy Waters in 1921

Percy was very modest and was known to call himself “just a good tattooer”; However, he was quite well known regardless of his humility, particularly in the sideshow world where he tattooed “tattoo attractions” such as; Bobby Smith, Red Van, Detroit Dutch, Shelley Kemp, Clyde Williams, and Mrs. Ted Hamilton among others. 

Percy Waters flash from 1923 from Docks Weird Years
Battle Royale painted by Percy Waters from Docks Weird Years

His style stays true to early 20th century old school designs. With classics such as portraits of women, dragons, eagles, snakes, panthers, good luck symbols, ships, and more. His original designs are still redrawn often today, and many contemporary artists are heavily inspired by him in their own styles. 

Percy Waters design by Ryan Cooper Thompson
Percy Waters flash from Docks Weird Years

Some of the most well-known tattoos he did were Pharaohs’ Horses as a back piece, an image of a woman riding an eagle, and whole-body suits made up of patriotic American pieces coupled with images such as butterflies, flowers, dragons, snakes, and ladies. 

Percy Waters business card from Celluloid Dreams
Percy Waters business card from Celluloid Dreams

Do you have a Percy Waters tattoo?

Edited by Harrison R.

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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

Tattoo History 13: Doc Forbes

Doc Forbes is one of the most famous early tattoo artists in Canadian history, having learned the craft from Frederick Baldwin, the first tattoo artist in Canada to use an electric tattoo machine, in the 1920’s. 

Doc Forbes showing his sleeves off, from Classic Tattoo Appreciation
1966 heart by Curly Allen on Hasting street .. and 1967 swallow and rose by Doc Forbes at Ace Tattoo on Davies Street

Doc Forbes trained under numerous brilliant artists including Pat Martynuik from San Francisco. Much of Doc’s work can be found in Lyle Tuttle’s collection, although unfortunately Doc suffered a stroke in the early 70’s which led to severe depression, which in turn led to him destroying a lot of his work. 

Doc Forbes tattooing a sailor around 1965 while his buddies look on. From vintage tattoo photo archive
Doc Forbes with a young man from the Navy that he tattooed. Picture from New York Tattoo History

Doc Forbes tattooed in the classic old school American traditional style, and most notably worked near the navy base in Victoria, and then on Davies Street right in Vancouver from the 1960’s through to the 1970’s. He died in 1977 on Lyle Tuttle’s birthday; October 10th. Though Doc was a pioneer of old school tattooing in Canada, he also performed medical tattoos on burn victims, and cosmetic tattooing on women’s lips and eyebrows. 

1960’s pink panther by Doc Forbes
Doc working on a woman’s back from Classic Tattoo Appreciation

Doc tattooed everyone, but his main clientele was young men in the Navy who often got classic military and navy designs such as eagles, skulls, roses, ships, and lover’s names. 

Doc tattooing a young woman’s chest, from Docks Weird Years
Leg sleeves in progress by Doc, from New York Tattoo History

A brilliant documentary about Doc can be seen here on CBC’s website. Made in 1964, and entitled “The Diary of a Tattooist,” the short documentary and interview features CBC host Harry Mannis visiting Doc in his shop in Victoria. Numerous people are tattooed in the short film including a mother of four, a man in his 80’s, a close friend of Doc’s, and two sailors. Throughout the documentary Doc talks about hygiene and safety in tattooing, how he makes his colours, the technicality of running the machine, who his clientele are, and much more.

$18 for the pair on a man before he joined the navy
Doc tattooing Lyle Tuttle

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Kewpie Tattoos:

Kewpie dolls have been seen on old school flash sheets since the early 1900’s, and have gone through fazes of popularity. The original creator of these cuties was Rose O’Neill, an American poet and artist who was famous for being the best-known and highest paid female commercial illustrator in the US at the time. The original designs were made for Ladies Home Journal in 1909 as cupid dolls, with “Kewpie” being a fun variation of the word “Cupid.” They were then put into comic strips also written and Illustrated by Rose O’Neill, and were also used in multiple advertisements such as Jell-O and Kellogg’s corn flakes, among others.

Huck Finn Kewpie by Adri O at Tatouage Chatte Noire
Hobo Kewpie done by Paul Dobleman at Black Heart Tattoo in SF,CA

Some notable tattoo artists that first started putting Kewpies in tattoo flash were Percy Waters, Milton Zeis, and Bill Moore. They were very popular designs in the early 1900’s, but faded in popularity in the 1950’s.

Armed and dangerous Kewpie by Gianni Orlandini
Three Kewpies by Jarret Crosson in Austin Texas

It was tattooer Mike “Rollo” Malone that brought Kewpie tattoos back into popularity, drawing many variations of the Kewpie to suit all sorts of tattoo collectors.

Grim Reaper Kewpie by Sylvain Proulx
Happy and Sad Kewpie heads by Jon Harper at Black Friars Tattoo

Kewpies were also made into the famous dolls we know now, also originally designed by Rose O’Neill. Some notable features of Kewpies as dolls, drawings, and tattoos include a (usually) nude Cupid-like child with a chubby belly, a kind of topknot hairdo, and originally, a red heart and blue wings painted on the chest and back. Rosie cheeks and a mischievous smile were/are also key elements. These dolls were made of many materials including hard plastic, vinyl, cloth, and more. The original dolls are still recognizable with Rose O’Neills name on the bottom of their feet, and are often worth quite a lot.

Punk Kewpie by Miss Marla at The Office Tattoo
Kewpie in a rose by Sara Bi at La Cantina Dell’Inchiostro

While most Kewpies were nude, in the 1920’s they started being made with clothing and uniforms such as firemen, cowboys, soldiers, musicians, and more. Today, as tattoos these impish characters are usually still done in an old school American traditional style, and feature most of the same original features previously listed. Many artists get creative and turn famous celebrities or characters into Kewpies, or make them a bit darker by giving them weapons or even making them into horror icons.

Ramen loving Kewpie by Gabe Goyner at Wayward Tattoo
Ghost Face Kewpie by Alex Bach in Colchester, Essex

Do you have a Kewpie tattoo?

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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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