Getting tattooed in another country can be a daunting experience. Where do you even start? This post is designed to walk you through the steps of getting a tattoo while visiting Japan and make it a little less stressful.
I was tattooed in Japan on June 2nd, 2018, by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tattoo in Tokyo.
If you’re getting a tattoo in Japan, i’m going to assume you’re wanting some sort of Japanese tattoo, whether it’s traditional or just something to remember your trip by. Traditional Japanese tattoos are their own style, but Japanese themed pieces can be done in a few different styles. Such as traditional Japanese, neo Japanese, realistic Japanese, black and grey, and black work.
Once you know what style you want you can start looking for artists. The best way to do this I find, is to look in a specific city. So for myself I started with a simple google search of traditional Japanese artists in Tokyo. I sifted through the first three pages on google, looking at some websites and portfolios and chose my top three shops and a few different artists. Once I had those I looked more at their sites and checked out more portfolios, pricing, and most importantly their hygiene. Lots of artists will also have Instagram accounts, such as my artist, making it easy to see their work.
Tattoo shops in Japan aren’t regulated like shops are in Western countries since in Japan only someone with a medical degree can legally tattoo. Therefore the shops you’re seeing aren’t regulated by the government, so you want to make sure they aren’t re-using any tattooing instruments that touch blood, and that the shop is clean. Most sites will have a section on this, and if the site is in Japanese and you can’t read it, such as myself; you can always use google translate to get the gist of it. If you’re still questioning it you can also send an email, or just pick another shop.
Once you have a shop and artist picked out you can send an email. Some shops, such as Three Tides, will have a receptionist that you will deal with, rather than the actual artist. You’ll want to email at least a few months in advance (some artists will require more time than that, even up to a year in advance), and request an artist, and give a few different days that would work for you. You should also include some reference pictures for what you would like, include any needed information like if the tattoo will be in colour or not, and how big you would like it and where it’s going on your body. Once that is set up you may also have to include a picture of where on your body it’s going, especially if you have other tattoos in that area that the artist has to work around.
You may also be required to send a deposit to hold your spot. This is normal and most shops will use PayPal, though if you don’t have PayPal and don’t want to get it you may be able to work something else out such as a direct deposit.
The next step is getting your tattoo finally! If you have tattoos then you know what to do and you’re all set. The only difference may be that you’re used to having a consultation first, and for this tattoo you’ll spend the first thirty minutes to an hour basically doing that. If it’s your first tattoo then you’ll want to make sure you eat something before your appointment, and maybe have a juice box with you incase your blood sugar gets low.
This was my first time getting tattooed in a country that is so hot and humid, but I had gotten some tips from other people who had been tattooed in Japan as well. Most people have their favourite cream or gel that they like to use for healing (mine is vitamin E gel or a cucumber cream) and you can still use that, but for dealing with the heat I recommend using a chilled coconut oil. You can keep it in the fridge (it will harden quite a bit) and use a tiny amount when it’s dry. The coolness feels fantastic in the heat of Japan. Thanks to my new friend off of Reddit for that tip!
Finally you can enjoy your new tattoo! Have fun being tattooed in Japan and on your trip.
If you have any questions about getting tattooed in Japan feel free to leave a comment.
Gakkin is a (mainly) blackwork and freehand artist working out of Amsterdam after first working in Kyoto.
His pieces are all large scale. Full sleeves, large torso pieces, back pieces, and bodysuits.
He collaborates often now with another Japanese blackwork artist, Nissaco. The two work well together, and their pieces flow seamlessly into each other.
His work is largely inspired by nature. Everything from wind, water, flowers, mountains, the sun, and the moon, and animals.
Gakkin also takes direct inspiration from ancient Japanese painters, adding his own interpretations.
Though he mainly works with black, he does also add splashes of red to draw the eye. In an interview with Tattoo Life, he said about working with black “I believe that black is the most important color in tattooing. Every ancient tattooing culture – Maori, Japanese, and Polynesian – considers it as such. It just works better than any other color on the skin.” (www.tattoolife.com)
Yōkai are supernatural monsters/ghosts/demons from Japanese folklore. The word itself is made up from the kanji for “bewitching, attractive, and calamity” and “spectre, apparition, mystery, and suspicious.” There are hundreds and hundreds of yōkai, from fairly harmless tricksters, to monsters that prey on human flesh. Being an animal that many are already afraid of, of course there are also spider yōkai.
As a tattoo these creatures are usually done in Japanese style, but can also be neo traditional, American traditional, black and grey, or blackwork.
There are three main types of spider yōkai:
-Ushi Oni: Which is actually classified as an ox demon. This demon is often depicted with the head of an ox and the body of a spider, and is usually near bodies of water. These creatures are always carnivorous and dangerous to humans. They are not always spiders, but this is one of the more popular depictions. The Ushi Oni is described as cruel and vicious, breathing toxic poison, and sometimes inflicting curses or spreading disease.
-Tsuchigumo: A giant spider who can live a very long time, and grow to monstrous sizes. When they get old enough they can transform themselves into other yōkai, even taking the form of humans in order to lure and kill people. These creatures live in forests and mountains, mainly preying on travelers. One famous tale tells of this creature transforming into a beautiful woman who leads an army of yōkai against Japan. A man named Yorimitsu is the first to meet the beast on the battlefield and strikes her, making the army disappear. The Japanese army then follows her back to her cave where she morphs back into a giant spider. Yorimitsu slices her open, unleashing thousands of human sized baby spiders. The Japanese army kills every last one and returns victorious.
Jorōgumo: This creature was known as the “whore spider” but is now better known as “entangling bride”. She lives both as a beautiful yōkai in human form and as a giant spider. This spider gains the ability to transform after it has lived for 400 years. She uses her human form to lure unsuspecting men to her lair before eating them. They live in caves, forests, or abandoned houses. This creature is often seen as part spider, part woman, generally the body of a spider and head of a woman.
All versions of this beast are terrifying, and all make a bold tattoo. Which is your favorite?
The geisha, or, “person of accomplishment” date back to 1751 in the mid-Tokugawa period in Japan. Geisha’s were originally men, but eventually became women.
Geisha’s were trained artists skilled in tea ceremony, flower arranging, and as singers, dancers, storytellers, servers, and conversationalists. These women were all literate and were familiar with poetry and tales of warriors in order to entertain their patrons. Geisha’s were not prostitutes, but worked in the pleasure districts, also called “the floating world” and while not they were not sex workers, some did become concubines or mistresses for men who would buy their contracts from their masters.
Geisha’s are known for their musical prowess, particularly with an instrument called samisen, which today is also used in kabuki plays and has an inherently “Japanese” sound. As for appearance, while working a geisha would wear a kimono tied from the back, which is another difference between a geisha and a prostitute as a prostitute would have her kimono tied in the front. A thick white foundation of makeup is applied to the face, neck, and upper chest, with a line around the hairline creating a mask like appearance. Other makeup includes black around the eyes and eyebrows with bright red lips.
Geisha’s still exist today, though due in part to the rigorous training in order to become one, are much less frequent. Today, geisha’s mainly entertain politicians at parties.
As a tattoo a geisha will generally be done in Japanese traditional style, neo Japanese, American traditional, neo traditional, black and grey, or realism.
Geisha’s are an important part of Japanese history and make a fantastic design!
Sean Cushnie is a talented artist working out of Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg. His style is both neo traditional and neo Japanese. Sean uses a mix of black and grey with bright colours to make his work pop. Sean’s black and grey work borders on realism while his colour is solid neo traditional, making it not only a mix of colouring, but also mixing style.
Sean is a must see Winnipeg artist for your neo trad needs.
Nissaco is a tattoo artist based in Shinsaibashi Osaka at an unnamed private studio that goes by the name room_23_26 on Instagram.
Nissaco does mainly large scale pieces such as full sleeves, back pieces, and even body suits. His style is black geometrical work and it is extremely detailed.
His work is hard sought after with visitors going to see him from all around the world. Along with having clients from around the world, he also travels, going to various tattoo conventions. Most recent he will be at the 13th London Tattoo convention in September 2017.
Along with being geometrical in design, Nissaco’s work also often features classic Japanese elements such as dragons, waves, flowers, snakes, koi fish, and hannya masks. These pieces are almost entirely black, but occasionally feature a small amount of red to make them really pop.
Nissaco is a must see artist in Osaka, Japan, but book well in advance as his books fill up fast!