Getting a Tattoo in Japan:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Finally you can enjoy your new tattoo! Have fun being tattooed in Japan and on your trip.

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My healed Japanese tattoo by Hide Ichibay.

If you have any questions about getting tattooed in Japan feel free to leave a comment.

Artist of the Month: Shige

Shige works out of Yellow Blaze Tattoo Studio in Yokohama, Japan.

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Beautiful back piece that leads into a sleeve as well as legs.
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Very bright sleeve.
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Full leg sleeve.
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Rib panel that attaches to a back piece.

He has been tattooing since 1995, after teaching himself the craft.

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Brilliant bodysuit.
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Full samurai back piece.
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3/4 sleeve with a Buddhist goddess, Benzaiten.
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Hannya torso piece.

He tattoos in the Japanese style, while adding some realism to his pieces, making a lot of his work neo-Japanese.

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Full sleeve that also contains some coverups.
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Hannya back piece.
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Hannya chest piece.
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Full body suit with lots of colour.

Shige does large pieces including full sleeves, leg sleeves, back pieces, chest, and body suits.

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Half hannya torso piece mixed with tribal in a collaborative piece.
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Almost full bodysuit with lots of natural imagery.
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Tiger on top of the head.
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Fudo Myoo on the back of the head.

Much of Shige’s work revolves around Buddhism, including demons and gods and goddesses.

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Bright full sleeve.
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Sleeve topped with a raven.
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Bright red hand piece of Agyou.

Shige is a must see artist in Japan.

Raven Tattoos

Ravens make for a bold tattoo. They are often linked to death and mystic symbolism in more ancient literature and folklore.

Alessandro Micci
Raven and Japanese hannya mask done by Alessandro Micci.
Cedric Weber
Neo traditional raven and hand by Cedric Weber.
Hans Heggum
stomach raven done by Hans Heggum.
Pari Corbitt
Dark chest raven done by Pari Corbitt.
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Edgar Allan Poe and raven done by Debora Cherrys.

Many cultures believed that the raven had magical qualities including knowing the answers to powerful secrets.

Akos
Neo traditional raven paired with a tiger and a skull. Done by Akos at Adorned Empire.
Bryan Nirvana Tattoo Studio in Glasgow, Scotland
Treehouse of horror Bart Simpson raven done by Bryan at Nirvana Tattoo Studio in Glasgow, Scotland.
Heath Clifford
Two headed raven done by Heath Clifford.
Mitchell Allenden
Raven in a noose done by Mitchell Allenden.

Ravens can also be associated with wisdom and intelligence as they are extremely smart birds, capable of even mimicking human voices.

Andre Cast
Head raven done by Andre Cast.
David Le Goon
Raven paired with bright flowers done by David Le Goon.
Jason James Smith
Raven with geometric border done by Jason James Smith.
Oshin Timoshin
More delicate dotwork raven and flowers done by Oshin Timoshin.

Ravens can be a symbol of protection, pagan magic, the future, secrets, an omen of death, light/shadow, war, intelligence, and pain.

Andrew Borisuk
Huge torso raven done by Andrew Borisuk.
Dino Nemec
Black and white ravens done by Dino Nemec.
Laura Yahna
Heavy blackwork and pagan raven done by Laura Yahna.
Robert Borbas
Bold mastectomy coverup raven done by Robert Borbas.

Mythologies and religions associated with the raven include Norse, Greek, Roman, Native American, Celtic, Muslim, Christian, and Pagan.

Canijo Marciano
Heavy blackwork and stylized raven done by Canijo Marciano.
Dmitriy Tkach
Sketchwork raven done by Dmitriy Tkach.
Mariñe Perez.
Native American styled raven done by Mariñe Perez.
Scott Move
Raven head done by Scott Move.

As a tattoo, ravens are often done as blackwork pieces, neo traditional, or realistically. They can also be designed with a third eye.

Bruno Santos
Two headed raven done by Bruno Santos.
Drew Shallis
Raven and peaches paired with a red sun done by Drew Shallis.
Mark Halbstark
Horror raven done by Mark Halbstark.
Susanne Konig
Raven with moonlit design within done by Susanne Konig.

Which is your favourite?

Artist of the month: Gakkin

Gakkin is a (mainly) blackwork and freehand artist working out of Amsterdam after first working in Kyoto.

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Blackwork raven across the back of the neck.
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Large octopus sleeve and chest piece.
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Bodysuit featuring birds, flowers, wind, and clouds.
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Huge snake torso piece.

His pieces are all large scale. Full sleeves, large torso pieces, back pieces, and bodysuits.

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Gruesome namakubi (severed head), with hair that flows into an almost cloudlike state.
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Massive crane back piece with clouds, waves, and koi.
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Negative space stomach hannya as part of a full bodysuit of mainly solid black.
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Red flowers on heavy black leg sleeve, with white spider web.

He collaborates often now with another Japanese blackwork artist, Nissaco. The two work well together, and their pieces flow seamlessly into each other.

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Bright flowers within a dark backdrop.
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Chrysanthemum with Japanese noh mask.
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Back of a bodysuit featuring negative space geometric designs.
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Beautiful blackwork moon and cloud back piece.

His work is largely inspired by nature. Everything from wind, water, flowers, mountains, the sun, and the moon, and animals.

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Large brushstroke style.
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Geometric, blackwork sleeve.
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Large chrysanthemum as part of a sleeve.

Gakkin also takes direct inspiration from ancient Japanese painters, adding his own interpretations.

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Waves and wind in these nature sleeves.
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Part of a bodysuit featuring wind and waves.
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Bright red flowers on heavy black.

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)

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kuchisake-onna ghost, from stories dating back to the Edo period.
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Tsuchigumo, the Japanese spider demon.
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Collaboration piece done with Nissaco at the London tattoo convention 2017.

Which piece is your favourite?

Artist of the Month: Jinpil Yuu

Jinpil Yuu is tattooer and owner of the tattoo studio The Ravens Ink in Seoul, South Korea. Jinpil is famous for his flower tattoos, particularly his peony’s. Jinpil uses brilliantly deep and vibrant colours for his colour pieces.

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Bright peony flowers on the sternum coupled with a black snake.
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Fantastic life sized jellyfish on the ribs.
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Traditional Korean styled tiger, bird, and tree.
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More of a neo traditional style fox on the thighs, with bright jewels and flowers for ornamentation.
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A Korean/Japanese styled kitsune, or fox spirit that can have multiple tails and great wisdom.

For his flower tattoos, Jinpil uses heavy contrast between red/orange, and black/dark greens.

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Beautiful flowers alongside a very dark whale.
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Brilliant dark red and pink peony flowers that wrap around the arm.
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Beautiful, matching fish and flowers.
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Vibrant dark red peony as an arm filler in the elbow ditch.
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Bijinga (beautiful woman) with multiple flowers, from the arm to the chest.
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Stunning pink peony flowers with dark green leaves with a large dark snake wrapping around them.

He is also known for his blackwork, and Korean style pieces. Particularly gakubori, such as clouds and water, as well as snakes.

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Bijinga, flowers, and traditional Korean background.
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Blackwork goldfish.
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Terrifying blackwork hornet.
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Blackwork hannya mask.
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Brilliant blackwork peony flower on the neck.
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More American traditional blackwork horned wolf head with dagger.
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Gakubori traditional Korean cloud back piece that extends onto the shoulders.
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Absolutely stunning full head piece featuring flowers, a snake, and traditional Korean background.
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Traditional Korean gakubori cloud wrist cuff piece.

Jinpil Yuu is an artist you must visit in Seoul!

Artist of the Month: Oscar Hove

Oscar Hove is co-owner of Ondo Tattoo in Barcelona, Spain. His work is mainly surreal Japanese blackwork, mixing traditional Japanese themes with macabre surrealist work.

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Matching feet. Stylized noh mask with horns.
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Noh mask on snake body.
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Split mask down the middle.

A great deal of his pieces are Japanese masks, split in half, or more, and making them terrifying.

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Five split noh masks with horns in brilliant chest piece.
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Horned mask with facemask common in Asian countries, with kanji lettering.
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Brilliant blackwork Japanese oni backpiece.
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Detached jaw noh/hannya inspired mask.
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Beautifully dark mask and peony flower.

Other than Japanese inspired work, Oscar also does some neo traditional, and American traditional blackwork.

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Blackwork bird and skull on thigh.
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Traditional blackwork butterflies.

While his styles vary every once in awhile, his work is all dark both in colour and theme.

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Mask split down the middle by Japanese knife.
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Terrifying split hannya mask.
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Yokai inspired rotting face.
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Split hannya on stomach, releasing inner monster.
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Matching hannya and noh masks with kanji lettering.

Oscar is a must visit artist if you find yourself in Barcelona!

Winnipeg Artist 4: Sean Cushnie

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.

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Monkey King!
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Neo Japanese sleeve featuring a hannya, chrysanthemum, and waves.
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Neo traditional black and grey woman with red flowers.
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Another neo traditional woman with skull and flowers.
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Bright red hannya.
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Very royal looking neo traditional woman mixing black and grey and colour.
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Neo Japanese peony flower and snake with vibrant colours.
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Japanese shoulder koi with cherry blossoms and waves.
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Black and grey woman and hannya with red flowers.
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Black and grey religious Sacred Heart.
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Another mix of black and grey and colour with bright orange and red, featuring nature themes.
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Mermaid with skull make of waves.
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Bright neo Japanese dragon sleeve with clouds as background.
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Neo Japanese body panel with a huge tiger.
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One final neo traditional sleeve of Roman warrior and skull.

Sean is a must see Winnipeg artist for your neo trad needs.

Artist of the Month: Nissaco

Nissaco is a tattoo artist based in Shinsaibashi Osaka at an unnamed private studio that goes by the name room_23_26 on Instagram.

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Smaller scale pieces. Healed waves and fresh geometrical shell design.

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.

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Big and painful back of the leg going right over the knee ditch with some popping red in the mandala and linework designs.
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Full back piece right over the butt and legs leading into a great sleeve on the left arm. Some great use of negative space in the back.
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Fantastic sleeve with bird skull and eye mixed with geometrical designs.

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.

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Filler neck/throat piece that fits great with the adjacent neck pieces.
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Matching geometric sleeves.
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Full back and legs with a lot of heavy blackwork for filler.
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Full front is a tender area going right onto the nipples, with brilliant line work and heavy blacks.
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Brilliant full torso, sleeve, and two leg sleeves with geometric designs and a hidden face.
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Half body suit full of heavy blacks in large scale geometrics.
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Fantastic intricate healed geometric design.

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.

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Full front, sleeve, and half leg sleeve. Featuring a brilliant Japanese dragon, and flowers such as chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms.
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Great geometric koi fish with some colour thrown in.
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Heavy blacks and lots of negative space with this angry hannya.
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Another hannya coming off of a sleeve and onto the back.

Nissaco is a must see artist in Osaka, Japan, but book well in advance as his books fill up fast!

Hannya Tattoo

Hannya tattoos are an intimidating Japanese design based off masks that date back to Japanese Noh and Bunraku plays from the 14th century. These plays often dealt with the supernatural. These masks were carved from wood and were used to show a character’s state of mind, which from these masks was usually anger, hatred, and sadness. The Hannya in particular represents a woman betrayed by love who is then filled with hate, jealousy, and sadness, turning her into a demon. This image is also a popular design for good luck, as the terrifying demon is supposed to ward off evil spirits.

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Traditional Japanese theatre masks, including a Hannya.

The Hannya is supposed to show different emotions based on how you’re looking at it. From the front it is supposed to look menacing and full of hatred, but from an angle from the top, it is supposed to appear full of sadness. These mixed emotions are meant to reflect the complexities of humans.

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Back piece done by Shige at Yellow Blaze Tattoo

Hannya tattoos are obviously a Japanese design, but don’t necessarily have to be done in the typical Japanese style for tattooing. While the majority are done in Japanese style, they can also be done in a more American Traditional style, neo traditional, or new school design.

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More neo traditional Hannya done by Dan Molloy at Bold as Brass.
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By Dean Sacred in his unique Japanese influenced style.

Hannya’s are also typically done in a fairly large design. They are often done as a full back piece, or on the stomach, or as part of a full sleeve. They can be done as a smaller tattoo as well, such as on the hand or as a stand alone arm or leg piece.

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Three full body pieces featuring a Hannya done by Ivan Szazi at Four Elements Tattoo.
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Small hand Hannya by Mick Gore

The Hannya is also often paired with other Japanese designs, such as snakes, warriors, waves, flowers, or dragons, which all have their own meanings and their own roots in Japanese culture.

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Sleeves with other Japanese imagery by Senju Horimatsu

The colour of a Hannya changes the meaning as well. It is said that the deeper the colour, the more malicious the demon is supposed to be.

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Amazing back piece by the brilliant Horiyoshi III.

What do you think of Hannya tattoos?