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)
Frogs are a common subject in Japanese irezumi. These frogs are often seen holding leaves, instruments, food, or other household items. They are also often dressed as samurai; katana and all.
These frogs are largely based off of woodblock prints painted by Kawanabe Kyôsai. Kyôsai painted a number of frogs, but his most famous piece is called “Fashionable Battle of Frogs (Fûryû kaeru ôgassen no zu)”.
These frogs are mainly done in a traditional Japanese style, though they can also be done as more American traditional, or neo traditional.
They are usually done with full colour, with a similar colour palette to the paintings.
Some of these frogs even have their own irezumi. Usually flower designs that are simple for the artist to make small.
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?