Having sat patiently through four hours of line-work tattooing on my leg yesterday, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a wee something about what it’s like to be a tourist with fairly heavy tattoo work in Japan.

(At this point I should make it known that this is written from personal experiences, I can’t guarantee that everyone will be as accepting!)

(image from Flickr; runners from the 1870s)

As most people are aware, like many other cultures, Japan has a long history of tattooing with different connotations and  set images that create a language all their own. I wont go in to the full history here, but if you’d like to learn more about irezumi and the traditions of Japanese tattooing, then the wiki page here is a good place to start.

I love being tattooed, and getting tattoos. Sure, it hurts – but you’re left with a gorgeous piece of art on your skin. I’m aware that being a young(ish!) tattooed girl in English society, I’m still something of a rarity even in the liberal city where we live. I’ve put up with a little criticism, but on the whole most people I come across react positively. I think it may be partly due to the way I present myself: I strive to be successful, articulate and stylish. I may not always achieve my goals, but at least I try to be positive!

At lot of people like to talk about the gang/yakuza connotation of tattoos in post-war modern Japan. Many of these (ahem)  ‘experts’ don’t have tattoos themselves, and therefore can’t really judge what it’s like for someone with a fair amount of ink to walk around as a tourist on the streets of Tokyo. I have traditional style Japanese tattoos, including a sleeve of chrysanthemums, and I’m currently working on a large leg piece with a ghost and playful cats – however, I am a blonde English girl. No one in their right mind would think that I’m in any kind of gang. I do get a little bit more attention at airport security and a fair few school children point at me in fascinated wonder, but hey, I can deal with that!

My experiences have been very much positive, and I’ve even made a few friends thanks to my tattoos being a great ice-breaker! Young people in Japan are becoming more tattooed themselves – a quick look at some Mixi (Japanese version of Facebook) shows many tattoo communities with thousands of members proudly showing their new ink, often Western style images with English text.

I think that if you present yourself in a friendly positive manner, that’s always going to be more memorable than the ink under your skin. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t walk around Japan with your tattoos on show!

A great resource for any kind of body modification is BMEzine – check it out now if you haven’t already!

See more original articles at the hotline page!


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3 Responses to Being a Tattooed Tourist in Japan

  1. Paul says:

    Thanks a lot. I am planning on moving to Japan to teach English from USA. I have an Irezumi sleeve and plan on getting much much more work. I was a bit concerned about the reaction my tattoo will get, but this makes me feel a lot better.

  2. Anzi says:

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