Tokyo Telephone enjoyed the company of some of the best in the tattoo business at this years King of Tattoo held in The Room in Daikanyama. While I have written before about how I feel traditional Japanese tattooing seems to be in vogue right now, Japan itself does not boost an event with 10% of the gravitas or size of the London convention, but without a doubt King of Tattoo is a step in the right direction. Even so it was a relatively small affair that was crammed into the 3 floors of The Room with the usual mix of artists at work, related shops and stalls and plenty of booze. Indeed the organisers played a blinder by giving you 3 drink tickets (and a couple of posters) on entry for 5000-odd yen, which I thought was not only very reasonable but got a festival atmosphere going pretty quickly…
However, alongside that was a serious amount of some of the very best in the industry doing some seriously high level work. Jeff Gogue, Shige and Tomo were occupying themselves at the Yellow Blaze tattoo stall, not to mention Dan Marshall, Tim Kern from Tribulation and a whole host of international and local magazine favorites.
Read on for a smattering of pictures from the show and some more impressions.
As I said before, the atmosphere was the most convivial of any convention I had been to, there were a good amount of families with kids rubbing shoulders with guys with wrestler builds and facial tattoos (hilariously there were a couple of booths doing body painting for kids – I even saw a baby with a faux-tattoo). The very cool stars of Rocker’s Tattoo were just wondering around and handling the admin – which was quite surreal to say the least! There were also some fun stage events including rocking shamisen, pin-up and suspension shows. In short, what more could you ask for? This is how conventions should be done – inclusive and not just about the ink.
The highlight was the stage event featuring tattoo god Horiyoshi the Third with Shige from Yellow blaze. The two biggest forces in Japanese tattooing painting live on stage and chatting about their work – if you are a fan, it really does not get any better than that.
Talking of which it was great to see Shige hard at work again on a Korean guy’s throat (looked eye-wateringly intense), as well as a couple of his most famous work’s owners wondering around. I was a real pleasure to see some of his fully healed clients in the flesh, especially Tomo’s backpiece, which has to be one of my absolute favorite tattoos of all time.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the whole convention was the distinct lack of the famous traditional tattoo houses. Hardly surprising given that they were clearly trying to distance themselves from the usual Yakuza image that tattooing holds. Instead the organisers, Tokyo Hardcore Tattoo in Koenji, had emphasised modern tattooing styles and the event was better for it. If a number of the big traditional tattooists had been present there would have been a whole lot of nonsense of hierarchy, who had the best booth and where, not to mention trying to keep people (and customers) apart. So while a shame that there were only a handful of the old names there, at least that meant that this kind of event could go ahead and show that there is so much more to Japanese tattooing than the Yakuza.
Now for some pictures, which hopefully give you a taste of the atmosphere.
The main hall, I told you it was quite close!
One of the many foreign artists at work, I would say the ratio was about 3 Japanese artists to 1 foreign, so quite a mix.
Some lovely gothic black work in progress.
Jeff Gogue at work, he had done quite a few hands over the convention with his achingly beautiful chilling skulls. Intense.
Some great leg tattoos, I love the heavy black outline that feels just like calligraphy. Trust me, you are going to see a lot more of this style in the future.
The master Shige working on a Tibetan skull replete with flowers.
You can really feel the concentration as he works – the flowers looked amazing by the end of the day.
And a shot of him setting up, that is how big a fan I am!
The finished product – Tomo’s Hanya. Very envious.
For such a large tattoo, I thought that this was a really feminine tattoo – nice work.
I was good to see some hand poking going on – sadly increasingly rare. Really hypnotic watching an artist working and very gradually building up the colours.
And finally your guide posing outside.
All in all it was a great couple of days and a real pleasure to see it so well received. It was nice to see the people of Tokyo who might usually have their ink hidden getting it out to be admired, as it should be. Not that it is a rarity any more really, the whole stigma of tattoos in Japan is pretty much only in the minds of documentary makers these days. OH! and if I hear one more person saying “blah blah can they get into an onsen” nonsense I will explode. Trust me, I have been places where everyone had backpieces, think of the “no tattoo” signs as a warning to Yakuza who are not from that area, and if you are denied entry as a foreigner, it is probably for that reason alone rather than your tattoos!
Can’t wait for next year (it fortunately coincides with Japan fashion week), and if you are very lucky I might post pictures of Rebecca’s finished leg piece now that it is finally finished after 4 full days of work – brave girl!