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Image: Sydney Seekford

My first time getting tattooed in Japan


Japan has a pretty high reputation for being unaccommodating to folks with ink on their skin. Incidents range from common ones like being restricted to certain gyms and onsen, to borderline unbelievable, like being refused from entering restaurants. The stigma comes from a complicated history (spanning the Meiji Restoration, yakuza activity and even samurai punishments) that boils down to “tattoos are a symbol of criminality.” Considering this, how did an average office worker like myself deem Tokyo as the best place for my first tattoo?

From Consultation To Commitment

Image: Sydney Seekford

Living in Japan, more than my own preferences had to be taken into account. For one, I’d like to continue going to onsen (hot springs) and sento (public bath) facilities. To do so freely, the tattoo couldn’t be so big that I couldn’t cover it. In preparation, I got a set of large, water-proof bandaids from Welcia and handed it to my artist. Together we measured the size of the tattoo stencil against the pad. Fortunately, the size I requested fit neatly under the bandage.

The studio was kept as cleanly as anything you would come to expect from a Japanese shop. It was neatly decorated with amply sized massage tables, plenty of bright lighting and disinfectants. After an hour of prep—straightening the stencil, reconfirming the design and setting up tools—we got to work. Two hours and some wincing later, we were finally finished and I strutted out into the chilly Tokyo winter.

An Artist’s Perspective

Image: Sydney Seekford

During my session, I chatted with one of the tattoo artists working in the studio about their day-to-day. Located in Harajuku, Ken (whose name has been changed for privacy), said a lot of tourists come in looking for souvenirs of their trip.

The flashes he showed me were all classic Americana style, his specialty, but many of them had Japanese motifs. Another artist specializes in irezumi (traditional Japanese tattoo) looks using modern electric equipment. Yet, a third of what they do is kawaii art. The talent is on par with reputable tattoo studios abroad. The artists have clearly taken the time to develop their skills and sensibilities.

Although Ken says many foreign customers come in and request a flash, they also work by appointment to develop and offer original work. When I asked if he had any wild stories about guests wanting some offensive or absurd Japanese thing, he said it does happen, but usually only by misunderstanding. One example was “馬鹿” (baka, meaning idiot, in kanji).

“When guests come in requesting kanji or something that might come off as weird or miss the mark meaning-wise, we make sure to tell them and offer suggestions for something that would be more appropriate.”

Ken says it’s not hard to convince guests since no one wants to make a fool of themselves. Especially not by getting a tattoo in a foreign country!

“It’s mostly just normal people that come in. The stories they tell me are far more interesting than any story I have about them.”

From Taboo to Trend: Changing Views

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© Savvy Tokyo

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A tattoo that small will only look neat and clean for maybe a week before it heals and the ink starts to disperse a bit under the skin.

Only if you have poor quality tattoos. A good tattoo artist gets the right spot in the epidural where it persists, and doesn't blow out. What you are talking about is a tattoo artist who is a savage, scarring up their canvases by going too deep so that the ink blows out.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I know a lot of people with tattoos are always jumping at the opportunity to talk about them, but writing an entire article about your tattoo just screams next level narcissism

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A good tattoo artist gets the right spot in the epidural


1 ( +1 / -0 )

Each to his own, but I would never, ever want to get inked up, just not my thing, people can do what they want, but a lot of people these days go overboard and do it way too much, also you need to have a good body to sport a tattoo. If you don’t get a good design or you just put anything on your body anywhere, that’s just stupid. If it’s a tat that symbolizes your culture or a tradition, fine, but other than that, Nope.

0 ( +4 / -4 )


A good tattoo artist gets the right spot in the epidural

As if the woman doesn't have enough to worry about during labor.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are quite few onsens and gyms or pools out there, that even if you have a covered tattoo, will still kick you out from premises, like you are some kind of a serial killer or child molester.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Lol. A tattoo that small will only look neat and clean for maybe a week before it heals and the ink starts to disperse a bit under the skin. Then you won’t be able to know what it originally was and it will look like a colored blob. Any decent artist would warn you against something like. That’s why small lined butterflies are popular because you wouldn’t have that problem.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

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