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Tattooist draws line between art and underworld

29 Comments
By Antoine Bouthier

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© 2012 AFP

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29 Comments
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I cannot wait for the association of tattoos equating to criminals is gone. I'll probably be dead before it happens in japan though. As for nearly every other westernized country its almost the norm for people to have tattoos now.

I'd say 80-90% of my friends have a tattoo. Even if its just a tiny little something on their ankle or hip.

PS. I really love how the Japanese take this art-form to a whole new level though. It's really unique.

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I'm sorry, but to me that is just plain old ugly!

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Why is the center area left blank on some of these guys?

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paulinusaJUN. 20, 2012 - 09:08AM JST Why is the center area left blank on some of these guys?

I believe it's because that area is sometimes visible through the space in between the buttons of your shirt.

tjguyJUN. 20, 2012 - 08:31AM JST I'm sorry, but to me that is just plain old ugly!

The subject of tattoos is always going to be divisive but I think they are fantastic.

Anyway this was a good article and anyone interested in Japanese tattoos should really check out more of Horiyoshi's work.

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Hmmm... An interesting problem - how to disassociate tattoos in Japan from the Yakuza.

Perhaps... Perhaps a good place to start would be to stop tattooing "traditional" designs, as they are the ones seemingly most favoured by Yakuza; if those guys in the photo above aren't Yakuza, they sure as hell look like they are.

But in Japan some groups get tattoos not to underline their individuality because individuality is not so important in Japan, it's the group that is important

But if people think that the group is the Yakuza, then we're back to square one.

What does irk me about the attitude to tattoos in Japan though is things like, for example, if a Maori with a traditional cultural facial tattoo were to come to Japan, they would be banned from entering an Onsen. I appreciate that tattoos in Japan are culturally tied to Yakuza, but I think it's fair to say and assume that a foreigner could never be Yakuza; they'd never be accepted no matter how much they wished for it. So by definition, a foreigner would not be Yakuza; Japanese, you can't be entirely sure, but foreigner you could be, so the banning of our Maori friend (or any other culturally appropriate tattoo) seems too draconian.

A shame that Japan cannot seem to let others in Japan share the "uniqieness" of their own cultures...

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Tattoos arnt for everyone but if you are one of those who like them then enjoy and share with others that like them.

I had my first tattoo done more than 35 years ago and my last one completed about a year ago, considereing getting more too. Had my ankle tattooed more than 30 years ago before that became fashionable.

In NZ Tattoes on the hands are associated with criminals and its called a boob glove (Boob being slang for prison) and acutally looks disgusting, but hey each to his own.

I personaly like the japanese designs and style very much and some of the tattooist are very skilled.

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And to those who find tattoos disgusting ugly or bad taste its quite simple, Dont look.

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for example, if a Maori with a traditional cultural facial tattoo were to come to Japan, they would be banned from entering an Onsen

Im half Maori... but i dont think i'll ever get an traditional Maori tattoos. Especially not on the face >< ... my uncle on the other hand haha. But yeah your right, not even accepting outside cultures is a problem. I find that my tattoos haven't been too much of a problem. Probably cause I don't look Japanese so they dont associate me with the yakuza.

I have only been into an onsen once. My friend who is a local there took me though. I have 7 tattoos. all of which are relatively small. I doubt I would be let into any other onsen.

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nobody will think you're a yakuza if you have a small tattoo on your arm or leg or wherever. If you have a tattoo with traditional Japanese motifs spreading all over your back, then it's a different story. It's their trademark, and if you consciously adopt it, then live with the label. zealots like Hashimoto who associate any small tattoo with crime are the problem. a small tattoo well positioned on a nice body is extremely sexy in my opinion

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open tattoo in front-

same reason sleeves are often semi-short, and low on neck; so you can wear regular cothes (open neck, semi unbuttoned shirt) and not get "caught" as a tattooee

onsens-

really depends on the onsen, a lot don't mind. Often if it is a foreigner and they don't know before you go in, they won't bother to throw you out once yr in, as they really want to enforce against letting yakuza in. If yr a foreigner w non j tattoo, yr probably not a yak.

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(semi-short arm tattoo = just above the cuff area they stop)

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I'm guessing the chaps in the photo don't work in Osaka's public offices...

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but I think it's fair to say and assume that a foreigner could never be Yakuza; they'd never be accepted no matter how much they wished for it. So by definition, a foreigner would not be Yakuza; Japanese, you can't be entirely sure, but foreigner you could be

Just ask Jake Adelstein, he knows. The "foreigners in the Yakuza" question has been discussed more than once, and yes, there have been a few isolated cases, one American, two Iranians, and so forth. so in his words, they are an "equal opportunity employer", as long as you stick to the rules. (see japansubculture.com)

As for the tattoos, the traditional way practically kills the sweat glands, so i can't say it's a good idea, even with a metal needle instead of bamboo

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It's funny that a tattoo in Japan can get you banned from an onsen, as if that is the highest level of punishment for a gangster. Why not stop them having a corrupting influence on society altogether? From bribing police officers and politician's to people trafficking, child pornography, drug dealing, rape and murder there is no level to which theses scum won't sink. Banning people from a bath house because they have a tattoo that you think might make them a gangster is really, really stupid.

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After a year and a half, at the Renaissance sports club chain, I completely went from "shrimpy otaku body" to the body of a "Greek legend". Always wearing long sleeve shirts, a towel over my neck, looking like a closet introvert trying to hide my nakedness in the locker rooms, and looking like a homophobic making my way to the private showers... Hiding my tats.

All people, from staff to patrons, seemed to brighten up when I'd come in... Practicing their English with me, going out for beers sometimes... Etc. very friendly place in Sengawa! (keio line).

One day while doing lat pull downs... My towel fell off... Some new member, an old japanese guy that never worked out but just joined the gym to sit behind young girls exercising had walked behind me, seeing my icp hatchet man tattoo on the back of my neck... Silently went to the clubs manager and snitched on me ("grassed" on me to respectable parties).

Immediately everyone turned into my enemy, bringing me to an office room with a long wooden table, asking me to leave the premises and never return. I asked why and was told that because I have tattoos, that I am a yakuza, and tattoos mean nothing but bad things. I showed him my father's name on my arm (he passed away at age 49 from a bad liver and 3 other family members had the same tat), they gasped in unison and I told the story daring one of these folks to say something bad about my father.

I'm a Yochien teacher, a church going Jesus freak, lol. You trust me alone with children behind closed doors but I can't work out publicly with you? I defended Japan several times while stationed in Yokosuka from random small militia groups seeking to blow up a Japanese vessel, or cause damage to sea ports... I've contributed twice to saving Japan's declining birthrate (lol) ...

"tattoos in the west are created to underline a person's individuality"

I may have these words tattooed on me... Lol

I tried another gym totally out of the way for me... But it was 5 months of solitude... I wrapped myself again and this time, didn't make any effort to socialize with anyone... I quit a short time later . After a year... I'm back to my shrimpy otaku body :)

I wish something can be done.

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Thanks REMzzz, I did not know that.

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I hope when they die their bodies are not too wrinkled. Then they can be skinned and their hides crafted into lampshades or objets d'art, and their families can recoup some of the money wasted on this narcissistic indulgence.

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*I hope when they die their bodies are not too wrinkled. Then they can be skinned and their hides crafted into lampshades or objets d'art, and their families can recoup some of the money wasted on this narcissistic indulgence.

Tokyo University has the largest collection (over 100) of skins from the deceased. It's a collection only open by invitation to view however

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I love Tattoo's and i have a tattoo when a big event happens in my life. This is to remind me of who i am and what i have done to be the person i am. Tattoo's can be amazing if done right and i have never regretted a tattoo i have had, its a part of me and who i am. When i lived in Japan i had a lot of problems with my tattoo's be i have never been put off going back. Having a tattoo is no different than a woman plastering make-up on every morning in my eyes you can have it done Right as i said before and it will make you feel confident and happy or it can go the other way. In the end We are all individuals and should be treated in such a manner.

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Solution to prejudice: promote a society where individuality is seen as an integral asset to a community, and where difference is not only tolerated and accepted, but encouraged!

An unrealistic fantasy for Japan, yes, but not impossible.

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Guess they wont be working in Osaka city offices. This is a Japanese tradition that should stay.

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@White_Shinobi: Gold's gym allows tatoo's as long as you cover them.

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@gogogo

If you have to cover them, then they aren't allowed.

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@Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land; They are allowed, you just have to cover them, but even if you don't there are signs everywhere in the gym that say that it is okay and please understand, I know about 10 people that go there with massive tattoo's and the entire WWE go there when they are in town I've seen them all there.

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@gogogo

You could say they are allowed if covered, but not allowed if uncovered, which I would take to mean they are not allowed. It's like working at a company that says it's ok to dye your hair as long as you dye it black. Completely meaningless.

I, personally, am totally against the covering of tattoos as it just perpetuates the discrimination.

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Yakuza in Japan live like kings, their front business's are legally allowed to show their criminal gangs name ie yamaguchi gumi etc they can flaunt who they are, with their loan shark business, porn, prostitution rings etc yet they are untouchable, even when it comes to the media and photoshoots about tattoos.. Got to love Japan ^_^

Different story in the west and in China where criminals there are hidden from view..

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@Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land: You are allowed to have tattoo's at golds gym, people cover them out of courtesy and not out of rules. If your tattoo's are visible in Gold's you are NOT kicked out, you are not warned, it is perfectly fine unlike this article.

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The photo reminds me of times when I would enter a local public bathhouse and be surrounded by tattooed guys ... at those times they were probably in Tokyo for a yak convention or something. I haven't seen this many guys together at one time in a bathhouse in quite a few years. Guess such conventions, or whatever caused them to gather in Tokyo, aren't held that much anymore.

I've seen some really neat tattoos like the ones pictured above ... but, as I've said before, the ones made with the manually propelled bamboo needles hold their colors better than the ones made with today's modern electric-driven needles.

Just a couple of nights ago I saw in a local bathhouse an elderly man with two such tattoos on his arm. His skin elsewhere might have been wrinkled, but those two tattooed arms looked "young," if that is the correct word.

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@gogogo

Your story seems to have changed a little. Thanks for clearing that up.

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