Although nowhere near the scale of LA or NY, Japan is slowly opening up to the idea that tattoos are fashionable. Led by celebrities such as Amuro Namie and Hamasaki Ayumi, the notion of getting skin art is hardly as taboo as it used to be, with its stygian yakuza associations.
Whilst traditionally getting tattoos was predominately the pastime of men, women are also taking an interest in fashionable skin art and have a strong presence in the tattoo industry. Many of the top artists are female, the editors of the tattoo magazines are also typically women, and the pseudo fashion magazine Tattoo Girls features models from agencies shot by prominent photographers such as Hiromix…although strangely enough, they are all sporting fake tattoos.
Osaka’s Nattsu at Chopstick Tattoo tells me, “I get lots of girls, girls working in the fashion and beauty industries, and gay guys,” and her portfolios are filled with super cute tattoos. Moreover, Horisho from Mindscape tattoo, says, “My clients are going from being the blue-collar workers and laborers who were my usual clientele to a sudden surge in interest from fashion people, designers, hair-dressers and many more female clients.”
There is no doubt about the popularity of tattoos in Japan. There are three major magazines for the tattoo enthusiast, and half the pages are ads for tattoo shops. There are tattoo events on at least once a month. I’m told that there are over 500 shops all over Japan.
However, having said that, be aware that most people are still quite shocked by tattoos- and if you get heavy tattoo work, you will inevitably find yourself wearing long sleeves in summer. They simply don’t do much to aid employment, according to Hata from Koenji’s inkrat.
“I foresee a generation of elaborately tattooed homeless in the future,” he says, only half jokingly. “It’s hard to get bank loans and rental contracts with visible tattoos. Things haven’t changed much.”
Aside from being aware of the fact that you probably won’t be able to go to your favorite onsen without either refusal or quizzical stares, also take into consideration that tattoos are quite the luxury, with a standard 15,000 yen per hour charge. They are also addictive!
As with any expensive purchase, get as much information as possible. There are several excellent tattoo magazines, the best being Tattoo Burst, and numerous books aimed for the fashion conscious sold at any bookstore, especially the cooler shops like Village Vanguard.
Japan is full of inspiration, and tattooing motifs can come from the classic lexicon of traditional tattooing motifs, such as dragons, carps, phoenixes, foo-dogs and the like, that come with their own prescribed meanings, that should be taken into consideration. However, living in Japan, it’s just as common for clients to get inspired by Sanrio characters, kimono prints, and Pokémon. There is no shortage of places to look.
Some of the questions you should ask are:
Do I really want something permanent? How big, and where do I want it? What do I want? And, Who do I go to?
We have selected ten of the more reputable street shops in Tokyo that are accessible, friendly, offer top notch tattoos, and are strict with sterility.
The wait lists for some of these shops can be incredibly lengthy, although some people luck out and get a “walk-in” tattoo. It’s best to go, consult with the artists, see if you actually like the person, and are comfortable getting tattooed by them, and then proceed.