Japan Ink: The growing tribe proudly defies the tattoo taboo, hoping for an Olympic boost


TOKYO (Reuters) – Shodai Horiren got her first lark tattoo on a trip to Australia nearly three decades ago. Now, tattooed from head to toe, even on her shaved scalp, she is one of Japan’s most famous traditional tattoo artists.

People with tattoos gather for group photos at the Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association) annual gathering in Tokyo, Japan on February 16, 2020. “The event is important because we usually hide our tattoos from society, but only once a year we can proudly display our tattoos and show each other what new tattoos we got, “said the head of the association Hiroyuki Nemoto. REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon

“Your home gets old, your parents die, you break up with a lover, the kids grow up and they leave,” said Horiren, 52, in his north Tokyo studio.

“But a tattoo is with you until you are cremated and in your grave. This is the appeal. “

Horiren belongs to a proud and growing tribe of Japanese ink enthusiasts who defy the deeply ingrained taboos that associate tattoos with crime, transforming their skin into vivid color palettes with elaborate full-body designs, often featuring characters from traditional legends .

(Click reut.rs/2HtXVfI to view a pack of images of Japanese tattoo enthusiasts.)

Spas, spa resorts, some beaches and many gyms and swimming pools banned, fans hope that the presence of tattooed foreign athletes at last year’s Rugby World Cup and next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games – postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – will help wipe out. ward off suspicions.

“If you watch the All Blacks do the haka with all their tattoos, it makes your heart beat faster,” Horiren said, referring to the New Zealand national rugby team and their pre-match ceremony.

“Basketball players are also really cool. But here, even the boxers cover themselves in foundation “.

Tattoos have been linked to criminals for 400 years, most recently to members of the yakuza gang, whose entire body ink work stops before the hands and neck, allowing for concealment under normal clothing.

The popularity of Western rock music, however, with musicians sporting more and more sports tattoos, has eroded this prejudice.

A court decision last year that the tattoos were for decoration and not medical procedures helped clarify their obscure legal status and could signal a shift in attitude, possibly leading the industry to regulate itself, giving it an image. more mainstream.

Referring to them as tattoos rather than “irezumi” – which literally means “inserting ink” – as is becoming more and more common, can also help give them a stylish and stylish finish.

“Some people get tattooed for profound reasons, but I do it because they’re cute, the same way I might buy a nice blouse,” said Mari Okasaka, 48, a part-time worker who got her first tattoo at 28. years. The 24-year-old son, Tenji, is working on having his entire body covered in ink and color.

Tattoo devotees are also coming out, gathering at big parties to discover and share their designs.

“We may have tattoos, but we are happy and bright people,” said Hiroyuki Nemoto, party planner and scrapyard clerk.

Surfer and TV set producer Takashi Mikajiri, however, is still standing on some beaches and has been ordered to cover himself.

Rie Yoshihara, who works in a shop that dresses tourists in kimonos, said her shocked father has not yet seen his tattoo on his back, while Okasaka wears long sleeves to take out the trash so his neighbors won’t talk.

“In America, if you have a tattoo, people don’t care. There is really no reaction, “Mikajiri said.

“This is ideal. It would be really nice to be taken for granted. “

Reportage by Kim Kyung Hoon and Elaine Lies; Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Tom Hogue


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