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anyone want to give anymore insight on this? i know a little bit about it from speaking to Horitaka once at a book signing, but i don't really get it. anyone care to explain?

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I know "Irezumi" originally had a spiritual purpose. Then tattoos took on a negative connotation IE they were used as a sign to mark criminals. Then I believe during the Endo period, the view of tattoos (and pretty much everything else) changed to a point where many different classes had decorative tattoos.

Then I think there was a period where the Japanese banned tattoos? Not 100% sure about that one. Tattoos in public bath houses/gyms/hot springs are still associated with Yakuza and you cannot enter into them with tattoos.

I think it comes down to the criminal undertone that tattoos once and still carry. The Japanese still try very hard to impress the western world, and I have a feeling that they might feel like we look down on them for having tattoos. I know we have some people who tattoo in Japan on here and I would like more of a story. Such a interesting country.

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I know you said this thread is dead but if you do care to take a look I searched this out. not super informative but it does help in understanding the topic at hand.

Japanese Tattoo Art - artelino

also

How to Comprehend Japanese Tattoo Designs - thoughts.com conversation engine

I think this one takes the cake if you plan to only read one of these make it this one.

Matsuri, Yakuza & Shinto,Tattoos. History and Culture of the Japanese Yakuza. Tattoos in Japan and personal experiences | Yoso Tattoo studio, traditional Japanese Tattoo & New style Tattoo

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Okay, lets see if I can help with this. Had to do alot of research before I started mine.

Edo Period

At the beginning horimono were mostly for trade workers like firemen, that would get koi back pieces that they believed would keep them safe from fires. Or by merchants, cause you see at the time Japan had very strict code of classes. Merchants were believed to be one of the lowest of the low, but were very rich. They couldn't wear expensive clothes or jewelry cause of there class being low, so they would tattoo themselves.

After that criminals started being marked by rings around their arms, or a tattooed forehead. The number of rings meant different crimes, forehead a kanji character for the crime committed. After prison they wanted to cover these tattoo and started irezumi. Now that Ex-cons were getting tattoos no body wanted them or be associated with them. These cons become outcasts in Japan, formed there own groups and started what became the yakuza.

Meiji Period

Things stayed pretty much like that till 1860's when Japan opened its doors to the west. Tattoos were though to be very primitive and barbaric by the Japanese government so they banned them. But they only banned Japanese citizens from getting tattoos, foreigners were still allowed to be tattooed. During this time tattooing in japan went very underground. It stayed banned until the American occupation after WWII.

Now

The current position of tattooing in Japan is this. Traditional tattoos done in the hand poking method is still given a bad name, some osens/ beaches/ ect.... won't allow tattoos western style or Japanese style. But because they were only banned about 60 years ago old generations still believe them to be the mark of the devil, and raised there children that way too. As time passes it will change.

Western style tattoos are starting to become more and more popular here, young japanese girls fallowing a fad are getting them mostly thinking that they are cute. Tebori style tattoos and tattoo artists are still underground for the most part. Most of them like it that way too, if you want horimono you need to find a artist that is willing to do it. Some are more open to the idea of tattooing a foreigner then others.

But it is not like fight club, horishi are still out there, just need to find them.

horimono, irezumi - traditional Japanese tattoo.

tebori - technique of tattooing by hand.

horishi - tattoo artist doing tebori

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But it is not like fight club, horishi are still out there, just need to find them.

I'm not Dari but I think what she meant by the Fight Club reference was "The first rule of fight club is- you do not talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is- you do not talk about Fight Club." From my limited understanding it seems to me like there might be knowledge out there that is better off not ending up on the internet for any stranger to that world to be able to read... Your post was great though for all the history!

Side note- can you imagine if they tattooed criminals with what their crime was nowadays? Not much of a chance for redeeming your life with "RAPIST" or "THIEF" or "MURDERER" boldly tattooed on your forehead!

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But that's the thing, they ain't hiding like they used to. A lot of them have websites.

If they still tattooed cause of crime, it would be worse. What's stopping you from killing 10 people instead of one just so you know you'll get the death penalty.

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I'm not Dari but I think what she meant by the Fight Club reference was "The first rule of fight club is- you do not talk about fight club. The second rule of fight club is- you do not talk about Fight Club." From my limited understanding it seems to me like there might be knowledge out there that is better off not ending up on the internet for any stranger to that world to be able to read... Your post was great though for all the history!

It's true, this is what I meant. Not that I think the Horishi's are imaginary. I met and had dinner with Horitoshi and the whole Horitoshi family while in Japan, and the experience may have been unreal, but they were quite real. (Scott worked at one of his shops in 2000.)

I just meant that there are intricate politics, customs, and traditions involved in tattooing in Japan, and that we don't need to discuss them here, unless a Japanese tattooer wishes to speak up, and I just don't see this happening.

Thank you for the history and timeline breakdown, CaptCanada. I've been told that it was a certain American president's fascination with Japanese tattooing that aided in the Japanese Gov't's loosening up on the laws, since he didn't see it as barbaric or an impediment to trade. Has anyone else heard this story, or know which prez it was? Was it Franklin Pierce? He did have a tattoo, and was very interested trade relations with Japan. I know that both Roosevelt and Truman had tattoos, but Truman did authorize dropping the atom bomb, so I doubt it was him.

I've also read somewhere that 35 of the first 43 presidents had tattoos, but who could verify such a thing?

And while we're on the topic of tattooed presidents, does anyone know what Bush has tattooed on his ass?

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If the original post was asking for info about the politics of the Japanese tattoo world in itself (their drama within their own tattoo culture, tattoo families etc), I apologize in advance for this long post about having tattoos in Japan.

I've spent a lot of time in Japan, most of it centered around tattoo-related things. I've tattooed there a good amount, as have many of my friends. I work with a japanese tattooer who specializes in their traditional style of tattooing, working with machine and by hand. Both of us have been tattooed by Horiyoshi 3 extensively, by hand in Yokohama, which puts you right in the middle of where tattooing intersects with the underworld in their culture (Juan could also talk a lot about that I'm sure, having managed to get dozens of Yakuza naked and photograph them). We talk about this stuff all the time, and I've also had many hours of lengthy discussions with other tattooers who've spent way more time in Japan than I have, pre-dating the Japanese "open" tattoo scene that they have now; as well as years of talking to Japanese friends who live here and there.

Given all that, I don't see any reason why people shouldn't discuss this publicly. In fact, I'd say it SHOULD be discussed, so tattooed people who'd like to go to Japan can have an idea about how to behave/what to expect/basic rules of thumb for services etc that might be effected by your having tattoos. I had a customer telling people the other day "you don't show a KOI tattoo in japan!!" which, while at least sensitive, is a little extreme and oversimplified.

The above links have really good info. One of the best snippets I found was roughly "in Japan, the Yakuza are never far". That's really true, but not in the way you might think. In Japan, organized crime is an accepted part of the culture, and frequently they are involved in business that comes into contact with regular people (construction, high-interest cash loans which are very popular, nightclubs, property management etc). A friend of mine's elderly mother needed the roof on her house replaced: she got a bid of around $20,000, contracted the company to do it, paid them, and they stole her money. Although her deceased husband had once been the mayor of the town they live in, she was powerless to do anything. It's not like here where as long as you're pretty much not trying to deal large amounts of drugs on the street, or walking around in the ghetto dressed like 2-pac, gangs are pretty much going to leave you alone, because you're not moving in their world. In Japan, the Yakuza make their living off the normal people (as I understand it), so there's always the threat that ordinary people might have to deal with them.

There are magazines you can buy at 7-11 in Japan that are basically like "Yakuza Weekly", it's that accepted. One of the famous ones is called "Document"

This intimidation is where a lot of their power comes from, from what I can tell. Japan is a very "polite" society, where fitting in is stressed to a degree that we can't comprehend. People are quiet for the most part, humble, keep to themselves. The idea of a thug coming into a small business and making a commotion (most indoor spaces in Japan are small) by shouting or simply threatening to make a scene is intimidating enough that most business owners would want to pay money, monthly, to avoid such a mess. Every street tattoo shop in Japan I've ever asked pays these kind of fees, as I'm sure many, many businesses do. Even extremely well connected people I've met still pay, just heavily reduced amounts.

Asian culture in general is just so much more homogenous than life as we know it, to stand out at all is to really draw attention to one's self. So tattoos not only go against the grain in the larger social sense, but they're also something that touches the ever present "yakuza" nerve in the minds of much of the population. It's like a double whammy for a largely mild-mannered people. An easy way to think about it is imagine being at the library with your kid, or at a restaurant, and seeing some guy walk in with "MS13" or "Slauson Crips" tattooed very visibly on his neck; would make most normal people uncomfortable. In Japan, to SOME people, it doesn't matter if you've got My Little Pony on your arm and you're as white as Howdy Doody, if you're showing a tattoo in public, you're a thug, and probably a criminal. I've had little old men come up to me and call me a Yakuza, and even after I explained in Japanese that I'm not Japanese so I can't be Yakuza (which isn't really true anymore), they just keep pointing at the tattoos and saying "Yakuza, Yakuza..."

But keep in mind, that's the exception. In Japan, pretty much anyone who's not Japanese is seen as kind of a monkey anyway, so even without tattoos, there're going to be things they don't want you doing/participating in. I've gotten dirty looks without anything showing in a Bob Dylan themed bar for merely invading their little world. But I've also been shown enormous kindness with a lot of skin showing by elderly people. Kind of like here, I find young adults and middle aged people tend to be most offended, while kids, teenagers, and the old & elderly are usually interested or inquisitive about foreigners and/or tattoos. I've also seen many Japanese people showing tattoos in public, even very traditional ones.

I'd be happy to answer any questions that I can, but in general:

In Japan, many people live in tiny apartments that don't have a bathroom or even a toilet, let alone a shower (imagine living in a bed & breakfast with no shower). Many people who do have the square, deep traditional baths big enough for one in Japan will acutally re-heat bath water for themselves to save water & heating costs. Because of these constraints, and because it's so nice, the "Sento" or public bath is still very popular. Sento are kind of like an indoor public pool, but it's a bathhouse which has a separate side for men and women. There are little faucets with very hot water that you sit in front of on a stool, next to other people doing the same. Here you wash yourself with soap before getting into the very hot bath, which is usually big enough for 3-6 people. There are also showers, but the real fun is the bath, which feels amazing (there's usually an even hotter one right next to it). Sento is everyone's basic right, to take a bath, so it doesn't matter how many tattoos you have, you're welcome. When you hear japanese tattooers talking about seeing tattoos for the first time in the bathhouse, they mean Sento, not Onsen.

Onsen are the natural hot springs scattered all throughout Japan, almost all of them have minerals that good for your health. Usually there's some kind of facility built up around them, whether it's a huge wooden building, a hotel, a rustic retreat, or even just a vessel that looks like a swimming pool. Some onsen are outdoor, some indoor, some co-ed, some public, some private. Unlike Sento, Onsen is a luxury activity, and a source of much national pride. It's like going to a spa here, many elderly people and families are on vacation, tour groups have chartered busses, schools are taking class trips etc. They want to enjoy the scenery relax, deeply, and they're naked in public (all Sento and Onsen are nude all the time). They don't wanna see Scott asking them to scoot over in some language they don't understand. Therefore, many Onsen don't allow tattooed people, they figure "why bother trying to sort out the good tattooed people from the bad, all Yakuza are bad, period, and many Yakuza have tattoos". If you want to enjoy Onsen, I'd say look for those that are more rural and private, not too fancy, connected to a hotel or inn. I've only been to a few, and the ones I know don't allow tattoos tend to be some of the most famous and beautiful. But I HAVE enjoyed seeing snow fall in ultra hot water under the night air with many naked tattooed guys, so it can be done.

Hotels AFAIK don't turn away anyone, all have private baths. Some have Sento or "rooftop Onsen" which are nice and usually small, so you dhouldn't be shy about using them. Capsule hotels seem to be the exception, as they have a kind of Sento only, and since they're located in nightlife heavy areas, that means many Yakuza, so they don't want tattooed people in the public bath inside.

Many nightclubs in Japan have specific "rules" which, as a monkey, they're going to think you of course don't understand; so you might get turned away, even if you're with a Japanese person, but not always.

In Japan, just be polite, bow your head a little to people, say "Sumimasen" if you say nothing else (excuse me), and put soy sauce on your rice if you want, you're an American.

anyway, I typed a lot & I wanna do something else, but happy to help anyone who has a question if I can

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Bryan Burk, great post but I just have a few questions to ask you. Most of your experience is prior to 2001 right? It just seems like your info, altho great, is a little out dated. Second question I have is you came here for taking pictures and collecting stories about horimono?

Again great post, but I would just like to add (not to you Bryan), unless you living here you don't have to care about what is happening in japan. Take a vacation, fly over here, meet your horishi and get a new tattoo if you want a horimono.

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If the original post was asking for info about the politics of the Japanese tattoo world in itself (their drama within their own tattoo culture, tattoo families etc), I apologize in advance for this long post about having tattoos in Japan.

That is the way I read the original question, but it wouldn't be the first time I misunderstood something!

Bryan, Thanks for all that good info. I remember being told, as to why so-and-so wouldn't bring his Japanese wife around certain situations, that she'd be expected to serve and do certain things that I'd be exempt from as an American woman. He left the monkey part out, but that's a great way of explaining it. It really takes some of the pressure off, to just be seen as a moderately polite and well-behaved monkey!

I remember Scott and I were looking for a woodblock print museum, and some young people on the street recognized Scott and called out "Scott Sylbia, Scott Sylbia!" I figured we could ask them directions, and I showed them our map, which was all in English, of course. Unfortunately, Scott asked the question wrong, "It's this way?" Now a Japanese person won't contradict you, and will even let you go the wrong way in the interest of not telling you that you're wrong. It was surprising, in that the two nice young kids let these other two dumb monkeys go two blocks out of the way, just not to tell the monkeys they were wrong. Surprising in that they couldn't let go of the need to be respectful, even though they wanted to be helpful. If we had said, "which way is it?" they could've easily told us, or even shown us, but their etiquette system is so deeply ingrained in their culture. (This was in 2005, if that matters.)

I found this guideline for customs and culture in Japan. It is meant for monkey businessmen, but it shows the intensity of their ideals of respect and saving face.

Doing Business, Culture, Customs, Etiquette - Japan

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... unless you living here you don't have to care about what is happening in japan. ...

That seems a little harsh, I can't imagine there are too many people who are tattooers or enthusiasts who wouldn't be interested in tattooing in Japan. And I know there are tons of street shops in Tokyo now, but I can't imagine that Japan's changed so much that Byran's experience is that outdated.

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That is the way I read the original question, but it wouldn't be the first time I misunderstood something!

Bryan, Thanks for all that good info. I remember being told, as to why so-and-so wouldn't bring his Japanese wife around certain situations, that she'd be expected to serve and do certain things that I'd be exempt from as an American woman. He left the monkey part out, but that's a great way of explaining it. It really takes some of the pressure off, to just be seen as a moderately polite and well-behaved monkey!

I remember Scott and I were looking for a woodblock print museum, and some young people on the street recognized Scott and called out "Scott Sylbia, Scott Sylbia!" I figured we could ask them directions, and I showed them our map, which was all in English, of course. Unfortunately, Scott asked the question wrong, "It's this way?" Now a Japanese person won't contradict you, and will even let you go the wrong way in the interest of not telling you that you're wrong. It was surprising, in that the two nice young kids let these other two dumb monkeys go two blocks out of the way, just not to tell the monkeys they were wrong. Surprising in that they couldn't let go of the need to be respectful, even though they wanted to be helpful. If we had said, "which way is it?" they could've easily told us, or even shown us, but their etiquette system is so deeply ingrained in their culture. (This was in 2005, if that matters.)

I found this guideline for customs and culture in Japan. It is meant for monkey businessmen, but it shows the intensity of their ideals of respect and saving face.

Doing Business, Culture, Customs, Etiquette - Japan

Wow I loved reading that article. I think many here could learn a lot if they would adapt just a few of these traits of etiquette.

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No sorry don't get me wrong. All I'm saying is if you don't live here you don't have to bother learning the in's and out's. Just showing up and being respectful to your horishi and get some work done.

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" Eighth and final rule of fight club,if this is your first night you have to fight "

I don't know Bryan but i'm sure if look at his longevity,work experience and ability i'm sure he has bothered learning the in and outs of all aspects of his craft .The dude can hang with the best either "Nihon Dento Irezumi" or Traditional Western and has earned his respect.

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No sorry don't get me wrong. All I'm saying is if you don't live here you don't have to bother learning the in's and out's. Just showing up and being respectful to your horishi and get some work done.

Got it, thanks for the clarification. Sometimes meanings can be lost without inflections of speech, body language, facial expressions and the like. Do you work in a street shop in Tokyo? And how many are there now?

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Kylegray: I give him all the worlds respect, I wasn't refuring to him with that. It's for people traveling to japan with any form of tattoo, or getting a tattoo done while here. Like bryan has said Japanese don't like conflict, most will let everything slide because you are a gaijin. Yakuza included, real yakuza are quiet people unless they need to be heard. Chinpura are the low level loud mouths that will get mad seeing your Japanese tattoo, but they get mad at everything.

Dari: No, I'm not an artist, I lack artistic talent. Just a fan of the artwork. I work as a bartender/manager. Don't know how many street shops they have in Tokyo, but Osaka has more.

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That is the way I read the original question, but it wouldn't be the first time I misunderstood something!

Bryan, Thanks for all that good info. I remember being told, as to why so-and-so wouldn't bring his Japanese wife around certain situations, that she'd be expected to serve and do certain things that I'd be exempt from as an American woman. He left the monkey part out, but that's a great way of explaining it. It really takes some of the pressure off, to just be seen as a moderately polite and well-behaved monkey!

I remember Scott and I were looking for a woodblock print museum, and some young people on the street recognized Scott and called out "Scott Sylbia, Scott Sylbia!" I figured we could ask them directions, and I showed them our map, which was all in English, of course. Unfortunately, Scott asked the question wrong, "It's this way?" Now a Japanese person won't contradict you, and will even let you go the wrong way in the interest of not telling you that you're wrong. It was surprising, in that the two nice young kids let these other two dumb monkeys go two blocks out of the way, just not to tell the monkeys they were wrong. Surprising in that they couldn't let go of the need to be respectful, even though they wanted to be helpful. If we had said, "which way is it?" they could've easily told us, or even shown us, but their etiquette system is so deeply ingrained in their culture. (This was in 2005, if that matters.)

I found this guideline for customs and culture in Japan. It is meant for monkey businessmen, but it shows the intensity of their ideals of respect and saving face.

Doing Business, Culture, Customs, Etiquette - Japan

Dari, that's how it was meant. i took what you said exactly as Jake explained it. that's why i said consider it dead. it's kind of like the Gents slogan, and i won't push it further.

Bryan, i haven't read your post but i look forward to it. i do know about contemporary issues surrounding tattooing and the public reaction to it, as my ex best friend became heavily tattooed while in Japan and i heard many stories from her. then again, she is happa (chinese and hispanic), so i think more pressure was placed on her due to her being asian than on me when i visited because it was obvious i was a western foreigner.

as for getting tattooed in Japan, well i've never worried about it. there's never been an artist there that i felt i had to seek out, and i'm not a huge fan of traditional Japanese work (though i have a soft spot for peonies). it's a matter of personal preference (it's just not my style), not a judgement on the artwork or techniques, as i have a lot of respect for both, as well as the artists i have met and seen work in Japan, and those who have trained in Japan.

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Bryan,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write that post. It was entertaining and informative, and, considering the source (a tattooer that I respect who also happens to be a collector with work from some of the world's best), worth its weight in gold.

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Bryan,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write that post. It was entertaining and informative, and, considering the source (a tattooer that I respect who also happens to be a collector with work from some of the world's best), worth its weight in gold.

Ditto. There was a lot of thought, time, and experience put into that post and it ruled. Much appreciated

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