Yakuza tattoos...and blocked sweat glands?
01:47 PM

Yesterday, 60 Minutes aired a feature on the Yakuza, Japan's own mafia, which you can watch in various video clips of online, including this one above.

And like most talk on the Yakuza, the program talked a good deal about their Irezumi, the full body tattoos that are a standard mark of Yakuza (other than "the smell of the wolf" that let's the criminal underground know when they are in the presence of one of their own).

It's an interesting article overall and some great video footage online. Worth checking out.

The one part of that tattoo discussion that got many viewers talking was this statement by Jake Adelstein, a Yakuza expert (but not a doctor):

"The tattoos are so dense that it's very hard to sweat, which means when you can't get rid of the toxins in your body, that's also very hard on the liver."

So I got a few emails and Facebook messages asking whether tattoos make us sweat less?

Like Jake, I'm no doctor, but I did some quick searching and found that Dr. Dawn Richardson has answered this question on Velo News. After giving a great explanation about the skin and how tattooing works, she then discussion tattoos and how they could affect sweat glands:

"I searched the medical and tattoo literature for a definitive answer on just how much sweat-gland damage occurs, and came up empty. I spoke with Tanya McKeehan from the American Academy of Micropigmentation. She insists that the dearth of medical information and research on such damage in tattooing is because there isn't any. There are about 100 sweat glands per square centimeter of skin, so it would be hard to imagine that all are damaged. I suspect that many of them survive intact. Those that are damaged may not function at 100 percent when healed.
I would recommend having major work done in the off-season to allow the skin ample time to heal and train back up to maximum sweat-gland function before [bike] race season. Even with a full suit, there are many bare areas that have no ink at all and are completely undamaged."
Just watching the beautiful heavily tattooed people running the NYC marathon yesterday past my apartment, I witnessed many a misty sleeve, so yeah, I'm gonna say it: Don't sweat it; your tattoos will not lead to liver damage.

What leads to liver damage more is a hard partying -- no stranger to the Yakuza lifestyle nor my Halloween Bash this weekend -- and so to stay healthy, I'll be laying off the booze more but not the tattoos.

Thanks, Lara, for the links!

I've read that older ink mixtures that contained lots of heavy metals would lead to liver damage. I could see this being an issue today since tattoo ink mixtures and ingredients are many times "trade secrets" and are not freely disclosed.

I think its a mistake to think that getting large swaths of your body tattooed wouldn't have any negative repercussion on the body. Although that won't stop me, we all sacrifice for the things we love.

There was a similar statement made on a recent episode of Marked that dealt with the Yakuza/irezumi tattoo tradition.

I can't remember if it was a tattooer or just an "expert" but they essentially said that many choose to leave the center of the chest/stomach untouched because the sweat needs somewhere to go. I understood that the feeling had more to do with tradition than something that people still believe.

I wish that CBS had used my entire comment but it ended up as a soundbite. The reason most yakuza have liver problems is that they get Hep C from dirty needles during the tattoo process or from using intravenous drugs in their youth. In addition to that, many of them drink a lot which is certainly not good for the liver. (Although lately, the top dogs in the yakuza do not drink at all.) And I've been told by many yakuza themselves that the ink used twenty years ago and the great depths that the needle went in to give them tattoos their color did a lot of damage to the skin and made it hard for them to sweat--thus putting even more strain on the liver. I never meant to say that the sweat thing was the primary cause of their liver problems. But hey, I don't get to edit these thing. From personal experience, I'll say that people who have tattooed the traditional way have clammy skin as opposed to their untouched skin. I don't know if the tattoo techniques used today do less damage but I imagine they would be easier on the body.

thanks for the clarification, Jake!

the liver and sweat comment is very interesting. I am not doctor but studied a lot about the body &mind, and its is a family passion to heal people. Anything 'toxic' can damage the liver, not only what you ingest or get exposed to, but also your own emotions that release chemicals.

A few weeks ago, I had to undress in front of my parent in laws to show them my tattoos (This is in some rural Japanese area). I was worried of the father's comments as himself is close to Yakuza, and he wants his daughter to live a happy and peaceful life. There was only one comment they made, except for saying it was beautiful and this was, do not cover your whole body! Arms, back is ok! But they said if you complete your body suit, you will have health issues and especially regarding breathing as your skin will not be able to function normally, so other organs will have to compensate. None of them are against tattoos, and they do talk from close yakuza friends experiences who have full body suits.

My initial answer was that alcohol, smoking and too much stress in my view were more dangerous, at which point the mother nodded in agreement. Living downtown in any major city, eating fast food, taking drugs etc, will strain your system.

My conclusion is that yes, it does somehow damage your skin, even if it heals, the ink will slowly release in the body what ever ingredients are in there. There must be a huge market for organic inks! Someone has to make it big. (please email me if you know good brands)

But I guess, it's up to your overall lifestyle and how well you look after your body and your mind. (food, sleep, peace of mind, sport, smoking, alcohol etc... ) I don't personally worry about tattooing itself (except for some toxic inks).

As any lifestyle, it should be balanced and peaceful!

This post is very interesting, I hope you'll elaborate and do more research on this!

connect with us

Marisa Kakoulas
Miguel Collins
Craig Dershowitz
Brian Grosz
Sean Risley
Patrick Sullivan
Needles and Sins powered by Moveable Type.

Site designed and programmed by Striplab.

NS logo designed by Viktor Koen.