Guest Blog: These Tattoos Bite
John Mack continues his weekly guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX and Part X.
When in Japan, I love chatting with the locals in small neighborhood bars. In the comfortable anonymity of these places, I sometimes reveal that I'm tattooed, and often people want to see. If the situation is right, I oblige them and take off my shirt.
Then the most surprising thing happens: sensing a rare opportunity, other customers and bar employees join in by pulling back their clothing to reveal tattoos -- and it's usually over half the men and women present doing so. Many of the Japanese I've met in these situations think that their compatriots don't have tattoos, but the reality is that they don't show them.
There's a stereotype that tattooed Japanese must be part of the criminal underground, the Yakuza. However, in my experience, only one person I met admitted to a Yakuza connection. He was a civilian, but his father was a Yakuza gangster who wore a dragon tattoo. He had an amusing story about his boyhood.
When he was a child, his father threatened, "If you're bad, this dragon will bite you!" That scared the hell out of him.
Like many Yakuza, the father was missing portions of his fingers. Instead of revealing that he had chopped off his own fingers in atonement for gangland transgressions, the father claimed to have been mutilated by a fan. The boy spent his summers in mortal fear of electric fans.
His father left when he was young and had been largely incommunicado thereafter. Nonetheless, on his chest, the son bore the same dragon tattoo as his father.
A dragon not unlike the one Horiyoshi III gave me (shown above).
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.