Japanese Tattooing in Print
07:58 AM
Editor's note: As I'm away on vacation now, we have the wonderful tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman back to guest blog. Her post has some invaluable info on important texts that you want to seek out for your own tattoo education.

RIP Donald Richie
By Anna Felicity Friedman

The news of Donald Richie's death on February 19 prompted me to dig out my copies of his works on Japanese tattooing and brought back a flood of memories of being a budding tattoo scholar back in the early 1990s, when library catalogs consisted of index cards organized in tiny drawers and the only real way to find out about then-obscure works on tattoo history and culture was via word of mouth (Ed Hardy, who was incredibly generous and supportive of my early tattoo history efforts, tipped me off to Richie's work as well as others').

It occurred to me that Needles and Sins readers might enjoy a round-up of some of these earlier works on Japanese tattooing--all but one of which are out of print today. You can find them in certain libraries (and a few via interlibrary loan), for purchase (albeit in limited quantities and often for a considerable price tag), or, in one case, online.

Sandi Fellman, The Japanese Tattoo (New York : Abbeville, 1986, 1987): In 1990, when I found a copy--on clearance--at the RISD bookstore of Fellman's incredible coffee-table book of photography of Japanese tattoos, I had just started getting tattooed and knew I would be sleeved (or more) someday. But these photos astounded me and still fuel tattoo desires today. The sleeve I commissioned in 1993 when I was just 21 years old was directly inspired by the images in this book. A photograph of a shishi tattoo by Horikin on his wife lingered in my memory until I had it inscribed in 2000 on one side of my torso--ten years of image persistence speaks volumes, I think, as to the power of the photographs in this book (as does how wrinkled and worn my copy is from incessantly paging through it). When I looked to find out how rare this book might be today, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the second edition is still in print! And for a very reasonable price (it's even Amazon prime eligible). So go buy it!

FellmanJapaneseTattooCover low.jpg W. R. van Gulik, Irezumi: The Pattern of Dermatography in Japan (Leiden: Brill, 1982): Another of the books that Ed Hardy recommended to me in 1992, van Gulik's book impressed me with its incredible level of scholarship--it was perhaps the first volume I had read that made me realize tattoo history could be a serious academic pursuit, complete with nerdy footnotes and scouring of archives. Van Gulik's book introduced me to the phenomenally striking Ainu tattooing as well as the concept of a prehistoric tattoo history that might be recovered from incised figurines. I have absolutely no idea where the School of the Art Institute librarians found a copy of this for me to borrow via Interlibrary loan, given that the book was, and still is, fairly rare (with fewer than 100 copies listed in Worldcat today). I was excited to discover recently that the book is now available via Google Books!

Donald Richie and Ian Buruma, The Japanese Tattoo (New York: Weatherhill, 1980, 1982, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1996): This collaboration between Richie and Buruma features some incredible photographs of older Japanese tattoos, when the style was what I would call more of a folk-art and less of a fine-art aesthetic--not as polished, rougher, more raw. It also has some phenomenal photos of tattoos in progress and amazing candids. The foreword is by Horibun II who offered Richie and Buruma what appears to be then-unprecedented access to his studio and process. For those of you who read Japanese, the bibliography gives an impressive listing of earlier texts about Japanese tattooing to track down. The later 1989-1996 paperback reprints can be found secondhand fairly easily (and for a not-too-terrible price) via Amazon and Abebooks. But the hardcover version is worth seeking out for those of you with the funds to add it to your book collection (it also features a much more compelling cover design than the paperback).

Ichiro Morita with an introductory essay by Donald Richie, Irezumi: Japanese Tattooing (Tokyo: Zuhushinsha, 1966): If the van Gulik book is rare, this book is super rare! Only around 40 copies of it appear listed in Worldcat, and the two copies available on Abebooks at the time of writing were both going for $250--thus the reason the only form in which I "own" this is as a complete xerox (for educational purposes only, of course!). As with van Gulik, I have no idea how those diligent college librarians in the early 1990s tracked me down a copy of this to borrow, but they did (did I mention I love librarians?!?). The layout of this book is pure 1960s--Richie's forward is typeset all in capital letters with the text blocks taking the form of triangles, arrows, and zigzags. Morita's photographs document a wide range of earlier tattoo artists: Horibumi, Horisute, Horiuno I, II, and III, Horigoro, Horisada, Horikin, Yanekuma, and Horiyoshi. The text is sparse (at least from an English standpoint--it is a dual language text, but I can't read Japanese and so I don't know if that just duplicates the English or offers additional material). Those of you in major cities should be able to find a library copy of this to view in special collections (Chicago, NY, Boston, LA, London were some of the cities I noticed in Worldcat whose libraries had copies). And maybe there are a few libraries out there who don't realize how rare this is, and you can get it via interlibrary loan! (No nefarious plans to borrow and then "lose" this book, please!!! I'm putting this out there for book lovers, not book coveters...).

Iizawa Tadasu World of Japanese Tattooing.jpgIizawa Tadasu, World of Japanese Tattooing (Tokyo: Haga, 1973): The rarest of all the texts I'm discussing today, this incredible coffee-table book has become an elusive collector's item with about 25 copies in Worldcat and few available for sale. The most "affordable" copy I could find in a recent search cost $480! I feel lucky to have a copy in my own library--a birthday gift from my mom (who is a Japanese print collector and used her dealer channels to locate this for me) during one of those early 1990s years when I was so obsessed with Japanese tattooing. This book starts with the more folk-art-y tattoos by the same artists seen in the Morita book and progresses into increasingly complex works by Horigoro II and III, Horihide, Horiyone, and some phenomenal works by Horiyoshi II (whenever I look at them the astonishment I felt as an art student and tattoo fan in my early 20s in the early 1990s comes flooding back). In the pages of this book, one can really see the transition from mid-twentieth-century Japanese tattooing into the breathtaking works created today. It also offers a large section of reproductions of Japanese woodblock prints influential to the tattoo tradition--both in terms of prints with tattooed characters as well as prints that formed the foundations for iconic designs. There is a fairly extensive Japanese text and a shorter English text. Amusingly (at least to me, with a healthy appetite for the macabre), the endpapers feature an image of one of the Fukushi (I think) tattooed skins. This book is going to be the hardest to track down--most copies are in university libraries, and I'm guessing most of them are in special collections (although that means that the general public can access them if you happen to be in one of those cities or towns)--the New York Public Library has a copy, as does the British Library, and those are two of my favorite places to spend a day--or a week...or a month!--sitting and reading.

Read more from Anna on her Tattoo History Daily blog.

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