Nov201305
Japanese Bodysuits - Wabori - In the WSJ
11:29 AM
Wabori Japanese Tattoo.jpg
Today's Wall Street Journal Asia features an article by Manami Okazaki entitled Japanese Tattoos: From Yakuza to Artisans, Aesthetes.  It's an interesting read, particularly for its focus on traditional Japanese bodysuit tattoos -- Wabori -- and how their popularity has increased among young people who are interested in them on an artistic level, and how they are losing favor among the Japan's criminal underworld, the Yakuza, for whom Wabori was an integral part of their culture.

As Manami writes:

[...] Tattoos are on the decline among yakuza. Master tattooists including Horihiro and Horinami attribute the decline to the economic downturn, while others point to arrests and authorities clamping down on organized crime. Some also suggest yakuza today want to be less conspicuous, whereas in the past, tattoos were a means of distinguishing themselves from the rest of society.

"Regular people are walking around showing their tattoos off, so it isn't obvious who is who," Horitoku, an influential Tokyo-based tattooist, said. "There is no notion that doing something like that is scary anymore."

As for tattoos being part of yakuza initiation rites, that seems to be less common as well. "There aren't things like that anymore," master tattooist Horihito, based in Yokohama, told me.

Manami does point out in the article that, despite tattooing's popularity beyond the Yakuza,"the country is as strict as ever when it comes to accepting them as part of mainstream society." She also notes that this strict regard of the art form may have to change as the country will welcome visitors (including those who are tattooed) for the 2020 Olympics. [We noted this in our post on a Maori woman banned from a bathhouse for her Moko.]

The WSJ article is just a glimpse into masterful works of Japanese bodysuits, which is explored in detail in Manami's upcoming book, "Wabori, Traditional Japanese Tattoo" released by Kingyo this month. Once I get my hands on a copy, I'll post my review. Meanwhile, the article, and its accompanying slideshow, are worth a look.


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Marisa Kakoulas
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Craig Dershowitz
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