Results tagged “Japanese Tattoo”

02:40 PM
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On the Dangerous Minds blog, a post entitled "Yakuza: Beautiful hand-painted vintage portraits of tattooed Japanese gangsters" naturally caught my attention. As I'm a big fan of the blog, I was surprised and disappointed to find the post to be seemingly a cut-and-paste history of Japanese tattoo traditions from a few internet resources, and also no attribution for the photos other than "via" links to sites that previously posted them.

One of the links was to this old Tokyo Telephone post, and that site led me to a source of the photos transferred online: the "Tattoo" Flickr album of "Okinawa Soba (Rob)." And here's where it gets good.

Rob scanned photos from prints, negatives, and books, researching the sources and also pointing out some interesting info behind his finds. For example, for the first photo posted above, he credits "The Tattooed Post Runner" [not identified as the criminal Yakuza as per Dangerous Minds] to Kimbei Kusakabe, photographed in Yokohama, circa late 1880s; photo No.88 in his 1893 Commercial Catalog. He further notes that the photos were printed from the same negative, but points out the vastly different tattoos. Then, my favorite part, he adds a little Q&A:

Q : Are these old "Japanese Tattoo" photos entirely fake ? Were the tattoos painted on photos of men who actually no tattoos on their bodies?

ANSWER : The men are tattooed FOR REAL. But their real Tattoo ART is covered over by the imagination and paint brushes of the studio colorists --- ART covered by ARTIFICE.


ANSWER : The old wet-plate collodian negatives were not very sensitive to the color of the real tattoos on the skin, and they were barely visible on the prints. In fact, they were sometimes so hard to see that the colorists just made up their own designs as they went along, each one coloring the photo differently, using their imagination to guide them!

Q : Can you trust that the tattoos painted on other old Japanese photographs are faithful to the real tattoos on the men's bodies???

ANSWER : NO !!! However, there were those times when the tattoos were visible enough, and the colorists conscientious enough, that the finished coloring work DID CONFORM to the underlying tattoos. Every print must be taken on an individual basis.
In other photos, you'll find more commentary on these hand-colored tattoo prints. It's definitely worth a look.

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07:02 AM
antonkusters_yakuza_060_L1002275.jpgantonkusters_yakuza_tattoo2.jpgantonkusters_yakuza_tattoo3.jpgThe Yakuza, Japanese organized crime families, have found their way onto this blog for many years because of the elaborate tattoos they wear, often created by masters of the craft. There is so much mystery, myth and lore surrounding the Yakuza that the tattoos are only just a part of the intrigue.

Seeking to better understand the Yakuza, Belgian photographer Anton Kusters went to Japan and, after gaining unprecedented access by one of the leading crime families, he spent two years photographing the underworld syndicate, from boardrooms to bath houses, including their tattoos. In 2011, Kusters published his book Odo Yakuza Tokyo, and most recently, The Economist created a short film about Kusters' project: Japan's Yakuza: Inside the syndicate.

The video, embedded below, has Kusters offering fascinating stories behind the images. The photographer also provides more on the project on his site:

YAKUZA is a personal visual account of the life inside an inaccessible subculture: a traditional Japanese crime family that controls the streets of Kabukicho, in the heart of Tokyo, Japan.

Through 10 months of negotiations with the Shinseikai, my brother Malik and I became one of the only westerners ever to be granted this kind of access to the closed world of Japanese organised crime.

I share their complex relationship to Japanese society, and show the personal struggle of being forced to live in two different worlds at the same time; worlds that often have conflicting morals and values.

It turns out not to be a simple 'black' versus 'white' relationship, but most definitely one with many shades of grey.

The book seems to be out of print at the moment, but the video is a great watch.

[Via BoingBoing]

02:32 PM
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The wonderfully intriguing wooden sculptures by Takeshi Haguri, with their fine tattoo details, were shared by Melina Bee in our Needles & Sins Facebook group, but in case you didn't catch it, here's just a taste of the artwork.

You can see more sculptures and close-ups of the work on the gallery page. As noted on that page, Haguri, born in 1957 in Nagoya, Japan, has been sculpting in wood mainly, using aluminium for outdoor works. The tattoos are largely acrylic paint, inspired by tattooed bodies found at Matsuri (Japanese festivals). I particularly love the movement of those tattoos on sculptures. A great marriage of body art and fine art.

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08:28 PM
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Korea's Chun tattooing.

empire state tattoo expo.jpgTattoo mugshot of @jackfrommanhattan.

Japanese backpiece tattoo.jpgRish's backpiece by Fibs.

tribal leg tattoo.jpgTribal fusion tattoo by Evan Beers.

me and beers.jpgSelfie with Evan Beers. Evan tattooed his own head and face. Watch the video here.

This past weekend, the Hilton Midtown Hotel in Manhattan was flooded with beautiful tattooed bodies at the Empire State Tattoo Expo, repping the diversity of tattoo collectors in NYC and beyond. 

The main attraction was an international All-Star tattoo artist line-up, gathered together by a stellar tattooer himself, Stefano Alcantara, for the Inked-organized show. Paul Booth curated a fine art exhibit as part of the event, and Paul also treated a lucky contest winner to a collaborative tattoo with famed Nikko Hurtado. There were the convention staples of sideshow, burlesque, vendors and competitions -- with some exceptional pieces on view during the contests, such as the Best of Show winner by Randy Engelhard, shown below.

From my book signing table, I grabbed some people from the convention floor for my signature bad iPhone shots, sampled above, and I stole a few photos posted below from the Expo's Facebook page, which has many more pictures to view. On Instagram, check #nyempirestatetattooexpo for more scenes from the show.

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Best of Show: Randy Engelhard tattoo.

Vitcor Portugal tattooing.jpgVictor Portugal freehanding a backpiece.

Jon Mesa tattooing.jpgJon Mesa getting ready to tattoo.
02:34 PM
irezumi.jpgKuniyoshi  print.jpgHoritoshi III drawing.jpgA fantastic exhibition exploring Japanese tattooing, in various mediums through different periods, is now on view at The Ronin Gallery in NYC. Entitled "TABOO: UKIYO-E AND THE JAPANESE TATTOO," the exhibit encompasses the work of ukiyo-e masters Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, Kunisada and Kunichika "celebrating the world of tattoo duing the Edo and Meiji periods. Also exciting are the original paintings and drawings of master tattoo artist Horiyoshi III, along with the contemporary art photography of Masato Sudo and mixed-media work of American artist Daniel Kelly.

The best part: the 76-page catalog packed with beautiful imagery and tattoo history is available as free ebook [embedded below]. The hardcopy catalog and prints can be purchased here.

I highly recommend taking the time to read through it. You may also find inspiration for your next tattoo!

07:15 AM
goddess backpiece shane tan.jpgShane Tan Ganesh Tattoo.jpgshane tan tattoo.jpgI'm loving this new Proust Questionnaire, featuring the hilarity of Shane Tan of Feather Cloud Tattoo. After 7 years in Zurich, Shane has returned to Singapore, where he began his tattoo career 14 years ago, and opened up a private tattoo atelier. The good news is that, for the first time since January 2014, Shane will be taking on new work.

In our email Q&A, Shane talks about high powered-meeting sports shorts, Sid Vicious, and being an "Asian Superman." 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Approximately 2 months ago, I had a couple of builders and contractors over at my home/studio. It was our very first meeting and prior to that, there were only email and phone conversations. They arrived in the morning, equipped with their measuring equipments and their catalogues of paint colors and some kind of portfolio. Very professional. I woke up a wee bit too late, as all tattooers do. I spoke to them for about an hour, with a cigarette in the side of my mouth huffing and puffing away. I showed them the rooms and what I wanted to be done. Paint jobs, wallpaper, lights and all that renovation stuff. Speaking rather seriously, I emphasized that I wanted every single thing promptly done to my expectations. No shortcuts. No lazing around. No messing about. After acting like a CEO of a multi-million dollar company, I decided to take a toilet break. I wanted to just drown myself in the toilet bowl when I realized I had put on my shorts inside out! I'm sure you own or have seen one of those sports shorts, with the inner underwear thing? It's kinda like a netted underwear attached to your shorts. Its good for holding your jewels when you run, but turned inside out, it made me look like Superman with dreadlocks in a fishnet and gave me super powers of stupidity. Nobody cared to inform Asian Superman about his mishap. For the whole time, they were probably laughing whenever my back was turned. I'm sure they would have filmed it and let it run wild on Youtube...Bastards...Now if that isn't misery, what is? Why am I wearing sports shorts for a meeting? Because I can.        

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

To love and be loved. I wasted too many years chasing something that never existed. Spent too much time worrying about career directions and financial issues. Like most human beings, we strive to do better. To succeed and to provide for our families, but in the process of it, we drift away from them, build some kind of thick protective wall around us and plunge ourselves into a deep hole of personal struggle. I think happiness is when you remember to love the ones who are awaiting your return.

Your most marked characteristic?

My wife says I'm the Immovable Sleeper.

Shane Tan tattoo sleeve.jpg What is your principle defect?

I lack focus on most things non-tattoo or art related. I forget a lot. That's the shitty part of tattooing and painting for me. I can't do anything else. Can't read, can't write, can't count, can't speak proper. Thank the heavens I learned how to tie my shoe laces when I was a child. It would be too complicated for me to learn anything now.
Who are your favorite musicians?

Sid Vicious was innocent. And he was my favorite musician because he lacked so much in musical talent, he had to divert his attention towards wrecking stuff (including himself) on stage to gain attention. You are dearly missed, Sid. I use Sid's technique of diversion a lot. I know I lack a lot of talent, so I make up for it with pure desperation and determination. Some people draw a dragon once and they achieve perfection, I have to draw the same one 200 times over before I think I'm ready to use it.  

Who are your favorite artists?

I would say Hokusai. The body of work this master has produced is just amazing. I steal A LOT of his manga. And I love Kyosai. So provocative and so recognizable.

Who would you have liked to be?

A pop star. So I can worry about what color socks looks best on me. And have people type out this interview for me while 5 surrounding photographers fight amongst themselves to snap pictures and compliment me on my latest outfit, The-Inside-Out-Trousers designed by Luis Vuitton. I'd do a hit song called, "I'm your Asian Superman."

How would you like to die?

Hey why do you have to be so final? I've just started to live. I think I'd like to die holding my loved ones. Preferably the last thing I see should be the faces of my wife, my baby boy (preferably grown up by then) and my family. Hopefully, not a cop dragging my body out of the dumpster.

What is your present state of mind?

Right now? Well, I'm high off my face from good food and some laughs. I had really nice chocolate cake and a lot of good food at a Chinese restaurant in Pan Pacific Hotel today. We met my mum and gang for lunch. It was awesome. Since I quit drugs, my state of mind has been very clear. Motivated as hell.

What is your motto?

Give everything your best shot.

See more of Shane's work on his site and Instagram.

07:17 AM
Marco Serio tattoo.jpgMarco Serio tattoo1.jpgMarco Serio tattoo2.jpgVibrant and dynamic tattoo work, largely inspired by Japanese and Americana tattooing traditions, make up the portfolio of Marco Serio. Marco, who was a resident artist at Manhattan's Invisible NYC for over five years, moved to Amsterdam in 2011, working at a local shop and then in his own private studio. Most recently, however, he gathered a crew of 9 top tattooers, each with their own unique tattoo point of view, and opened The Blue Blood Studios in Amsterdam.

Despite running a crazy busy studio, Marco took some time to play along with our Proust Questionnaire for Tattooists:

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 

To be completely unhappy with a tattoo I have done. That is why I strive to not let that happen.

What is your idea of earthly happiness? 
Walking into the studio with my fiance, hanging out with the crew and tattooing.

Your most marked characteristic? 

What is your principle defect?  
I'm a scatterbrain.

Your favorite painters? 
Hieronymus Bosch, Istvan Sandorfi, Benjamin Cohen, Picasso's early years, and Dali.

Your favorite musicians?
Dan Auerbach, Miles Davis, Howlin' Wolf, and Lightnin Hopkins.

Who are your favorite writers? 
Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, Fernando Pessoa, and Walt Whitman.

Your favorite virtue?

Who would you have liked to be? 
Marcus Aurelius.

How would you like to die? 
In my sleep.

What is your present state of mind?
Calm and happy.

What is your motto?
The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the reward.

See more of Marco's work on The Blue Blood site, Facebook, and Instagram.

Also, The Blue Blood Studios will be hosting several upcoming events for both fellow tattooers (painting nights in which visiting artists will share their knowledge) and day donations for charities (a day for the homeless, a for battered women, and a for kids in need). Check in with the studio on Facebook.

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07:51 AM
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gas mask tattoo.jpgAlmost three years ago, we posted an artist spotlight on Russia-born tattooer George Bardadim at the time when he was doing his very first guest spot in the US at Tattoo Culture in Brooklyn.  Today, George has made NYC his home, working as a guest artist at Tattoo Culture, along with residents Gene Coffey and Brian Wren, and also tattooing in Pennsylvania at Sink the Ink in Doylestown. A great reason to toast with some vodka!

What I particularly love about George's portfolio is the incredible versatility he has in rocking a hyper-realistic black & grey piece one day and then creating a vibrant and harmonious Japanese-inspired work the next. It's not easy to find an artist who truly excels in so many different tattoo genres.

I just saw on the Tattoo Culture Facebook page that George is now taking new consultations, so this post isn't just a tease for an artist whose work you can't get for another few years.

See more of George's tattoos on his site, Facebook, and Instagram.

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07:56 AM
Junco Peony Finished.jpgToday, we have fascinating guest blog post from Pamela Shaw, who shares her experience receiving traditional Japanese hand-tattooing -- tebori -- from renowned artist Shinji Horizakura. Here is Pamela's story in her own words:

By Pamela Shaw
Being very green to the tattoo world, having only one other tattoo, it seemed to me that getting this tattoo was a mix of a boon and not quite deserved; though I feel that way about my first tattoo experience, and expect to feel that way with each of the artists whose work I have the pleasure and honor to have on my body.  Still, Shinji Horizakura's work had been in that category of  "one day maybe I'll get lucky enough to have work from him."  This "one day" thought slowly turned into a lust of sorts.

I became more and more enthralled with tebori after reading the Munewari Minutes blog, the plethora of information and photos generously posted by tattoo artists and collectors online, and Takahiro Kitamura's "Tattoos of the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Motifs in the Japanese Tattoo" book, to name but a few sources. I love the dedication to maintaining tradition, the influence from all forms of art (literature, mythology, theatre, fine art, music, religious iconography) and keeping things handmade in this ever machine and technologically influenced world.  At this rate, how could I not not get a tattoo from Shinji Horizakura?  I adore his bold use of color, there is such solidity and strength within the aesthetic.

Knowing full well that I most likely was not going to get a tattoo from Shinji Horizakura any time soon, I called NY Adorned to put my name on his list. Shortly thereafter, I found myself happily, surprisingly, feeling like I won the lottery: making a consultation appointment.  I cannot find any other rational explanation given the "bird with plant
matter/branch/flower on my left thigh" subject matter description and Horizakura's long wait-list as to how this happened.  From what I imagine, this is not what Shinji usually does with his time, though I could be wrong since I picture him working tirelessly on much larger tattoos, day in and day out.  I feel very lucky and grateful to Shinji, the folks at NY Adorned, and to the tattoo gods who have been smiling on me for giving me this opportunity.

peony tattoo closeup 2.jpgI asked Shinji for a dark-eyed Oregon junco, a bird I first saw in Northern California on a trip with my herbalist school program and a bird I have seen since here in New York with slightly different coloring.  On the day of our consultation, I had a few color photos of the bird in question, and a couple of other examples of art prints with
birds as well.  We discussed placement, and plant material.  I had my heart set on a pine branch, but Shinji advised against it and said that he'd come up with something else.  I got a rough marker sketch on my leg, and booked my appointments.

When the first appointment finally rolled around, he had a beautiful stencil drawn for me. The peony was a lovely surprise, and I have to say, it is gorgeous. After giving the okay, we got our first session started.  I loathe having line-work done, and that last half hour of tebori felt like bliss by comparison.  I also am a rather huge wimp, and take an herbal tincture to get myself through measly two-hour sessions on my thigh so I could be relaxed and not twitchy and tensed up.  During my last session, I almost fell asleep; though that could have been the herbs talking. 

Tebori is obviously quieter than the machine, and to me, it is less jarring and painful -- dare I say, enjoyable. Now, my long-term tattoo plans are being reconsidered, so as to incorporate more of Shinji's fine tattooing.

I absolutely love my junco and peony and cannot thank Horizakura-san enough.  Every time I look at this tattoo, I am reminded that I am indeed a lucky woman!
07:48 AM
Janm.jpgjapanese tattoo 1.jpgTattoos on the Instagram square: the woman is tattooed by Horikiku, and the man by Yebis. In the full portrait, tattoos are by Shige, Yellowblaze. All photos by Kip Fulbeck.   

"Perseverance - The Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World" is a photographic exhibition by Kip Fulbeck, which explores the artistry and master craftsmanship of traditional Japanese tattooing. The exhibit, curated by Takahiro Kitamura, will showcase works of over 30 of the world's leading contemporary tattoo artists. It will be on view from March 8 to September 14, 2014 at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles, and will include a number of special events.  

I asked Takahiro (Taki) about his experience curating "Perseverance" and his goals for the show. Here's what he said:

This is my first time curating an exhibit at a national museum, and with all the talented artists around, the selection of artists was very difficult. I had decided that I wanted to focus more on younger artists, even some that people may not be as familiar with, in order to show what the current generation is doing and how Japanese tattooing has both evolved and stayed the same. I am excited to show such a variety of regional styles from Yokohama to Tokyo to Osaka (of course!) to LA! There are magical things happening in the world of tattoo and I hope to exhibit some of the best modern Japanese tattoo work. Thankfully, Kip Fulbeck, the exhibition designer, has had amazing ideas on presentation - what would an art exhibit be without great presentation?

We have also put a lot of energy into insuring that people who are interested can learn something about Japanese tattooing, especially in the catalog (200 pages, full color) we have put together for the show. The show covers a lot of ground and involves a lot of people. I was honored that graffiti legend Chaz Bojorquez wrote out the "Perseverance" lettering and will also speak at the opening. It is also amazing to have a talk and personal historical account from Japanese tattoo legend Junii Salmon. I am also very proud to present Chris "Horishiki" Brand's 108 Heroes of Los Angeles, a modern take on the warriors of the Suikoden. And we have a great "kite" project, but I want to wait and let people see that for themselves!

I want people who have not been exposed to Japanese tattoos to be see the sublime artistry involved in contemporary Japanese tattooing. Following the visual impact, I hope people can see that the Japanese tattoo is far more than an art form, but a cultural that represents the folklore, history and culture of Japan. We are most proud of the photographs (some of which are life size!) and hope people can appreciate and understand the time and dedication on the part of the tattoo artists and their clients.
Read more on the museum's exhibit page and on the Perseverance Facebook page.

Japanese tattoo 2.jpgTattoo above by Horitomo.
07:46 AM
In November, we posted on Manami Okazaki's Wall Street Journal article entitled Japanese Tattoos: From Yakuza to Artisans, Aesthetes, in which she explored how traditional Japanese bodysuit tattoos -- wabori -- were losing favor among Japan's criminal underworld, the Yakuza, and gaining popularity among young people who are interested in them on an artistic level. You can read Manami's full WSJ article here.

The article, however, was just a peak into the tradition, artistry, mythology, and magic of
Japanese tattooing. For a more in-depth exploration of the art and culture, Manami has published, through Kingyo Books, "Wabori, Traditional Japanese Tattoo" -- a gorgeous 256-page coffee table book, that is not only beautiful to look at, but also provides insightful context in which to view the works. That context is an extensive and exceptional collection of oral histories and interviews with Japanese tattoo artists, compiled in English over a 6-year period.

As noted in the foreword, the goal of these oral histories was not only to showcase the artwork, but also offer the reader a glimpse into the psychology of the artists as well as their personalities. Manami achieves this goal in her discussions with masters who include
Horiyoshi III, Horihide, Horitoku, Tokai Horihiro, Horiyasu, Horimitsu, Horinami, Horicho II, Nakamura, Horitoshi, Horihisa, Horihito, Horimasa, Horikazuwaka, Horitsuna, and Horiren. Manami also interviewed Motoharu Asaka, master artisan of woodblock prints, and Shoko Tendo, author of Yakuza Moon, a memoir on life as the daughter of a Yakuza boss.

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Horihito, photo by Irwin Wong.

The oral histories are particularly engaging as they paint very vivid pictures of the artists' experiences in this underground art. For example, in his interview, Horiyoshi III muses on first time he saw a tattoo, as a child, at a public bath. He also talks about the meanings and rules in tattooing, working with the Yakuza, and how it was luck that brought him his 10-year apprenticeship under Horiyoshi I. He says, "90 percent of life is timing and luck, and people with bad timing and bad luck are basically fucked." Accompanying that Q & A are wonderful photos of Horiyoshi I, II and III, as well as Horiyoshi III's work from the seventies through today.

For stories harkening to the early relationships formed between Japanese and American tattooers, Horihide's interview is a must-read. Horihide shares stories on how he was "astonished" when he first witnessed tattoos with color
on American servicemen in Japan; he learned that they had been tattooed by Sailor Jerry, and so he began corresponding with Jerry in English for 4 years. They later met, exchanging American color inks for Japanese tattoo motifs. There's also a great photo of Horihide tattooing Sailor Jerry in Hawaii.

Moreover, Manami does an excellent job of offering
a history lesson on Japanese tattooing in her introduction. She also highlights stunning images, from various photographers, of the Matsuri festivals -- one of the rare occasions when people with traditional Japanese tattoos can be seen in their full glory.

In all, Wabori is a wonderfully curated collection of art and stories, offering unique insight into traditional Japanese tattooing and also inspiration for further masterful works.

You can purchase Wabori on the Kingyo website as well as

Horimitsu.jpgHorimitsu, photo by Irwin Wong.

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Horikazu, photo by Michael Rubenstein.
11:29 AM
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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.
08:06 AM
Onna yu ("Bathhouse Women") by Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) via Wikipedia.

Last week, a bunch of new outlets worldwide picked up the story that a bathhouse in Hokkaido, Japan refused entry to a Maori woman because of her Moko. As notes, the woman, Erana Te Haeata Brewerton, was in Japan to attend an indigenous language conference, "staying with a group of Ainu people indigenous to Japan whose ancestors wore tattoos similar to the traditional chin tattoo."

The tattoo bans at bathhouses throughout Japan are nothing new and not really news to many in our community -- it's almost become a joke to pack a long-sleeved wetsuit when traveling to the country if you want to take a soak. The bans are based on the association of tattoos with the Yakuza crime syndicates, and designed to keep the bad guys out. Indeed, Yakuza are heavily tattooed (and often beautifully so). But so are a lot of people who aren't in the Japanese mafia.

The reason this incident is getting media traction is because Japan was just awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympics, which means a lot more tourists, including the tattooed. At the press conference for the Olympics announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that "it is important to respect the cultures of foreign countries, considering we will host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and expect many visitors ... to come to Japan."

Perhaps, we won't have to pack our wetsuits after all.
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).
11:01 AM
david sena tattoo2 .jpgdragon tattoo sena.jpgIn a city teeming with many of the world's stellar tattooists, David Sena has consistently stood out as one of NYC's finest for his exceptionally strong and vivid Japanese tattoos as well as bold and beautiful blackwork -- some of the best in the US.

I met David over a decade ago at a tattoo convention in New Jersey. Actually, I first met his client with a blackwork aquatic-themed bodysuit, whom I accosted to find out who did the work. He then took me to David, who seemed a bit confused by this short redhead spewing all kinds of questions at him in the usual hyper state I'm in when I excited by exceptional tattoos. Thankfully, I didn't scare him off and we became friends.

As his friend, I've gotten a front row seat to watch the transformation of his large-scale tattoo projects as well as his fire art; however, David describes his work best: 

My fine artwork is created with a technique of drawing by burning marks on paper with fireworks and other volatile materials. These techniques are rooted in one of humankind's earliest technologies: fire, and as such they speak to something elemental in the human condition. Inspired by cosmology and the interconnection between terrestrial and celestial fires, my drawings become a record of their creation, a map pointing to the reason for human existence, or rather the outer limits, the infinite, the space not yet grasped. These two means of creating - tattooing and burning-- have a unique synergy, as they both entail physical and ritualistic processes of mark-making while transforming matter/people.
David now has a new space to create his tattoos and fine art:  Senaspace in NYC's Little Italy. And he's inviting all of you to its grand opening on 12.12.12, from 6-10pm (afterparty to follow). At the opening, there will be an exhibition of his latest works and live fire drawing demo.

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David says of the space:  "This gallery and tattoo studio is a reflection of my lifelong interest in diverse modes of artistic expression, and my conviction that art is not a luxury but a sublime human need. I hope this space speaks to you on an aesthetic, visceral, and personal level."

I've already visited the studio and it's a gorgeous space. He plans to regularly feature expositions, projects and guest spots by local and international artists in all mediums. So you'll be hearing more from David here.   

SENASPACE, 229 Centre St. NY NY 10013, 212-966-5151,

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07:05 AM
Dana Helmuth.jpgDana Helmuth makes beautiful Japanese tattooing that follows the long standing traditions of the art form -- more conservatively than the modern genre mash-ups -- but still with its own distinctiveness. They are just as striking from a distance as they are up-close, and they are built to look good to the grave. 

How Dana has come to achieve these qualities in his work is no secret:  homework, hard work, and a love for tattooing. You'll hear many great artists say the same thing. But for a more in-depth understanding into his approach -- and to get an up-close look at how he works -- check out the live tattoo webcast on TattooNow TV, next Sunday, November 4th. Dana will be doing an interview as well; for a preview on that talk, you can read this Q&A with the artist

drago tattoo backpiece Helmuth.jpgYou'll also get to see another side of Dana on November 8th -- as a musician. He'll be playing live next Thursday. To get a taste of his music and tattooing, here's a video below (put to Dan's own music) in which he does a custom black and grey dragon backpiece in one day.

Dan will be tattooing at Off the Map Tattoo in Easthampton, Mass. from November 3-9 and still has some space available. Contact Off The Map for more info.
10:57 AM
Andre Malcolm tattoo1.jpgWhile at the Paradise Tattoo Gathering, I ran into my friend and tattooist Andre Malcolm. It had been a while since we last saw each other as Dre had moved from NY out to California with his family in 2010, and over the past year he's been busy working as part of the esteemed Analog Tattoo crew in San Jose.

Watching him tattoo at the show, I was reminded how dynamic, bold work can also embody an elegance and a cool. Strength comes from the subtleties as well as the more intense elements. Dre's got that balance and flow down. He's been tattooing for twelve years and knows what he's doing. I asked him for a quick and dirty Q&A and here's how it went down:    

How do you approach projects -- esp large scale work -- and create something that  is customized to the client?

There's a lot of studying of the body, so I sketch on the main subject matter then I take a tracing of the body.

What references do you generally look to?
I look at a lot of nature, rocks, water, trees, flowers if need be. Japanese prints and paintings. I watch a lot of anime.

What has been the greatest lesson you've learned in your years tattooing?

Any conventions/guest spots coming up?
Whenever I'm in NYC, I guest spot at Saved Tattoo. In 2013, I'm planning to guest at RedLetter1-- I've been telling Phil [Holt] that for the last few years so that's going to happen real soon. Also at Artwork Rebels, and Bolder Ink -- Joel Long's shop. And I've been promising Brad Fink [Iron Age, Fun City and Daredevil] too, so I'm trying to work that schedule out having a family and all.

What's the best way to make an appointment with you?
The best way to get in contact with me is to email me at andretattoos [at] or call Analog tattoo 408-292-7766. It really isn't that hard to get in contact with me.

Ok, Shout out time ... Go!

Med, Ces, Yes2 at Tuff City tattoos BX NYC. José Soto, Eddie, Anderson Luna, Adrian Lee, Ron Earhart, Matt Shamah, Jim Miner, ATAK, Troy Denning, RG, Kiku, Marco Serio, Damian Rodriguez, Chis O'Donnell, Scott Campbell and everyone at Saved Tattoo. Michelle Myles, Brad Fink, Big Steve, Mina, Claire -- good folks at Daredevil Tattoo. Yoni Z, Brad Stevens, Horizakura, Kaz. Grimey for hooking me up with a book I lost moving out to the West with the family -- it really meant allot, thank you -- and all the guys at Skull & Sword. Jason Phillips and Sean Pertkinson at FTW Oakland, Phillip Millic at Old Crow in Oakland, Trevor Mcstay and everyone at Dynamic Tattoo in Australia -- super nice shop, super nice family, thank you for treating me so nice, can't wait to guest there again. Geordie Cole at Tattoo Magic in Australia, Owen Williams, Evan Griffith at Tama Tattoo in Australia. William Yoneyama also in Australia -- awesome people, good time. And everyone that has let me work on them: I give you thanks for the trust. If I've left anyone out, I'm sorry. Peace out.

Check more of Andre's work on the Analog site.

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09:57 AM
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I'm excited to be working on the second volume of "Black Tattoo Art," finding artists around the world doing bold, black and badass work. One such artist Laszlo Kis of Windhorse Tattoo in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

What's particularly exciting about Laszlo, or Laci's, portfolio is how he can seamlessly move from heavy, tribal infused pieces to electric Americana to buttery black & grey to Japanese iconography. His artistic diversity is ever-present in his new book documenting his life in tattooing: "Windhorsetattoos by Kis Laszlo" available on Blurb.

Originally from Monor, a Hungarian city near Budapest, Laci began tattooing at sixteen years old in his hometown. He traveled throughout Hungary, working in Budapest, Balatonfured, and Sopron before moving to Sao Paulo, where Misi Karai, a long time friend from Hungary, invited him to work at his studio, Misi Tattoo. After three years, they decided to open up a new studio called Tattoo Tradition, where Kis worked for over five years until going out on his own in early 2010 and establishing Windhorse Tattoo.

lazslo kis tattoo 4.jpg When asked why he's chosen not to concentrate on one particular tattoo genre, Laci says he feels it is important not to limit himself to one style in order to fulfill the wishes of different clients: "I believe that, for some strange reason, people know what they will have on the body -- as if the tattoo has been there all along even before they enter the studio. Therefore, I cannot ignore their request, but must work with it."

I was hoping that he'll make a trip to the US soon, but with two young children, he's staying in Brazil for a while. Time to start planning a South America tattoo vacation.

See more of Laci's work on his blog and website.

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09:02 AM
Yesterday, the LA Times published  "Horihide still practices the dying art of hand tattoo" -- Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore's article on the Japanese tebori master Oguri Kazuo aka Horihide. It's a fantastic read and one that I wish was ten times longer to get a greater sense of the rich tradition this master carries forth as he continues to tattoo at age 79.

The article follows a Japanese-born American software manager, Motoyama Tetsuro, as he goes to Gifu, Japan to finish a tattoo that began decades ago. Here's a taste:

With old masters passing away and young apprentices lacking the patience to learn the painstaking craft of tebori (hand tattooing), many followers believe its days are numbered.

"If you know the master, why would you want to work with someone else?" asks Motoyama, 62, who first received the outline of a dragon by Horihide on his right shoulder in the 1970s. Motoyama lost touch with the master -- who works only by word-of-mouth introductions in backdoor locations -- before the work was complete. Last November, after a 30-plus year search, he finally located Horihide and traveled back to Japan from his home in Cupertino, Calif., to finish the piece.

Software managers have not made up the bulk of Horihide's clientele. Yakuza and geisha wear much of the master's art. And while the popularity of tattooing expands beyond the underground in Japan today, it still holds deep social stigma -- as evidenced by Osaka's crazy right-wing mayor ordering government employees to reveal whether they are tattooed, then basing employment decisions on this. As the article notes, this stigma still keeps artists like Horihide "under a cloak of secrecy" -- or at least out of the spotlight for the large part, making profiles like this in a mainstream publication a rare treat. 

Horihide also talks about his start in tattooing as an apprentice at the age of 19, where he suffered beatings to learn the craft. There are some great quotes, which left me wanting more. So I did a search and came up with this 1996 essay for in which Horihide muses on his life as a teenage gang leader to becoming a tattoo artist and later meeting Sailor Jerry. Also a must read.

Great stories and a bit of history.

05:02 PM
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In our home there are two large tattoo works in progress, which means it's fully stocked with creams, painkillers, vodka, chocolate, and "tattoo sheets" (not the 1,500 thread count kind). Yesterday, I talked about adding to my tattoo collection with more rib work.

Today, Brian writes about his 11th tattoo sitting on his Bodysuit to Fit blog. Brian's got 38 hours already racked up with Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue Tattoo. Check his post on how the backpiece is evolving ... and what it's like to score appointments with one of the most sought-after tattoo artists.
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