Results tagged “Yakuza”

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]

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.
10:22 AM
yakuza tattoo 2.jpg
An interesting slideshow and videos on tattoos of the Yakuza, Japan's criminal underground, can be found on National Geographic's "Crime Lords of Tokyo" investigation. The short stories behind the tattoos discuss the transformation, pain and symbolism of the motifs; for example, this backpiece on the daughter of a Yakuza boss, shown above, is described as "Prostitute in Hell." The presentation also makes mention of Shoko Tendo's Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter, which is an excellent read.

Thanks, Niall, for the link!

06:39 PM
Ok, this story is going to dwarf our tee and print giveaway, but hell, I'll share:
A 46-year-old mixed martial arts trainer from Liverpool, Australia ended up winning a full dragon backpiece (shown above left) modeled after that of a video game character (shown right) in the SEGA Yakuza franchise. SEGA Australia held the contest about a year ago to promote the new Yakuza 4 game, which drops today along with the tattoo unveiling.

The backpiece was tattooed by Josh Roelink, of Tatudharma Studios in Sydney, over six months in four-hour sessions with three-week intervals. See images of the tattoo process here.

Josh did not design the artwork for the game -- Horitomo of State of Grace did -- but Josh got his approval to re-create it. There's a great interview with Horitomo from a few years back in which he discusses the design work for SEGA but also his tattoo art and thoughts on Japanese tattoo culture. Worth a click.

For more on Horitomo, check this profile excerpt in Tattoo Artist Magazine. And for more on Josh, watch his interview with BMEtv.
05:38 PM
tattoo flash drive.jpg
For my fellow toy collectors, gadget geeks & nerdists, behold Mimobot's tattooed flash drive, "Yakuza" designed by Scott Lee. While the new Star Wars series has everyone's light sabers in a bunch, this Horimono homeboy remains my fave functional toy and has accompanied me to many a convention to help collect and store tattoo photos from artists.

A capacity of 4GB will cost about $35. You can also get 8GB for $55 & 16GB for $80.

For more wonderful and weird flash drives, check Hongkiat's (oldie but goodie) Top 50 list. [I also own the Humping Dog thanks to Brian Grosz.]
11:12 AM
Here's the third installment of a series of guest blogs by John Mack, an American who has been getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III for nine years. You can read Part I here and Part II here.

By John Mack

4560164655806_1L.jpgIn about 2004, Horiyoshi III was working on my back at the Isecho studio when in comes this Yakuza boss and his, um, assistant. It was apparent from his attitude, speech, and armed escort that he was a really big cheese.

I have mixed feelings about the relationship between the Yakuza and tattoos. I endure discrimination in Japan because of the association.

On the other hand, I owe a debt to the Yakuza for keeping traditional Japanese tattooing alive during that dark century before the current tattoo renaissance.

Anyway, the boss came to discuss a tattoo design with Horiyoshi. After he finished with that business, he turned his attention to me.

"That's a weird looking dragon," he commented.  I suppose he was referring to the acid trip proportions of my dragon.

The boss and his assistant leaned over me to further scrutinize my back. This was alarming, as I would rather not confront underworld figures while lying naked and prone on the floor.  Chuck Norris would never approve.

The boss quizzed Horiyoshi about other tattoos I might have on the front of me. Always eager to meet unusual people, I engaged them in a bit of chit-chat, but the boss was more interested in talking than listening.

After a while, they left. I had survived my encounter with the Yakuza. The only pain endured was that of the tattoo.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere

For more on tattoos and Japan's underworld, see this National Geographic video:

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!
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