Walking Around with Tattoos in Japan

Our Writer is overseas in Tokyo.  Here are a few thoughts about his journey and tattoos.

Entered Tokyo for the first time, ever, a few days ago!

For the most part, people keep to themselves, and are very helpful if you need help.  The food is epic.  I’d heard about how 7-11 is everywhere and amazing and for sure that is true. Actually, just follow your nose and you will find an iconic meal. If you are in Akihabara, visit Journey x Journey, and tell Shane, the Owner, and Akane, his partner (not wife, sister, girlfriend, or daughter) what’s up from Jason in Hawaii!  His mix of fusion food was inspired by his trip around the world where he took a picture of one meal/day that he ate and wrote about.

Other than food and a feast for the senses in general the one huge thing missing from this experience?  Taking in the tattoos!

As a Writer and Tattoo enthusiast having known Horiyume (Tattoo Adam) for many years, my appreciation for ink & the backstory behind it has grown.  Yet, not surprisingly due to times past, tattoos are nearly invisible here.  I was prepared for this by the research I’d done beforehand but I didn’t know how that would impact me, a hapa-haole gaijin (foreigner) from Hawaii, with clearly visible tattoos.

While looking for a place to stay on Airbnb, I saw one listing that suggested wearing long-sleeves while walking through the neighborhood.  I opted against that since August is the hottest month out here.  So I’ve mostly traveled as is.

An advocate for being yourself wherever you walk, I have found that I am treated humbly and largely left alone, which is probably more to do with my limited Japanese vocabulary than anything else.  I have even got a few compliments from miscellaneous vendors who point and say “nice” or “good” amidst my travels to my arms so despite the old tattoo, acceptance is welcome.

But that doesn’t explain where the tattoos are…

In total, I have been here part of 4 days and have seen 5 Japanese people with visible ink.  A quick check of the fingers indicate they probably not members of the Yakuza and 3 of those people, were in Harajuku, which is known for being out there.  4 were men, and another a woman.  3 of the men had half-sleeves, which could easily be covered up.  In fact, only the woman had sleeves, which is quite the opposite elsewhere!

There aren’t even a grip of foreigners with heavy ink work wandering about though I did chat with a mate from Australia who comes this way to get work done and had a sleeve that was created here, with the other back in Australia.  It was cool to talk, however briefly, about ink but despite having such a strong lineage to tattoo traditions and a huge influence the world over, I’ve yet to really discover much in the way of tattoos and the average Japanese collector.

General Note: I will have to return in the winter, with sleeves covering and see if my experience is any different.  Until then, I’ll keep my eyes pealed as I’ve still 6 days left here to learn more about tattoos.

Stay tuned…


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