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King Of Tattoo

Taiwanese artist Horian working on a full-body piece.

People from all over the world flew in to be worked on by the international artists at the King of Tattoo three-day inkfest in Daikanyama yesterday. I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I’ve always been interested in art that has to adapt to its environment (like, say, being applied to an arm rather than a nice flat sheet of paper) and in the decisions people make when they change their bodies in such a permanent way.

King of Tattoo did not disappoint. I talked to one of the disciples of an artist known for his traditional-style full-body work, and discovered that there’s a 3-4 year wait to get an appointment. He charges $250 an hour, and a full body tattoo runs “about the same as a new BMW.” The apprentice told me that studying under this particular artist wasn’t like school; it was more like entering a monastery. When I asked him about his own tattoos (done by his sensei, of course) he told me he didn’t have any idea what the design was going to be until it was on his skin. After seeing his sensei’s work, though, I could see why someone would trust him to choose. Easily some of the most beautiful drawing I’ve ever seen. (The photo below is the work of this artist.)

As amazing as the artists were, I thought the attendees were even more interesting. I was surprised to see traditional-style full sleeves on men (and women!) who looked a lot more like skaters than gangsters. But my favorite was a young guy with platinum bleached hair from Chiba who had an unusually beautiful crow on his stomach. When I asked him about it he said (get ready for this) HE’D DONE IT HIMSELF. Buh?! Yeah, he said, I’d have a drink, work on it a little, have another drink, work on it some more, rinse, repeat. He said he used a mirror for parts of it, but that’s hard because everything is backwards. Then he showed me his back, which had a fresh outline of Our Lady on it. I asked if he planned to get it shaded in another session, but he said no, look closer. Feel the lines. It’s not a tattoo, it’s a BRAND. As in: done with a hot wire.  (Photos below.)

Horiyen at work
Zoom in on the crow. He did this himself.
This is the image of Our Lady on his back. He did the drawing, but (obviously) someone else did the branding.
Not shy, these guys.
The tattooed rockabilly band.

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo.

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Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

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