How to get a traditional Japanese tattoo

Written by eleanor mckenzie Google
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How to get a traditional Japanese tattoo
Koi carp are a traditional subject for Japanese tattoos (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

The tattooist's art has a long history in Japan. Over time the purpose and style of traditional Japanese tattoos --irezumi-- have changed from making a statement about social status to being decorative. There are a number of Japanese tattoo artists working in the UK: all you have to decide is the design you want and whether you want to experience the traditional Japanese inking method, or stick with the modern needle.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Experienced tattooist
  • Irezumi design

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  1. 1

    Research the symbology of Japanese decorative tattoos before making a decision. Japanese irezumi are based on Japanese mythology and the animals, flowers and typical imagery of the tradition all have a symbolic meaning. In Japanese culture, the choice of images traditionally signified the aspirations of the person receiving the tattoo. The dragon is wisdom and strength; the koi carp represents masculine courage, whilst the tiger wards off evil. Floral designs include the chrysanthemum and cherry blossom: these symbolise perfection and fragility. There are many other designs, some of them gruesome demons, skulls and severed heads that have more subtle meanings than the images suggest.

  2. 2

    Study the traditional Japanese tattooing method. Traditional artists use a method called "tebori," which uses a bamboo stick with steel needles attached to hand draw and ink the entire tattoo. The needles are broader and longer than those on a modern tattoo machine. Tattoo experts warn that not only is this traditional method more painful, it is also extremely time consuming and therefore more expensive.

  3. 3

    Search for a tattooist in the UK with tebori expertise if you decide to go this route. You will find a select number online. Visiting one of the many major tattoo conventions is a good way to find an artist and have the opportunity to discuss your ideas with fellow tattoo aficionados who may be able to give you the benefit of their experience. You can find a calendar of UK tattoo conventions online.

  4. 4

    Choose an artist: there are many Japanese tattooists in the UK. Use a tattoo studios directory to find one in your area. There are a number of Japanese artists with studios in the UK, but you may have to travel.

  5. 5

    Prepare your schedule to allow time for the tattoo. The artist will tell you how many sessions it will take for the chosen design. Discuss the costs early on, as this could play a major factor in your decisions.

Tips and warnings

  • Study Japanese mythological stories to understand the attributes of the animals and other symbols used in the tattoos. Read up on respected Japanese tattooists to get a greater feel for this art form.
  • A traditional Japanese tattoo is not only a significant financial cost, it is with you for life: make sure you choose your design and its placement with care.
  • Make sure the tattooist is experienced and follows all the proper safety and hygiene regulations.

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