Review: Japanese Tattoos

A few months ago, I was asked by Japan Travel to cover a story on a Tokyo-based tattoo artist and his French assistant. I don’t know much about tattoos, don’t personally have any tattoos and had never really educated myself on the subject. (I’m in no way anti-tattoo, mind you. But I do find it easier to be tattoo-free here in Japan, as many onsen bar potential customers with tattoos from entering the baths.)

My interview with Ron and Haku was incredibly enlightening, and I was thrilled when – just a few weeks later – Tuttle Publishing contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a newly published tome, Japanese Tattoos by Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny.

tattooJust flipping through quickly, the book is a visual feast for the eyes. Each page is filled with multiple color photographs of artistic designs. The books chapters are laid out to give readers an idea of the various categories of tattoo subjects – for example, Chapter 1 is about kanji tattoos (a must for any non-kanji reader before heading to a non-kanji reading tattoo artist … hint hint, you with the tattoo reading “meanie crime poet” …) while Chapters 2 and 3 cover nature tattoos and creature tattoos, respectively. A later chapter covers full body, or body-suit tattoos while the final section pays homage to Japan’s geek culture with anime tattoos, as well as some more modern styles.

Within each chapter, there are profiles of individual tattoo artists and details of their works. It was quite interesting to hear the motivation behind each artist’s reasons for choosing their styles and the motifs they prefer to work with.

There are also boxes within each chapter that discuss historical points related to tattooing, such as the connection behind Edo-era firemen and full body tattoos and the link between ikebana and tattoos.

I admit I haven’t read the entire book yet. That’s not a criticism of the book itself, but there is SO much information here that I want to be sure not to miss anything. I’ve been picking various sections of each chapter (I just finished up the section on koi and fish tattoos) and enjoying the detailed presentation in small, digestible chunks.

Even for those who didn’t think they’d have an interest in Japanese tattooing, this is a fascinating read.


2 thoughts on “Review: Japanese Tattoos

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  1. I have no desire to have a tattoo, but, I have seen some beautiful ones. I may be persuaded to get a temporary one, if there is such a thing. My taste changes so my choice of tattoo would probably change also. I also appreciate the cultural and historical stories about tattoos. I remember seeing many in Hawaii and learning about the history of tattoos there. This book sounds very interesting.

    1. I doubt that if I ever get a tattoo it would be to the level of detail of the ones in this book, but I am really enjoying paging through all of the designs and learning their meanings!

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