Japanese Tattooing: a worldwide craft

Horimono (1) has flourished in the last part of the Edo era in Japan, it has survived several persecutions, because of the passion of its practitioners and the strong will of dedicated customers. In Japan nowadays is practically illegal, the law in fact allows you to make tattoos only if you are a doctor. Japanese tattooing has definitely crossed the borders of his motherland to spread world wide, it’s unbelievable how, just ten years ago, this practice was almost unexplored. I can remember a handful of tattooer’s in Europe and USA studying and proposing classic Japanese style. Nowadays, all the informations are out there, everybody can study them and make his own path in this style. I’m very excited when I see the new generation of tattooers understanding this craft.

Gianmaurizio Fercioni Reportage photography for ‘Rider’ magazine
Gianmaurizio Fercioni Reportage photography for ‘Rider’ magazine

In my experience the steps to study Japanese tattooing, if you are not Japanese, are:

1. Buy your ticket plane to Japan, because there is no Japanese tattooing without knowledge of the country, culture and habits.

2. You get into Japanese tattoo because you’ve seen the work of somebody that shocked you and kept you focused on the style: a good idea would be getting tattooed by this person, if it is possible, try to establish a professional relationship, she/he might be your mentor, if you just buy his “sketchbook” and trace your tattoos out of it, you are doing it wrong.

3. Be humble, you will suck for variable period of time (unfortunately some sucks forever), practice makes perfect. As you will practice on people skin, do not start doing back-pieces and sleeves, let an experienced tattooer do the big scale work. Little steps make great evolution.

4. Accept critiques. If you can’t, tattooing is not your business. Every customer will probably criticise your work, for the wrong or the right reasons, it doesn’t matter, accept it. Elaborate, process, this is the only way to move constantly forward and become a master of the craft.

5. Trends can be fatal for an artist, don’t follow them, quit listening “experts” about what is right or wrong, listen to your heart, this is not the fashion business, tattooing is much more personal than clothing or accessories, because it is in you, not on you. Big scale works are still forever, because they can’t be erased easily with laser treatment. Tattooing is a craft you can practice today because hundreds of individuals has respected and developed before you: consider that and do not only think for yourself.

(1) Horimomo: to carve or engrave things,this is probably the best way to call the multicoloured and large scale tattoo , other names are “irezumi” to insert sumi, but this term was used to identify tattoos as punishment, Wabori means Japanese tattoo, and it is used by Japanese people to make a difference between the western style tattooing and their own country style.
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