Cool + Kawaii, DC to Japan

Save Tattooing in Japan

Save Tattooing in Japan

A Cause to Support!

Entrepreneurs always have to fight to stay ahead of the curve. For the tattoo industry – from shop owners to suppliers it’s no different. I remember when I started my accidental uphill challenge of conquering my dreams of working in Japan. I didn’t understand the condition that the tattoo industry was (or is) in there. I knew that tattoos equaled Yakuza to most and that people didn’t look at gaijin (or foreigners) with tattoos as a threat in any way … or so I thought.

Since starting to regularly tattoo in Japan though, my perceptions or what the internet tells us, at least, are sorely mistaken. >.<

Not only do tattoos equal Yakuza and heavily tattooed gaijin are in fact judged negatively against Japanese society standards, but there are efforts going forth to drive tattooing out of Japan. From an outside perspective, it seems like the country could be taking trial and error steps in the Kansai area to find ways to abolish tattooing completely.

I was no stranger to the tattoo stigma in Japan. In Tokyo it’s becoming more accepted due to the high population of foreigners even though I seemed to stop a lobby by having my (moderately tattooed) legs and arms exposed haha. Also the youth are all about tattoos these days. Girl tattoos and kawaii tattoo trends are always taking precedence in the areas of Harajuku and Shibuya. When done right and just dainty enough to hide, for man or woman, they’re oshare (fashionable). However, in the Kansai region, the acceptance contrast is like night and day. This part of Japan is far more traditional with Kyoto and Osaka as the hearts of the region and keepers of a lot of what most people now affectionately know as “old Japan”. I remember reading articles about lay offs due to having citizens admittedly having tattoos (seen or unseen) and responses to foreigners in that particular area.

Why so obsessed with Kansai region?! Well, because my mentor, TNS Naoki‘s shop is was Osaka. Since I was to be doing most of my guest work in Japan and learning with him, I wanted to understand some of what I may have to prepare for. The thing is, no matter how kawaii I present myself, I still have tattoos. So there’s a push and pull that happens and I am well aware that most people don’t know how to feel about me initially. So I do research and ask a lot of questions as I bounce around. 😀

Anywhoo, I digress huhuhu

You probably noticed the “was in Osaka” I had to correct to above (☝︎). Well, that’s because as I was preparing for my guest work in May, I got word that Naoki was detained and that TNS was now closed. I could still visit my family, of course, but tattooing was now a bad idea. Naoki was released a few days before my visit and while relieved, I was still concerned and had a lot of questions. My main concern though was if this was in some way my fault. I mean, it was all so sudden. For two years now I have traveled back and forth to Japan, stayed with my tattoo family and created, in some way, next to the homie Nao-san. During my three-month stay, we attended the most inspiring shop opening, of Hori Benny’s Invasion Club. So what was happening?!

In our broken Japanese-English, I flooded Naoki with questions (;_; gomen gomen Nao-san) that he couldn’t answer since the Japanese would be too difficult for me to understand. All he could say was that you need a physician’s license to tattoo.

WHAT?! Well that doesn’t make sense, but there’s so much I didn’t know about tattoo culture in Japan (here’s 17 for you!). I also remember not even a year ago people fighting to have laws passed that would regulate tattoos in DC in a similar manner. (It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t now though >.< ). All in all though, I was relieved to know that I did nothing to bring this about. However, seeing Naoki frazzled, confused, and a bit down brought on a whole other set of questions.

What will you do? 

How will you make a living now? 

Will you stay in Osaka? 


How can I help????????

Since that visit, I have seen Nao-san again (remember I went in November) and he seemed even more out of sorts. It was a super short visit, but long enough for our traditional ramen, Starbucks, and some fun times with Yaya-cha~nnn.

Sharing my concern with another tattoo friend of ours, he shared that there is no more Straight Life Tattoo Festival nor is there any more dream convention, King of Tattoo (which would explain why I haven’t seen any info about artist submissions >.< ). BUT I WAS JUST THERE … not even a year ago, I attended both. What is this abrupt stop?! And it’s not just tattooers experiencing this abruptness but customers traveling to Japan for traditional work or souvenir tattoos. I knew something was happening because I received an invite to the page, Save Tattooing in Japan, via Facebook, but everything is in Japanese … and while I am studying, I am not that skilled yet. *dies crying* A friend thankfully, came across this article that gave a bit more explanation into what’s happening.

It got me thinking about livelihoods and staying ahead of the curve, myself. I couldn’t imagine successfully supporting my family with few to no worries and then everything just yanked from under you. As a business woman and entrepreneur I have to understand revenue streams and cash flow. As a practicing buddhist, I understand impermanence and I know that nothing lasts for ever. As such, it is the same in our careers. Nothing is safe, nothing is promised, and the only constant is change. It is a scary thought putting all that into perspective.

THAT is why I find it urgent to get serious about my Little INKPLAY Shop efforts.

I want a space that can help me AND help my friends.

You see, at the moment, I am a full-time tattoo artist. I work in a tattoo shop owned by a tattoo shop owner. My lifestyle, hobbies, reinvestments, etc. are all paid for by tattooing. My alternative streams of revenue would be considered hobby money and not even taxable since it’s under $500. But if I play my cards right and place myself in such a way, I can use my tattoo income to supplement learning a new revenue stream, a kawaii hub – art gallery and boutique. It makes the most sense since my tattoo income for the past 3 years now is what has supplemented me chasing my dreams. The kawaii hub part of Little INKPLAY Shop is another dream … a crazier one … but an attainable dream none the less.

In this space, I want to feature the art of kawaii artists who may not have a voice and may be creating or learning their own alternative revenue streams. I want the space to serve as a space that can help those who have helped me. You want to visit DC and do guest work … NO PROBLEM! Yoroshiku onegaishimasu. Dozo and all that wonderful welcoming stuff! I want to pay all the kindness of people helping me get to where I want to be forward. I want a place for kawaii friends to meet, a culture hub for exploring the unknown Japanese culture, and something to bring the spirit of Kawaii to DC.

I also want to learn more in Japanese tattooing but to do some of these things, I have to fully immerse myself. Since there is no such space in DC I have to start from the ground up to create one. I also have to get people to believe in this dream just as I do. I wanted to be active in the Japanese arts scene to find a way to give back to one of the communities that heavily inspires my work. I feel that if tattoo culture in Japan is in danger then I should work hard to attain more knowledge and understanding about Japanese style tattoo and protect/ preserve what I can (within reason of course) of that culture within the walls of Little INKPLAY Shop. Helping to keep traditions alive (if they are positive, of course) is an active way to pay it forward. 😀

In my own back yard (DC that is) people on the hill are still trying to get the tattoo culture to die in such a hip, trendy, yet uber conservative city. As a native, it definitely behooves me to learn another revenue stream to continue to stay in the arts. I have been a creative my entire life … I know nothing else. ;__;

In fact, it behooves any tattoo artist, entrepreneur, business owner or anyone in similar career paths to pay attention and find alternative ways to stay ahead of your curve.

So here’s a question for yah ~

[bctt tweet=”What do you think #tattoo artists are?! Doctor? or Artist? #savetattooinginjapan” username=”ipukekawaii”]

I’ll leave you with King of Tattoo’s slogan “Tattoo is not a crime, stereotype f*ck off” … think about it!

Follow my snapchat + Instagram (@ipukekawaii) to enjoy Japan with me!^.^

Gambare, minna
Imani (イマーニ)

Let’s keep in Touch!


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