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Irezumi vs. Tattoos: Perceptions of Japanese Tattooing from Past to Present
- Yoshimi Yamamoto (Professor of Comparative Cultures at Tsuru University in Yamanashi)
- Megumu Kamata (Tattooer)
- Taro Nettleton (Assistant Professor of Art History, Temple University Japan Campus)
Japan has a long and varied history with tattoos. Irezumi, or traditional Japanese tattoos, translates literally to ‘inserting ink.’ Historically applied without the aid of electricity through the use of a bamboo stick with needles fastened to it, its imagery is drawn from ukiyo-e woodblock prints, particularly from Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s 108 Heroes of the Water Margin, and often features motifs of real and mythological power animals such as dragons, koi, shishi lions, and tigers. In Japan, tattoos were heavily stigmatized after criminalization in the Meiji period, and strong association with organized crime, popularized through yakuza genre films in the 1970s, still lingers today, despite being admired then and now by tattoo collectors and tattooists around the world.
Within Japan and around the world, however, tattoos have many different meanings, from ritual tattoos and its reclamation among many indigenous communities, to the growing global popularity of tattoos worn as casual adornment. How has the increased visibility of tattoos affected the perception of tattoos and practice of tattooing in Japan?
To discuss these themes, the panel will be joined by Yoshimi Yamamoto, Professor at Tsuru University, who will speak to the socio-historical perspective on tattoo culture in Japan and Asia; Kamata Megumu, tattoo artist in Tokyo, who will speak to tattooing as an art, its practice, and his personal style; and Taro Nettleton, Assistant Professor of Art History at TUJ, who will moderate the conversation.
Professor of Comparative Cultures at Tsuru University in Yamanashi
Yoshimi Yamamoto is Professor of Comparative Cultures at Tsuru University in Yamanashi. She began her research on irezumi as an undergraduate student. She has conducted cultural anthropological surveys on tattooing in Asia, primarily in Okinawa and Taiwan and published two volumes on the topic, Irezumi to Nihonjin, or The Japanese and Tattoos (Heibonsha 2016), and Irezumi no Sekai, or The World of Tattoos (Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 2005).
Yoshimi Yamamoto received her B.A. from Atomi University, M.A. from Meiji Gakuin University, and Ph.D from Shōwa Women’s University. She has also done postgraduate research at the Academia Sinica’s Institute of Ethnology in Taiwan.
Tattooer. He began tattooing through self-education. Started tattooing professionally at “Everlasting Tattoo” in San Francisco. Honed his craft at “Scratch Addiction” in Tokyo after returning to Japan. He has worked alongside noted tattooers such as Permanent Mark, Mr. Cartoon, Charlie Roberts, and many others. He works both in Japan and internationally at renowned shops including “Spotlight Tattoo” in Hollywood. In recent years, he has produced design and artworks as well as tattoos. In 2010, he established his clothing line “Black Weirdos,” of which he is Director.
Assistant Professor of Art History, Temple University Japan Campus
Taro Nettleton is a cultural worker based in Tokyo. He is Assistant Professor of Art History and Art Major Advisor and Coordinator at Temple University Japan Campus, where he teaches a range of courses on art, visual culture, and critical theory. His courses include Queer Art and Theory, Contemporary Japanese Art, and, Art and the City. He has also taught courses on design studies at Parsons and on visual studies at the New School in New York. His writings have been published in various academic and commercial publications including Screen, Afterimage, Art Review Asia, Bijutsu Techo, and i-D Japan.