As I lie on my again in a small Tokyo residence, a 70-something Japanese man, half his proper thumb lacking, is rhythmically piercing my pores and skin with minute ink-tipped needles on the top of an aluminium stick. That is tebori, the normal Japanese methodology of tattooing. And I’m getting myself a really everlasting memento.

Getting inked is especially interesting for guests to Japan, which has a historical past of tattooing that’s longer, deeper and extra controversial than in another nation (extra on that later). So, in the event you’re a traveller seeking to get a tattoo, what do you have to go for?

“Hold it conventional,” says Horikei, a 43-year-old Englishman and the one international tattoo apprentice in Japan. (Horikei, as you may need guessed, just isn’t his actual identify.) “Don’t come all this fashion simply to get one thing that any first rate tattoo artist again dwelling can do.

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“Then resolve the place you need to go. In Japan, there are mainly two choices: a tattoo store or a non-public studio. A tattoo store is less complicated to seek out – Three Tides in Shibuya, Tokyo, for instance – and so they’ll have quite a few artists, so that you’ll simply be capable of get what you need.

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“Nevertheless, if you need the total expertise attempt to discover an artist who works from a non-public studio. It’s troublesome. They don’t do social media and infrequently promote, and also you’ll often want an introduction. Even a small tebori tattoo will takes a number of hours, so that you won’t have, or be capable of e book, the time for an enormous piece; and purchasers actually ought to meet their artist for a session first. Japanese artists cost by the hour (often round 10,000 yen), so it might be costly. But it surely’s very a lot price it.”

Horikei, a buddy from college, launched me to the half-thumbed man at the moment stabbing me. His identify is Horitoku and he’s presumably probably the most revered artist in Japan – and in addition fully personal.

After I arrived, I instructed Horitoku what I needed – a sakura, the Japanese cherry blossom, on my forearm – and that I needed one which took about an hour. That was my last enter. Horitoku took each my palms and started gently rotating my arms, like a slow-motion replay of a desk soccer match, making facial gestures that implied some deep consideration.

Andrew getting inked (Andrew Dickens)

A minute or two later, he reached for a small paint brush and started to create an overview. There was nothing I may do from there on apart from think about his expertise or run out screaming. It’s a bit like trusting your parachute teacher.

“A store might be a lot the identical as at dwelling,” says Horikei. “The consumer may have quite a lot of say in what they need. A non-public artist provides you with much less alternative, so that you’ll must go along with what they recommend more often than not. That is truly fairly useful when the artist doesn’t communicate a lot English.

“Gamman (perseverance) can also be essential in Japan. When you get tattooed historically it’s unhealthy kind to maneuver or grimace and you’ll solely be given a five-minute break each hour, so good luck!”

Midway there… (Andrew Dickens)

I give good gamman. I feel I’ve a masochistic streak. I lie again and consider ramen, giving in to the rhythm of Horitoku’s needles and tissues. Stab, stab, dab. Stab, stab, dab. I additionally watch him work. It’s extremely skilful, particularly when you think about the half-thumb. And that is the place the controversy is available in.

For hundreds of years, tattoos have been related to crime and criminals in Japan, notably the organised gangs referred to as yakuza. Their ritual punishment is yubitsume, the self-mutilation of the little finger. Horitoku claims to have misplaced his thumb in an “accident”.

Andrew within the studio (Andrew Dickens)

But it surely’s because of the yakuza that the Japanese tattoo scene is so revered. Tattoos had been used to mark prisoners with the crimes they’d dedicated. To “personal” this branding and canopy up their fleshy rap sheet – in addition to show energy and masculinity – yakuza adopted elaborately inventive designs, most notably thick sleeve tattoos. Horitoku says that for many years he solely ever tattooed yakuza, however all that has modified.

From this grew what can finest be described as an underground artwork scene, with folks proudly carrying their assortment on their our bodies.

“Every artist has a special, recognisable model,” says Horikei. “For instance, the mikiri (black bars that make up the background to a ‘sleeve’) will be thick and black or skinny and lighter – or a mixture. Perform a little research.”

Even right now it’s nonetheless unlawful for anybody with out a medical licence to pierce pores and skin, although a blind eye is turned. And also you positively gained’t get collared for that blurred Celtic band you had performed in 2002 – even when it’s against the law towards good style. However there’s nonetheless sufficient stigma and worry right here to make it prudent to cowl up a lot of the time, and for Horikei to not use his actual identify on-line. He has a day job.

Andrew’s sakura tattoo on his forearm (Andrew Dickens)

After two-and-a-half hours, my tattoo is completed. Sure, I’d requested for an hour, however Horitoku determined in any other case. He solely costs me for an hour, although, which suggests I’m now adorned with a wonderful, glowing sakura, by one of many world’s nice tattoo artists – and it value me £70. I’m buzzing. Not from the value, not simply from the way it seems, however from the expertise: I tasted a little bit of historical past, I let go of management, and confirmed off my gamman. Horikei agrees.

“Japan has a few of the finest artists on this planet,” he says. “When you’re severe and discover a good artist, it’s a as soon as in a lifetime expertise. Lie nonetheless, don’t make a fuss and revel in.”

Journey necessities

Getting there

British Airways flies to Tokyo from £567pp return.