PHOTOS: Growing tribe proudly defies tattoo taboo

Shodai Horiren got her first tattoo as a lark on a trip to Australia nearly three decades ago. Now, tattooed head to foot, even on her shaven scalp, she is one of Japan's most renowned traditional tattoo artists. "Your house gets old, your parents die, you break up with a lover, kids grow and go," said Horiren, 52, at her studio just north of Tokyo. "But a tattoo is with you until you're cremated and in your grave. That's the appeal." Horiren belongs to a proud, growing tribe of Japanese ink aficionados who defy deeply-rooted taboos associating tattoos with crime, turning their skin into vivid palettes of colour with elaborate full-body designs, often featuring characters from traditional legends.

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST 8 Photos
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Tattoo artist Shodai Horiren, 52, tattoos her customer Rie Yoshihara at her studio in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, September 4, 2020. "Your house gets old, your parents die, you break up with a lover, kids grow and go", said Horiren, "But a tattoo is with you until you're cremated and in your grave. That's the appeal." (REUTERS)

Tattoo artist Shodai Horiren, 52, tattoos her customer Rie Yoshihara at her studio in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, September 4, 2020. "Your house gets old, your parents die, you break up with a lover, kids grow and go", said Horiren, "But a tattoo is with you until you're cremated and in your grave. That's the appeal." (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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Bottles of tattoo ink sit on a shelf at tattoo artist Shodai Horiren's studio in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, September 4, 2020. "When you get one tattoo, you want two, then three. Then if you start studying you find out there are more incredible designs, and then you gradually get obsessed", said Horiren. (REUTERS)

Bottles of tattoo ink sit on a shelf at tattoo artist Shodai Horiren's studio in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan, September 4, 2020. "When you get one tattoo, you want two, then three. Then if you start studying you find out there are more incredible designs, and then you gradually get obsessed", said Horiren. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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Tattoo model Yuki, 30, performs on set for French pop group Supernaive's music video in Tokyo, Japan, February 18, 2020. "I thought tattoos were really nice and wanted to put them all over my body. I can't even count how many times I've been to the parlour", said Yuki. (REUTERS)

Tattoo model Yuki, 30, performs on set for French pop group Supernaive's music video in Tokyo, Japan, February 18, 2020. "I thought tattoos were really nice and wanted to put them all over my body. I can't even count how many times I've been to the parlour", said Yuki. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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Author Hiroki Takamura, 62, shows tattoos on his palms at the annual gathering of the Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association) in Tokyo, Japan, February 16, 2020. "In the 2000s, tattoo magazines began to increase and even women began to get more tattoos. I thought there was hope that tattoos would finally be accepted the way they are in Europe", said Takamura. (REUTERS)

Author Hiroki Takamura, 62, shows tattoos on his palms at the annual gathering of the Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association) in Tokyo, Japan, February 16, 2020. "In the 2000s, tattoo magazines began to increase and even women began to get more tattoos. I thought there was hope that tattoos would finally be accepted the way they are in Europe", said Takamura. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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People with tattoos attend the annual gathering of the Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association) in Tokyo, Japan, February 16, 2020. (REUTERS)

People with tattoos attend the annual gathering of the Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association) in Tokyo, Japan, February 16, 2020. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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Burlesque dancer Aya Yumiko, 40, who performs under the stage name 'Aya Mermaid' poses with her tattoos at a bar she performs at in Tokyo, Japan, April 25, 2020. "Customers who see me dance with my tattoos, they're really clearly divided between those who like them and those who hate them", said Yumiko. (REUTERS)

Burlesque dancer Aya Yumiko, 40, who performs under the stage name 'Aya Mermaid' poses with her tattoos at a bar she performs at in Tokyo, Japan, April 25, 2020. "Customers who see me dance with my tattoos, they're really clearly divided between those who like them and those who hate them", said Yumiko. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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Restaurant owner Hiroshi Sugiyama, 38, lies in the water at a Japanese public bath called a "sento", as he gets together with tattoo artist Asakusa Horikazu to pose for photographs in Tokyo, Japan, September 24, 2020. (REUTERS)

Restaurant owner Hiroshi Sugiyama, 38, lies in the water at a Japanese public bath called a "sento", as he gets together with tattoo artist Asakusa Horikazu to pose for photographs in Tokyo, Japan, September 24, 2020. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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Construction worker Hiraku Sasaki, 48, washes his body at a Japanese public bath called a "sento", as he gets together with tattoo artist Asakusa Horikazu to pose for photographs in Tokyo, Japan, September 24, 2020. (REUTERS)

Construction worker Hiraku Sasaki, 48, washes his body at a Japanese public bath called a "sento", as he gets together with tattoo artist Asakusa Horikazu to pose for photographs in Tokyo, Japan, September 24, 2020. (REUTERS)

UPDATED ON OCT 27, 2020 04:47 PM IST
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