Planning in advance pays when getting ink done in Okinawa

David Higgins

Wabori-style large tattoos were associated with criminal yakuza gangs in the past, but are no longer considered their exclusive domain.

So many new tattoo parlors popping up all over Okinawa.  At last count there were eight shops outside Camp Hansen, and 16 in the Kadena, Foster and Futenma areas.  With all of these new tattoo artists opening up shop, there are inevitably some problems that arise with this trend.  One of the problems is amateur tattoo artists giving subpar tattoos.  The other problem can be customers who ignore tattoo post-care rules and continue to swim and suntan after getting their tattoo.  There are also customers who drink alcohol prior to getting their tattoo done, which can affect their tattoo experience.

Choosing a tattoo artist should not be done in haste, and only after careful consideration.

When choosing a tattoo artist, it is best to do some research.  Determine how long the artist has been tattooing professionally and what their specialty is, how long the shop has been in business and, most importantly, view examples of their work. For example, there is a type of tattoo style called “Wabori”.  Wabori tattoos are images of Coy Fish, dragons, Buddha, and Yasha (the angry-looking Japanese mythological character).  In the past Wabori style tattoos were affiliated with Japanese gangs such as the Yakuza; however, this type of tattoo has gained mainstream popularity and no longer has the strong association with criminal gangs.

Takeshi Asato, the owner of Horikaze Studio, specializes in the Wabori-type tattoo style.  He has specialized in Wabori tattoos for 10 years and has done many full-body tattoos to clients, in which the tattoo takes months of work to complete.  Asato mentions that a few of his customers enjoy drinking prior to getting their tattoos done.  He explains why this is a bad idea stating, “Your blood becomes thin when you drink alcohol which causes you to bleed more.  You will likely experience more pain than usual, and it will also affect the color and integrity of the tattoo.”

Yasha, a mythological Japanese character, is a popular motif in tattoos that often intrique foreigners.

Some tattoo artists get their business strictly through word of mouth, and do not display any signs for their parlors.  These are the more underground, higher quality tattoo artists who can help you choose and design something more creative than a typical Wabori-style tattoo.

Sean Cairns, a frequent client of these higher-quality parlors, has tips for the Americans seeking to get tattoos on Okinawa.  He cautions that sometimes it is the tattoo idea rather than the tattoo artist that is the problem.  He says, “I know of lots of stories of Americans who get Kanji tattoos – the customer thinks the Kanji sign means ‘warrior’, however, it means something completely different like ‘pregnant’”.   On the topic of tattoo ideas Sean mentions, “It’s probably not a great idea to have your girlfriend or boyfriend’s name tattooed on your body, even if you believe your love will last forever.  A better name choice would be one of your children’s names”.

Okinawan tattoo artist, Ryo-San, who is located at a small parlor called Asian Red Harbor Tattoo in Minato, Chatan, also gives some great tattoo post-care advice.  After getting your tattoo it is best to completely stay away from sun exposure or even tanning salons.  The most important period for this is immediately after getting the tattoo; however, as your tattoo heals the sun is still a threat to the integrity of the tattoo. The sun will deteriorate and fade the tattoo colors if not protected with copious amounts of strong sunblock.

In conclusion, whether you are a seeking a popular Wabori-style tattoo or have a different creative idea, it is always best not to get your tattoo in haste.  Take the time to find a reputable tattoo artist and view some examples of their work.  Never drink alcohol prior to getting your tattoo done, and it’s probably best to stay away from Japanese Kanji if you are not completely sure of the meaning.  Last but not least, never get your girlfriend or boyfriend’s name tattooed on your body as sometimes love doesn’t last… even on Okinawa.

11:13 04 Mar , 2024