Japanese society holds quite a disdain for people with tattoos. When many Japanese think of a person with body art, visions of black suits, missing pinky fingers and a certain organized crime syndicate pop into their minds. Beware: certain onsen (hot springs), golf resorts and gyms will not allow entry to guests with ink. Those with visible art will also have a difficult time landing a bank loan. Yet, despite the everlasting notion of tattoo discrimination, Western-style tattoo shops are cropping up around the nation and the idea of tattoos as fashionable body art, rather than as a symbol of crime connections, is becoming increasingly popular.
It was due time I got yet another tattoo. Three Tides Tattoo, with two locations in Osaka and Tokyo, is world-renowned and talked about in a number of art, culture and tattoo-centric publications. Recently VICE produced a segment called “Tattoo Age” chronicling tattoo artists around the world- Mutsuo of Three Tides was one of the subjects. For a closer look, check out this three-part series on YouTube.
Three Tides Tattoo was one of the first Western-style establishments to open in Japan, that being a tattoo parlor on the street and open to the public. Three Tides stands as a pinnacle of excellence in the tattoo community. With sufficient research in my pocket and knowing that I would be in Japan this summer, I set out to make an appointment with Hiroshi at the shop in Tokyo. The shop's manager, Mika, was incredibly helpful and we communicated via e-mail back and forth discussing various aspects of my design for a few months prior to my appointment. Three Tides is very welcoming to overseas guests. Mika can e-mail you in English but the tattoo artists have limited English language ability, so be sure to bring a translator if it would make you more comfortable.
Tokyo’s Three Tides location is in, where else? Harajuku. Walk down Harajuku Dori and you’ll find the shop kitty corner to the massive A Bathing Ape boutique. The tattoo shop itself is actually quite small; two tattoo artists working on customers plus the shop manager makes for some cramped quarters, but it works. The walls are covered in a smattering of art and drawings making for an effortlessly cool vibe. Take a look around and you’ll spot the most befitting shop pet, a green tree python.
After about six hours of sitting for my tattoo, I can say with a gigantic sigh of relief that I am incredibly happy with my piece. The dull roar and constant jab of the needle is a feeling that I can live without for quite some time. Well, I say that now, but tattoos are addictive…
Three Tides Tattoo has a number of artists to choose from at Three Tides plus a selection of rotating guest artists hailing from around the globe. Visit the online gallery on the shop's site to view the artists' work.
Tattoos are a lifetime commitment, they're expensive and yes, they hurt. My only regret about having tattoos is that now I can’t gain access to every onsen. I suppose my visit to Ooedo Onsen Monogatari will forever be postponed.