Friday, November 13, 2009

Asakusa Tattoo Museum Exhibition

My favorite piece, featuring a blue-faced oni (demon) and other
mythological beings. Oni can be formidable, or they can be protective forces. Click on photos to enlarge.

Tribal Village Asakusa cafe/bar/event space.

Popular figure from folklore, Kintaro (Golden Boy), a boy with
tremendous powers. He is a beloved symbol of bravery and
strength, often depicted wrestling a giant carp.

I love these photos of this beautiful, fully tattooed woman heading a
matsuri (festival) procession, which is traditionally a male-dominated affair. She looks like a total badass.

A clan of tattooed fellows...not sure if they are
firemen, yakuza or just horimono enthusiasts.

A goddess with dragon, possibly Benzaiten.

A photo of actual human skins, preserved for their tattoos.

Unfortunately this is so blurry I can't even ask a kanji-reader
to translate. I believe the woman is the same as in the above matsuri
photo, and the man is her tattoo-artist husband.

I don't know a thing about tattoos (irezumi or horimono in Japanese) so I won't even try to write intelligently about the topic. I did, however, appreciate these beautiful tattoos on display from a design standpoint. Apologies for the poor quality of the photos...I decided to post them anyway in case they are of interest to the tattoo enthusiasts out there.

I came across info on this exhibit on the Tokyo Art Beat site, which is an excellent, up-to-date resource for exhibits and gallery showings in Tokyo. There are many museums, shows, hole-in-the wall exhibits, events and live performances all over the city, some of them free. Offbeat exhibits that frequently rotate can often be found in large department stores and other venues.

This tattoo exhibit was held at Tribal Village Asakusa, which we discovered (after some searching) was a small cafe/bar/gallery. The exhibit itself was free, but we decided to be polite and stay for a drink, which meant a 500 yen table charge, but this included snacks.

About the exhibit, to quote Tokyo Art Beat:

"This is a rare, temporary recreation of the Asakusa Tattoo Museum that Choshiro Nakano used to run underneath his office. At the time, actual tattooed human skins were framed and put on display. This exhibition, however, introduces viewers to various drawings, paintings and photographs of these tattoos, in addition to old tattoo tools."

If anyone can offer more info on Nakano Choshiro, this exhibit or Japanese tattoos in general, I'd appreciate it. I tried to research Nakano but didn't turn up much in the English language. From what I can gather, he was also known as Horicho - his professional name? A woman at the exhibit gave me some details on the artist, as well as the award-winning tattooist husband/wife team depicted in the photo above...I scribbled this info on a scrap of paper, then promptly lost it. I'd also consumed a few drinks at dinner before visiting the exhibit so my memory isn't serving me well.

I did, however, turn up an excellent article by journalist Ben Hills. He writes a little about the history of Japanese tattoos, secrets of the craft, and the preservation of tattooed skins as valuable works of art. Read Hills' article here.

One more resource: a work of fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. I recommend The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi, first published in Japan in 1948. It's a fascinating escape into gritty, post-war Tokyo and the underground world of irezumi-bearers.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, my name is udor (all lower case).

    The person in the lower photo that is blurry is the tattoo master Horicho of Asakusa.

    I have been tattooed by him in NYC and in Asakusa in 2001.

    If you want to have more information, please feel free to contact me at

    All the best