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Christian Koch
Interview by: Christian Koch Sunday 28 July 2019
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15 of the best: Japanese-Style Tattoo Artists

The art of 'Irezumi' (Japanese for “tattoo”) isn’t easy. Refined over many generations, it’s a time-consuming process traditionally done by hand, using wooden handles and metal needles attached with silk thread. A classic bodysuit can often take up to five years to complete. 

However, despite its many centuries of artisanship, irezumi is also stigmatised in Japan due to its association with Yakuza gangsters. People with body ink are often banned from hot springs, golf courses and gyms. With one controversial law declaring that tattoos should be administered by doctors, some tattoo artists have been fined for practising without a medical license. 

Yet, Japanese-style tattooing is increasingly popular across the world. And the good news is some of the world’s greatest irezumi purveyors will be hitting these shores in September for the London Tattoo Convention. From koi sleeves to Buddhist-inspired bodysuits, check out their creations here…  

1. Ichibay, Three Tides Tattoo, Japan

Widely regarded as one of the world’s best Japan-style tattooists, Ichibay will be jetting in from his native Japan for the London Tattoo Convention. Often inspired by Japanese paintings, his tattoos are delicate, line-perfect creations and exude a serenity equivalent to a spot of Zen meditation on a tatami-mat floor. 

@hide_ichibay

2. Pino Cafaro, White Fox Gallery, Germany

Ferocious oni demons, ghostly geishas and samurais clenching knives between their teeth characterise the work of this German artist, whose Braunschweig White Fox Gallery is a pilgrimage-point for irezumi fans from far and wide.  

@pino_cafaro 

3. Henning, Royal Tattoo, Denmark

Henning Jorgenson started plying his trade as an 18-year-old in Copenhagen’s red-light district. He’s since established himself one of the world’s most celebrated Japan-style tattooists, winning over 50 international prizes and famed for his painstakingly-researched magnum opuses. 

@henning_royaltattoo

4. Alex Reinke, Holy Fox Tattoo, UK

German-born Alex learned his craft as an apprentice of a traditional Japanese irezumi family in the 1990s. Ordained as a Zen monk in 2011, his work often features Buddhist imagery and is influenced by ukiyo-e (the “art of the floating world” which emerged during Edo-period Japan). 

@holyfoxtattoos

5. Claudia De Sabe, Red Point Tattoo, UK

Describing herself as a “feisty Italian tattooer in London”, Claudia’s work is an enthralling fusion of western styles, astrological symbolism and, of course, Japanese ink-work. Look out for her recurring Medusa-like woman, often surrounded by serpents or cherry blossom. 

@claudiadesabe

6. Mutsuo, Three Tides Tattoo, Japan 

Mutsuo operates from Osaka’s famous Three Tides Tattoo studio – one of the first ‘Western-style’ parlours in Japan. A sparse beauty and classic Japanese style runs throughout his work. 

@mutsuo3t

7. Tutti Serra, Black Garden Tattoo, UK 

Brazilian Tutti produces spectacular Japanese sleeve tattoos and more from Black Garden Tattoo, one of London’s most consistently exciting studios. 

@tuttiserra

8. Shige, Yellow Blaze, Japan

A regular visitor to the London Tattoo Convention since 2005, Shige owns the Yellow Blaze studio in Yokohama. He’s won multiple awards for the retina-scorching splendor of his bodysuits; he’s even been known to flaunt his own colourful bodysuit at conventions too. 

@shige_yellowblaze

9. Joe Spaven, Scarlet Rose, UK 

Working from his Milton Keynes studio, Joe crafts some of the finest Japanese-style tattoos in the UK. His speciality? Small and subtle pieces of body art, many influenced by the work of Katsushika Hokusai – the 19th-century artist famous for his Great Wave print.

@joe_scarletrose 

10. Damien Rodriguez, Invisible NYC, USA

The vibrant patterns and mythological beasts featured in Damien’s tattoos pack a potent punch; it’s the visual equivalent of knocking back several rounds of sake with a team of Sumo wrestlers. Damien’s been producing his Japanese-inspired work in New York since 2007.  

@damienrodriguez

11. Miss Orange aka Som Nakburin, Australia 

Miss Orange originally hails from Thailand but has worked in Australia for over a decade, where her Sydney studio is often booked out for months. Koi fish and striking Japanese floral arrangements are both hallmarks of her work. 

@missorangetattoo

12. Bunshin Horitoshi, Japan

Working mainly using 'tebori' (tattooing by hand), Bunshin works in Tokyo. Amid the traditional Japanese designs, you’ll also find cheeky caricatures of irritable crabs, bloated fish and samurai toads. 

@BunshinHoritoshi 

13. Kanae, Nine Tails Tattoo, UK

One of Japan’s few female tattooists, Kanae faced some prejudice in her homeland when starting her career. She’s been based in London since 2007, where she runs the admired Nine Tails Tattoo parlour in Hoxton, which specialises in highly-skilled Japanese body art.

@kanae_tattooer

14. Luca Ortis, Private Studio, UK

Impossibly elegant ukiyo-e inspired bodysuits, koi fish that seemingly swim up customers’ sleeves and sprawling tiger back-pieces are some of the large-scale custom designs that Luca Ortis produces from his London studio.

@lucaortis 

15. Yutaro, Red Point Tattoo, UK

Yutaro received his first tattoo in the Japanese military, moving to California in 1996 to learn his trade. Currently ensconced in London, he works at Red Point Tattoo, where customers seek him out for his pared-down irezumi.

@warriorism

Join us at The London Tattoo Convention, September 27-28-29th at Tobacco Dock for our 15th anniversary show. Meet all these artists and over 400 more! Tickets are now on sale - get yours today