Japan’s Black Market for Tattooed Human Skin

In The Land of the Rising Sun, not everything is as it seems. A place known for its rich ancient history, its cultural delicacies, and more recently for its superb standard of life, Japan also has a darker claim to fame. A secret that I was told is “very, very underground.”

With the writing of my (non-tattoo related) first book out of the way, I have found time to return to the topic of ink on skin, and an issue which I have been wanting to write about since the moment I heard about it almost exactly 12 months ago.

Whilst walking around The Great British Tattoo Show last year, my cider in one hand, and my notepad in the other, I came across a stall and an artist who we shall call Barratt (he wanted to keep his true identity a secret for reasons that will become clear later). He was working out of Scandinavia at the time, but he had been an apprentice in Japan for a number of years, and it was he who told me about the shady world of Japan’s human canvas industry.

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Great British Tattoo Show 2014

That’s it. My virginity has gone. Taken from me like a cheeky Brightonian seagull stealing chips.

I have just returned from the Great British Tattoo Show, and not only has it left me with a bone-numbing weariness, it has provided much food for thought.

As I had never been to a tattoo convention before I did not know what to expect. I had heard stories from friends, seen photos online and read a few short pieces on the role that conventions play in the industry, but I was still completely naive about what was in store.

After speaking with Sion – the editor of Skin Deep – I decided that I would use these two days to mingle, network and seek inspiration for future articles.

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