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My tattoo experiences as a Half-Japanese

elieve that a tattoo should have a meaning; be it symbolic, intrinsic, personal, or commemorative. I must admit that I have very little respect for those who decide to get a tattoo merely for the reason that they are following what their friends are doing, or on a dare, or just on a whim. ( I usually try not to assume a 'holier-than-thou' position, but feel justified in doing so in this instance.)

I got my first tattoo in 1994 after serious consideration of the possible reprecussions; I am a Japanese-American, I am the second generation of my family in America. My heritage was a big factor in my ultimate decision to get inked; to the traditional Japanese, tattoos represent the Yakuza - the underworld organized crime group in Japan. In getting the tattoo, I accepted the fact that if any of my older relatives from Japan (including my father) I would be veiwed with contempt and would shame my family name. Ironically, many of the most beautiful and elaborate designs come from traditional Japanese Yakuza tattoos, the very markings that are viewed with contempt and scorn.

Despite of all this, my choice to get my tattoo involved several factors; I had just ended a long-term relationship, I was beginning my next term of college at a different university, and I had just turned 20 years old. The design for the tattoo that I chose was a small one, I had a medallion with my family samurai crest on it, only about two inches across and not very elaborate. For symbolic reasons I decided to place the design on the left side of my chest, next to my heart. I wanted to show that my family is very important to me; even though this act would mark me as a permanent outsider!

The studio that I eventually chose handed me over to an apprentice, who worked the design out in about 15 minutes. It didn't hurt too bad, but I must admit I would have appreciated someone with more skill. This small symbol was done in black only, and ended up looking fairly close to what I wanted.

But I still did not feel that it was complete.

On my mother's side of the family, I am Swedish/Scotch-Irish, and according to my family geneaology we have a strong Nordic-Celtic history. I felt that I also wanted to incorporate the other half-of my lineage into my tattoo. This time, when I chose a tattoo parlor I chose the artist first rather than the design. I think this was important because; if the artist has a hand in the design of the tattoo and is not just doing flash or someone else's drawing, then their personal pride is at stake. I began discussing the sort of design that I wanted with a friend I had made who owned a tattoo parlor and we came up with some designs. The one that I settled on was a celtic knot that would surround my first tattoo. The particular knot that I chose is representative of the roots of the tree of life, symbolizing longevity and history. I went for an original design because I did not know what my other family crest is.

This time when I went under the needle I felt much more secure about the experience, I felt more in control of what was happening. The second tattoo took one four-hour sitting. It too was done only in black, and ended up being exactly what I had wanted. My tattoos are very special to me and I am very proud to be able to show and describe to others what they stand for.

I don't know how many people with tattoos have to deal with the same issues that I had to when I made the choice to get tattooed. I am still hiding the designs from my Father, and have shown only one of my relatives from Japan. One of my cousins visited after I got my first small tatt, and she seemed very shocked. She said that I would not be able to use locker room showers or public swimming pools in Japan, and she also confirmed that I would probably be disowned if any of the older relatives ever discovered that I had a tattoo. It seems very ironic that in the act of displaying my pride for my family, I may lose my name ultimately.

However, my love for and fascination with tattoos will lead me to get more ink eventually, I already have some designs that I am thinking about. I highly recommend the experience of getting tattooed. I do implore those who may be planning on getting their first tattoo to seriously consider their reasons and the artwork. I know that any good tattoo artist wants their customer to leave happy and stay happy for the rest of their life, so don't just go and get a flower on your ankle or a panther on your arm just because you think it will MAKE you cool. Do it because YOU think it's cool.

Nuprin/Michael

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 April 1998
in Tattoos

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