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Self-tattooing? You bet!

So, about two years ago, I hopped on a plane and flew to Japan to teach English. One of the less fun aspects of the job is the highly conservative attitude towards piercings, tattoos, funny hair colors, and all the other things that generally make life more interesting. Of all the things I expected to experience here, tattooing myself was definitely not one of them.

I had two tatts when I came over here, and already had several more in mind that I wanted, but I had trouble finding shops in the area. Now that I know where to look for them I'm actually surprised with how many there are, but they're all well off the beaten path and for a while I'd given up on getting any ink during my stint in Asia.

Then one day, I was waiting for the elevator in my apartment building and I noticed a sign basically offering either a free a apprenticeship in tattooing and/or piercing or simply free mods in return for English lessons. Needless to say I jumped at the chance, got in contact with the person who'd put up the sign, and set up a meeting. She was a Canadian girl with an extensive art background who'd walked into the shop one day and offered English lessons in return for an apprenticeship, and the owner of the shop accepted. Since she was planning to go back to Canada, she was looking for a replacement.

Now, I have a teensy bit of an art background, but not really much to speak of, and the idea of actually learning to tattoo (especially given that the only means of practicing by Japanese standards is your own body or the bodies of your friends) was a little much for me. But the free mods were more than enough incentive, and I hit it off well with the guys in the shop, so I eagerly hopped on board. Before she left, the girl strongly suggested that I go for the apprenticeship, since they're generally so hard to come by.

For weeks I hung around, drew, helped with ordering and shipping supplies from English-speaking companies, bugged the owner to teach me how to draw things like dragon scales and feathered wings, got my eyebrow re-pierced (much to the chagrin of my employers), and generally had a grand time. I toyed with the idea of what I would do if I did decide to tattoo myself, and eventually came up with a design that I actually liked.

So I went for it. I talked to the owner, he said we'd do it next week, and I spent that entire week practically suffering from heart palpitations I was so nervous. The day came, and I chose my inks and my needle sizes, got the placement down on the stencil, and went to work. I'd seen the other girl work on herself and seen the guys work on other people, so I felt that I was in no way prepared to actually do it myself. But I pressed the little button, took a deep breath from behind my surgical mask, and pressed the needle into my skin.

I think the most surprising thing was how little it actually hurt. I placed the piece on the inside of my right ankle, a place I'd heard that, while not one of the most painful, was still rather unpleasant. But I was concentrating so hard just trying to keep my hand stead that I didn't feel a thing while I was working. (Of course, afterwards is a completely different story. Especially given that I had to keep going over and over the same places, which is a big no-no, I did a lot more surface damage than I should have and, two weeks later, the thing still itches like hell.) And a great deal of concentration it certainly took. Believe me- keeping that needle steady may look easy when the professionals do it, but it takes a hell of a lot of work, as evidenced by the shoddiness of the tattoo I produced. The lines are shaky, the coloring's not quite even, and the design I worked out was probably a bad choice because there are a lot of little stars and the vast majority of t hem look more like blobs.

I love it all the same.

I'm not a talented artist, and I don't have the time or the drive or the inspiration necessary to ever become one. I doubt that a career as a tattoo artist is in my future, amazing as it would be. But as long as I'm still here, I fully intend on getting everything out of this opportunity that I can, even if it means more mediocre, shaky-looking self-made tattoos. Because they're mine, thoroughly and completely, from start to finish, mine. And even if they're imperfect, they're a part of me, and they tell the story of my experiences. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing better to serve as a permanent reminder of the things I've been lucky enough to do.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 05 June 2008
in Tattoos

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Artist: me%21
Studio: Ryuji+Tattoo+Design
Location: Nagoya%2C+Japan

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