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centre lip ring, Japanese style!

I had been involved in the world of body modification for over two years before getting my first visible facial piercing. This was due to various factors, the main one being that my parents (wonderful in every other aspect) are vehemently against piercings, tattoos, or anything of the sort. I managed to get away with a navel piercing and some cartilage work, but they were dead set against anything they could see. So... Unbeknownst to them I had my nipples, tongue web, four inner labia piercings, two attempts at a triangle, and a surface piercing over my ribs. I also participated in two ritual events, a two-point flesh pull and a six-point crucifixion suspension. Finally though, my big day came: in my second year of university I was accepted into the international exchange program, and got a change to fulfill my life-long dream of living in Japan to perfect my language skills and experience the culture firsthand. And, being away from my parents for a year would enable me to have my lip pierced for a year without all those messy parental problems! I planned to get the piercing done soon after arriving in Japan, and remove it before I have to return home at the end of the year.

Thanks to IAM, I had been able to get acquainted with some of the Japanese BMErs before heading to the Land of the Rising Sun. Luckily for me, the infamous and fabulous Dita (host of BMEJapan) lives in Fukuoka -- the closest major city to my university, only two hours away by bus. Also luckily, one of my American IAM friends (Pixel) was in Japan when I arrived, staying with Dita for a month. I had about two weeks to kill until classes started on October 1st, so decided to pay Dita and Pixel a visit in Fukuoka -- and get my lip pierced at the same time.
Upon my arrival, Dita and Pixel picked me up at the bus depot and took me shopping. We had a great afternoon, followed by a wonderful evening back at her apartment visiting with Dita's husband Haru and adorable sister Yuri. I brought along my flesh pull/suspension photo album, which everyone seemed to really like. (We're trying to arrange Japan's first suspension event next year when Lukas Zpira comes to visit.) The next day Dita had to work, so Pixel and I went shopping downtown again with plans to meet up at 5pm and head to the piercing shop, where we would meet Dita's sister and her other friend Pisukiyo. I really didn't know what to expect, as this was my first time getting pierced in a foreign country. I was fairly certain the shop wouldn't be able to top the establishment I patronize in Canada (Anatomic Adornments in Vancouver, BC, where the lovely Syx sticks needles in me), but as it had Dita's recommendation I was sure it would be up-to-par. Interestingly enough, bod y piercing in Japan is actually illegal: if people want a piercing, they are expected to go to the hospital and have a doctor perform it. This is obviously not a great system, as while the doctors understand sterile procedure etc. they have no knowledge about placement, jewelery, and other such matters that piercers are trained in. Most Japanese pierce themselves; the market is full of shoddy jewelery and "home piercing kits" as a result. There are some "real" piercing studios in existence, but they are relatively underground due to the legal issues. Cracking down on illegal piercing isn't the top thing on Japan's policing agenda, luckily. Unfortunately a number of these shops use guns for body piercings -- I don't think I need to go into the myriad of problems this results in, as there's a ton of information on BME about it. The shop I was going to (GODRACK) of course used needles -- Dita wouldn't be recommending it otherwise. She also said that the piercer had apprenticed at Extreme in Tokyo (considered by most to be Japan's best shop) and
that he uses Anatometal jewelery imported from the U.S. (very high-quality). I was quite surprised when we finally got to the studio: it was hidden on the fourth floor of a building containing "alternative" shops (pipes, sex shops, alternative clothing, etc.). The studio was the area behind the counter in a small clothing shop. At first this made me quite nervous, considering the standards I was used to in Canada. However, upon closer inspection the studio did have the essentials: autoclave, single-use needles, high-quality jewelery, a good portfolio, and a knowledgeable piercer with well-healed piercings (if a piercer's piercings are done badly, it's probably not a good sign). Now came the fun part: trying to explain what I wanted with my limited Japanese skills! When I first said centre lip, Eiichi immediately assumed I meant a labret and went to grab the [wrong] jewelery. In Japan centre lip placements with a ring are uncommon; it's either a labret (with labret stud) or an off-centre lip. Finally we were able to understand each other, and he got t he right jewelery. This next part surprised me: nothing was pre-autoclaved. He chose the ring, needle, and tools he would need and put them in the autoclave for one cycle (about a half hour). Back home, this would never be done: everything would be pre-packaged and autoclaved ahead of time, and then simply taken out of the sterile bag just before the procedure was performed. Autoclaving everything right before a piercing would be somewhat bad for business, as clients would be required to wait a half hour (unless the shop had a Statim autoclave, which can sterilize in six minutes -- for more information on this equipment do a search on the BME QOD engine). In actuality though this is a good method: tools that have come RIGHT out of the autoclave have had no chance for accidental contamination due to holes in the bags during storage or other such [albeit small] possibilities. (It's useful to note that on average reputable studios only consider tools "sterile" for 30 days afte r they have been autoclaved; if they haven't been used in this time, t hey are re-packaged and re-claved.) It's just not practical for busy studios to do this, though. GODRACK however doesn't seem too busy, and considering the alternatives available to the clients I think most [educated] modders wouldn't mind waiting. Plus, it gave me a chance to get to know my piercer!
Towards the end of the autoclave cycle, we began to prepare for the piercing. The marking was done -- I thought the first dot was a bit to the left and had him change it, but the second time was bang on. The mark was just below the "lip line" -- you don't want to pierce through the coloured lip tissue in this type of piercing, but just below it (in the "normal" skin). My one major complaint with the shop was on this aspect: the marker used was not single-use. But, I decided to let this one small point go, as I had no other options for having the piercing done (if you have a choice, ALWAYS go to the studio with the most impeccable cross-contamination practices). The inside and outside of my lip were cleaned with an iodine solution. I will mention of course that the piercer was wearing gloves for the above steps, and for all subsequent handling of the sterile tools. The autoclave finished, and we were ready to go. My piercer twisted the ring (i.e. the ends of the ring were no longer facing each other) in preparation for the piercing, which I found a bit odd; my Japanese skills weren't really at a level to question him about it though, so his reasons for doing so remained a mystery (I've never heard of or seen this done before). The piercing was done with clamps, held tight with an elastic band. No problem here; the tension was fine, and I didn't experience any more discomfort than could be expected from clamping something to your lower lip. The next step in the procedure also surprised me: my piercer took a plastic [autoclaved] disk-thingy with holes in the side, and stuck the end of the needle into one of the holes. I asked him what this was for, and he said it was the "needle pusher"; he uses this piece of equipment to push the needle through, instead of doing it freehand. Interesting, but seems a bit unnecessary to me... Anyway, the moment of truth had come. I really wasn't expecting this piercing to hurt very much -- in most experiences I h ad read, the piercee said he or she barely felt it. And after having 8 ga hooks shoved into my back and arms, I figured I could take a little 14ga needle through my lip no problem! But, my low pain tolerance (I consider it low anyway) disappointed me yet again... When he first started to push the needle through, I really didn't feel much. He paused, and I thought, "Oh, we're done! That wasn't bad at all..." However, he was NOT done. He then shoved the needle all the way through, and -- it hurt. I let out a little scream, like I always do, which seemed to him. It felt very slow to me (Syx, my normal piercer in Canada, is very speedy). However, when all was said and done I don't think it hurt as much as my other piercings, despite the drawn-out discomfort. The next step was to remove the needle from the needle-pusher thingy, and replace the needle with the ring. This was done with no problems. Next, the ring had to be re-bent back into shape so the ends would meet to hold the bead (I still can't understand the reasoning behind this extra step...) . Finally, the bead was put in, and we were done! I was very excited to see how my new addition would look. It startled me at first: I thought the ring looked much too big (we did the piercing with a larger ring to allow for swelling, of course). It also had a tendency to fall to one side. But, everyone assured me that it looked great, and I was soon too caught up in raptures with my new addition to care how big or small the ring was. I wasn't given any aftercare information, but I think this is mostly due to the fact that I wouldn't have understood what he gave to me anyway. Of course, I had done enough research on BME before getting pierced to know what I was supposed to do. After much picture-taking and thank you's, I paid my bill (4500 yen (about $55 CAD; it was supposed to be 6500 yen, but he gave me a discount ^^) and went on my merry way, with promises to be back in a month or so to downsize the ring. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the night. Finally, finally, after two years of waiting, I had my lip pierced! I didn't really notice any more stares than usual (simply being a foreigner in Japan entitles people to stare at you), but it wouldn't have bothered me even if I had; I thought my piercing looked fabulous, and that was all that mattered. I skipped dinner that evening as I wasn't really hungry (partially due to the adrenaline rush) and didn't really want to attempt eating with my new addition just yet. At 10 o'clock Dita and the crew drove me back to the bus depot, as I had to be back at the university next morning to start orientations. I finally got myself to bed at 12:30, and fell asleep instantly. Next morning, healing and aftercare officially began. Of course the major issue with a fresh lip piercing is eating. I was physically able to chew fine; the problem was in getting the food INTO my mouth. Utensils were out of the question, as one invariably bumps the lip when using a fork or spoon. Anything I ate in the first few days had to be bite-sized, or torn into bite-size and carefully placed into my mouth. This was a bit of a challenge in Japan where typical foods are ramen and udon (noodle soups), rice, etc. But, I managed to make do. I discovered a few days later that, while forks and spoons were still a bit challenging, eating with chopsticks was perfectly fine -- I was able to insert pieces of food into my mouth without hitting my lip in the process. So, if you're thinking of getting your lip pierced, invest in a pair of chopsticks for the first week of eating! Aside from the eating problems and [understandable] sensitivity of the piercing if it was accidentally b anged, I experienced no discomfort whatsoever for the first two weeks of healing. The ring tended to favour lying to one side more than another, but it healed perfectly straight. For the first two weeks there was virtually no discharge ("crusties") on the ring, nor was any drawn out during saline soaks. For the first few days, I gargled with saline after eating (i.e. when anything other than water entering my mouth) to remove any traces of food that might irritate the piercing; I also did warm saline soaks when if felt like the piercing needed it. Both of the above were done using 0.9% W/V sterile saline solution, which can be bought over the counter in Japanese pharmacies. For soaks, I would warm up the saline for a few seconds in the microwave (warm soaks feel SO much better, and help to soften any hardened discharge). I used the cap of a water bottle for this, which fit over my piercing perfectly. Remember to clean your "soaking container" well every time you use it! Als o, make sure the saline isn't too hot -- you don't want to burn your n ew piercing. Other than gargling and these occasional soaks when the piercing felt "nasty" during the first few days of healing, I basically adopted a LITHA ("leave it the hell alone") aftercare approach. Note that this does not mean ignoring the piercing -- if you think it's dirty or if it feels painful or uncomfortable, give it a soak to draw out the irritation. Other than this though I just left my body alone to heal by itself. It's important to find a balance between keeping the piercing clean enough to prevent infection and leaving the area alone to heal (every time you clean a fresh piercing you invariably do damage to it). After about two weeks, I found the piercing was healed enough to allow me to eat normally again. Unfortunately, I also found that it began excreting much larger amounts of lymph, and had to start gently cleaning this off the jewelery with a moistened q-tip (it's important to remove any crusted matter, as when the jewelery rotates it can get drawn in to the piercing and make small cuts -- plus it looks gross!). After about a month though this had essentially stopped, though it does still lymph occasionally. I never make a habit of rotating the jewelery in fresh piercings, as the overwhelming opinion seems to be that forcing the jewelery to move can damage the fragile skin tube forming during the healing period. When the jewelery is ready to move on its own, it will; my ring moved freely after initial healing and swelling were over. My speech wasn't in the least affected by the piercing, and as it was placed properly the ring is nowhere near my teeth (so no worries of gum erosion or tooth damage). I downsized two months after the piercing -- it should have been after a month, but I was too busy with school go take any trips. The smaller ring has made a huge difference: the piercing looks better and doesn't get in the way as much when eating/kissing etc. And yes, kissing with a lip ring is FINE -- if it's 110% healed (whi ch it MUST be before you start swapping saliva with anyone else, or yo u run the risk of opening your bloodstream up to transmittable diseases like HIV and Hepatitis) it doesn't hurt at all, and provides an "interesting" sensation, or so people say... Happily, I also haven't really experienced any negative social ramifications from this piercing. The Japanese are actually very interested in it, and I get many questions about my lip and other piercings on almost a daily basis. Almost 50% of the student population at my university is international (we have students from 66 countries), and I have experienced no really negative reactions to date from these different cultural backgrounds either. One or two people couldn't comprehend why I would want such a piercing, and EVERYONE worriedly asked, "didn't that hurt?", but happily no one thought or seems to thinks less of me because I have this piercing.
Overall, I was pleased with my piercing experience. The procedure was not done to the anally-retentive standards with which it would have been back home, but the basic (and most important) principles of sterile procedure were followed. It's important if you are going to get a piercing done abroad that you do lots of research beforehand -- the health standards will most likely be very different in other countries (or there may not be any, as in Japan where the industry is illegal), so it is the client's responsibility to ensure the shop is safe. As well, make sure you've done your own aftercare research, as you may not be able to understand what your piercer tells you if it's in another language! Well, I think that's about it... Stay tuned for more piercing adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun! ^


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 08 May 2003
in Lip Piercing

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Artist: Eiichi
Location: Fukuoka%2C+Japan

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