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getting tattooed for the first time


Hi, it’s Hikari! Today, I wanna share my experience of getting a tattoo for the first time in Japan.


In Japan, “tattoos” are still very taboo. In fact, many public hot springs, swimming pools, some gyms and workplaces won’t allow you to enter if you have a tattoo. Our generation is more open to it, and small tattoos are becoming more acceptable, especially from people who love fashion. However, there are still so many negative connotations because of our history of tattoos which has been associated with yakuza (gangsters). When a famous Japanese TV personality, model, and singer Ryuchell got tattoos and shared how happy he was with it on his social media, many people attacked him in the comments section: “How scary-looking!” “You won’t be able to take your kids to the swimming pool!!” and “There’s no Japanese person who looks good with a tattoo.” This blew up nationwide because of the media, and that’s how sensitive people are with tattoos.


Despite the cultural taboo, I’d never had the negative connotation since I was familiar with Western culture growing up and didn’t believe the stigma at all. Instead, I had always dreamt of getting a tattoo since I was much younger. Every time I would see someone with a tattoo, I would tell myself that I should get one when I’m older. But not gonna lie, I was scared of the pain and the idea of having something permanent on my body. As I’ve written in an article before, I struggle with depression, anxiety, feeling ugly etc… And I started thinking about how it’s been improving from getting out of my comfort zone and facing, accepting, challenging and loving myself over the past few years. So I asked myself, “why don’t I step out of another comfort zone and remember who I currently am?”


I went through some tattoo artists’ accounts on Instagram, and I found one that shows a variety of designs that I liked which all looked so great! So on March 5th, I contacted this artist and told him the design I wanted and asked how much it would cost. And he immediately replied: A tattoo the size of a 500 yen coin is ¥8,000. This was unexpectedly cheap (It usually costs about ¥10,000+ in Japan) so I decided to book an appointment.


My appointment was on April 9th. The whole month since I booked my appointment, I was anxious from thinking What if I don’t like it? What if I regret it? What if I want to reconsider getting a tattoo? and I was nervous! So I asked my sister to come with me. The tattoo studio was in Nakameguro, Tokyo. Nakameguro is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms along the Meguro River, so my sister and I went there early to enjoy the cherry blossoms before the appointment!


At 1 PM, I arrived at the tattoo artist’s studio which was a cute little apartment. We sat down to discuss the design I wanted to get. The design I decided on was the word “RAW” from the name of an EP by my favourite singer Sigrid, a Norwegian singer. She is not only an amazing singer but also a great writer. Her songs are always so honest, and I always felt the closeness to her thoughts and feelings. Also, her strong attitude is just like mine! The song Raw has been pushing me to be stronger but at the same time to remember to love myself. It’s basically my fight song. The song itself sounds raw as she wanted her voice to be as pure as possible. I wanted to get it tattooed because I wanted to remember that at this point in my life, I had this moment where I realized and accepted how raw and flawed I was, and I was striving to love myself. So after I decided to get this design, I contacted the designer of the EP artwork to tell him that I was going to use his design for my tattoo. The designer was happy to find out that a random Japanese girl was getting a tattoo of his work!

午後1時、小さなアパートにあるタトゥーアーティストのスタジオへ。アーティストとデザインを再確認。あたしが今回いれたのは「RAW」という単語。これはあたしの大好きなノルウェー人シンガー、シグリッドの『RAW EP』から。彼女はシンガーとしてだけでなく、書く歌詞も素敵なの。彼女の曲は、どれも素直で、彼女の感情や考えに、どこか親しみをいつも感じてる。そして彼女の強気な姿勢も、あたしと似てる!と思って、どんどん大好きになったの。この「Raw」という曲は、沈んでいるときにいつもあたしの背中を押してくれて、息がつまるときには自分を大切にすることを思い出させてくれる応援歌みたいなもの。この曲自体も、「Raw(生の、未熟な、加工されていない)」という単語そのままという感じ。あたしは、自分の人生の一瞬にこうやって未熟な自分自身に気づき、受け入れて、自分を大切にしようと必死だったんだっていうことを覚えておきたくて、このデザインにしたの。デザインを決めたあと、このデザイナーに連絡をしてタトゥーをいれることを伝えたよ。すごく喜んでいれたら写真を送ってねって言ってくれた!

After discussing the design, we discussed the exact position I wanted the tattoo to be. I decided to get it on my left forearm because I heard that the forearm is one of the most painless parts of the body to get a tattoo! And I loved the look of it as soon as he transferred the stencil onto me. (Photo) It only took a few minutes to get everything ready and I laid on the bed.


When the tattoo artist touched the tattoo gun to my skin, it shocked me how painless it was!! I have to mention, I’m pretty sensitive to pain. Because of this, I was scared and anxious but the laser hair removal I had a few days before on my armpits and bikini area was way more painful in my opinion.


Since my design was tiny, the whole process only took about two minutes. It was like NOTHING. When I got up and looked down at my arm, there it was, my cute little first tattoo on my arm. He had a huge mirror at the studio and when I looked at myself… I had to do a little dance of excitement! All the anxious thoughts I had went away immediately when I saw my tattoo and I was so happy with the design, where I placed it, the courage I gathered, how I remained well-collected, the painlessness, and how it looked on me!


He put some Vaseline on it as I was leaving the studio, and told me to keep it clean. He also told me that I can shower, use soap, and put Vaseline or Oronine on the tattoo to moisturize it. When you get a tattoo, you’re cutting open your skin to put some ink in, so it’s basically a wound, and it becomes a scab. He told me not to peel it, and to just let it come off by itself which takes about a week. It will get a little itchy as normal scabs do, but to NOT SCRATCH because if you peel the scab, it could peel the ink off and the tattoo could lose some colour. That’s all he told me. He gave me his contact details at the end, in case I wanted to ask him anything!


My sister and I were very excited about my new tattoo and we looked back on the whole process on the way home. When I got home, I took a shower, gently washed my tattoo with soap and put some Oronine on it. I did that once more before I went to bed.


Day 2

When I woke up, I had completely forgotten about the existence of my tattoo. I FaceTimed my boyfriend Luke right after I woke up and only realized I had a tattoo now when he asked me how my tattoo was doing! I don’t feel any pain from the wound. It was beautifully scabbed! Nothing wrong, bleeding or anything! It was just a little plump.


Day 5

My scab came off on Day 4. When I got home, I stripped off all my clothes and realized that my scab was gone! I kinda got freaked out thinking I scratched it off unconsciously. I have been putting Oronine on it once a day after a shower and I did the same after the scab was gone. I took this photo on the morning of Day 5. The plumpness is gone and it’s smoother but still a bit dry and messy.


Day 9

Finally, my tattoo is almost healed! The skin around the letters still gets a little bit dry but I have been just doing the same process of applying Oronine after a shower. The healing process was nothing but exciting. I couldn’t stop looking at it and adoring it. Also, I haven't really processed the fact that this thing is permanently on my body. But that doesn’t mean I regret it! I’m absolutely loving it!


This was my experience of getting a tattoo for the first time! After the experience, I realized once again that personally, I love tattoos as well as irezumi (traditional Japanese tattoos). I think they’re beautiful, and I consider tattoos to be beautiful pieces of body art. I really hope the perception of tattoos in Japan will ease up. Life is too short to care what society thinks. Do you feel like getting one? I’m definitely getting more :) I have already been thinking of what to get next! If you’ve already got one, what was your experience like and how did you feel when you got your first tattoo?

これがあたしのはじめてのタトゥーでした。この経験のあと、やっぱりあたしは個人的に刺青(日本の伝統的なタトゥー)も含め、タトゥーが好きだなと思ったよ。タトゥーは美しいし、ボディアートだとも思う。あたしは、これからもう少し日本でタトゥーへの考え方が気楽になっていければな、と願ってる。社会の欲しいもの全てを気にしながら生きていくほど、人生は長くない。みんなはタトゥーについて、どう思う?いれたいと思う?あたしはもう次のデザインは何にしようとわくわく考えているよ :) もしタトゥーをいれてるなら、周りはどういうリアクションだった?はじめてのタトゥーはどんなものだった?


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More articles for people who are interested in tattoo culture and history in Japan!

Metropolis - TATTOOS IN JAPAN Perception and history of the ancient art in Japan

Bodylore - Inked and Exiled: A History of Tattooing in Japan

Images by Hikari

Edited by Eli and Kiara