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Free from stigma: Japanese tattoo artists exhibit work in Vancouver

Japan's stigma around tattoos has long kept the country's tattoo artists out of the public eye, but a few are getting their chance to shine tonight at a gallery in Vancouver.

There is still a stigma around tattoos in Japan because of an association with organized crime

Japanese tattoo artist Horimitsu has been practising Tebori for 20 years. (Horimitsu)

Japan's stigma around tattoos has long kept the country's tattoo artists out of the public eye, but some of them are getting their chance to shine tonight at a gallery in Vancouver. 

Japanese tattoo artists Horimitsu and Horinao will be exhibiting their work on Thursday at the Beaumont Studios on West 5th Avenue in Vancouver, thanks to Mike Derbyshire.

Derbyshire said the two artists have been drawing attention from all over the world. 

"People who are interested in these tattoos hunt them down wherever they may be," he said, noting that 60 per cent of Horimitsu and Horinao's customers are from overseas. 

Tebori — the Japanese tattooing technique of hand-poking — allows for a different application of ink under the skin, one that Derbyshire says is usually higher in density which means the colours last longer and certain pigments like white are more vibrant. 

The Irezumi Invasion exhibit will be at the The Beaumont at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 12. (Horinao)

Tattoo ban in Japan

Up until about 15 years ago, tattoos in Japan were associated with organized crime. 

"The stigma is tied to the Yakuza. People see a tattoo there and they assume it is going to be a bad person," said Derbyshire. 

While the stigma has died down, it still persists, particularly in bathhouses where people with tattoos aren't allowed inside.

But Derbyshire said the Japanese government is trying to persuade bathhouses to at least open up to tattooed foreigners in time for the Olympics in 2020. 

The colours last longer in the Japanese tattooing technique of hand-poking. (Horinao)

With files from the CBC's The Early Edition and Jessica Linzey


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Japanese tattoo artists show their work in Vancouver.