Why am I a painted guy?
I am tattooed. But most people don’t know it. I am not some motorcycle riding, heavy metal, nightclub crawling rowdy covered head-to-foot in black leather and with large body tattoos. But if I happen to see such people on the streets I know that we are part of a brotherhood. You can call it the brotherhood of body art, but I prefer to call it the Brotherhood of Man because people can come in any format, and it takes all kinds to make a community. I don’t talk about it much, and unless you see me with my shirt off - which is an extremely unlikely eventuality - there is no way for you to know. But I am saying so now partly as a reminder to you that you can never tell about people just by looking at them. When people learn about it, first they are invariably surprised and say that they didn’t take me for the kind of person to have tattoos, and some claim that the knowledge clashes with their “intellectual” opinion of me. Second, many predictably make some exclamation of dislike based on their idea of the pain of it. But I tell people that the process does not hurt so much as it is uncomfortable, and I habitually compare it to a visit to the dentist.
Among Japanese tattooing has a bad reputation as the traditional preserve of the professional gangster, the “yakuza.” Consequently, many people sporting tattoos are routinely turned away from places like public baths (“sento”) and hot springs(“onsen”) on the basis of suspected criminal association. So my wife is extremely unhappy that I am tattooed. I love my wife, but I decided that I did not care what she thought if I got a tattoo. I don’t need to describe the reasons here. Among foreigners, tattooing is similarly associated, but not to the same extent as the Japanese are apt to do. The idea of “body art” is more recognized in Western cultures and among Westerners. Even so, it’s not something I advertise, because I am tattooed for personal reasons more than for fashion or publicity.
Any image can be replicated in ink on skin. So, although tattoo parlors have design books and design sheets for customers to look at and choose from, the truth is that you can give your own design - anything at all - and the artist will draw it up, apply the outline to your skin, and then execute it. There is an infinite range of possibility. Many tattoos that you see on men are rather large designs on arms, shoulders, etc.: animals, skulls, the Grim Reaper, flowers, ivy and vines, shapes (stars, hearts), birds, insects, religious imagery, messages in scary looking Gothic script. The ones I have are small and varied by comparison. They are unrelated to each other and do not form a larger pattern. I decided to get tattooed in order to keep the really important things in my life as close to me as possible all the time. Some are to commemorate important things - my children’s names. Others are omnipresent reminders of who I am. They are all designs that I have presented to the artists, or variations of designs found in design books. Hence, I bear different designs that are related only in that they are meaningful to me.
I am increasingly superstitious as I age. I have long been a religious person, but over time - living in Japan where people habitually dabble in multiple religions without overt affiliation to any one - I have acquired a variety of religious talismans and charms that I carry around with me every day in my pockets, in my bag, around my neck and wrist, when I am working and when I am traveling. I feel comfortable with them, and I have had some applied to my skin like a kind of spiritual armor - crosses, the name of God in different languages, the Chinese Yin Yang. They make me feel comfortable. And, considering my health, I feel I shouldn’t shun any protection I can scrounge.
You might say that I am going through a mid-life crisis. Some men divorce their wives and take younger girlfriends, or they buy sailboats or an unnecessary new car. For some reason I am getting tattooed. Or, you might say that I am suffering from a poor self image that drives me to solicit the infliction of pain in fits of self-loathing (I had my ears pierced in university, a very volatile time in my life). Oh, well. I sincerely believe that this is something that I should have done 25-years ago, in late-1982 or 1983. But the reasons are unimportant to describe here.