Belfast Telegraph

Japanese tattoo master brings the ancient art of Tebori to Belfast convention

By Christine Carrigan

A Japanese tattoo artist appearing at an international convention in Belfast this weekend has called for a change in the law of his home country.

Kensho The Second (38), from Saitama, has been a professional for 14 years, specialising in traditional Japanese art.

The strict laws surrounding the practice of tattoo art in the Land of the Rising Sun meant he had to qualify as a medical professional or risk jail.

As an act of defiance, he never sought the medical qualification, and now plies his trade in Amsterdam.

He said: "I never tried to get the doctor's licence because it is for medical act, not for tattooing and it will have the same meaning as blasphemy to Japanese traditional tattoos if I accept that wrong law."

Kensho will showcase his work for the first time at the fifth annual Titanic Tattoo convention today.

He currently has a visa to work in Holland, where he has more freedom.

He added: "Now it is a very serious situation in Japan. The government says it is necessary to have a doctor's licence for tattooing. It means we have to become a doctor, it is crazy.

"We can open the studio and pay tax as a tattoo artist, but we will be arrested if someone calls the police.

"One young tattoo artist filed a lawsuit against the government last year, but he lost."

According to Kensho, almost all cases fail, prompting other Japanese tattoo artists to move abroad.

His work includes depictions of frogs, tigers, traditional theatre masks known as hannya masks, a phoenix and some smaller tattoos.

Instead of using a tattoo gun, Kensho prefers to use the traditional Japanese 'hand-poke' tattoo instrument known as the sashibo.

This method, known as Tebori, is when a bundle of needles are at the tip of the sashibo and the skin is stretched with one hand and the other uses the sashibo to create the design.

Kensho added: "The Tebori is less pain and causes less skin damage than the tattoo machine, it is strong and deep colour, and the ink never comes out."

He is high demand for his art, having been invited to more than 20 tattoo conventions worldwide.

Revealing why he came to Belfast, Kensho added: "Some of my friends participated several times already and they told me that Titanic convention is a good event, that's why I decided to attend.

"I am very happy to be attending Titanic tattoo convention this time. I appreciate the organiser for this opportunity."

In Japan tattoos have long been stigmatised for their association with organised crime gangs, such as the Yakuza, who pledge their allegiance with full-body markings.

It means anyone with tattoos, regardless of their profession, cannot use public swimming pools, hot springs, beaches, gyms or enter some public places.

Kensho has multiple tattoos covering his body which he has to hide when he is at home.

The Titanic tattoo convention runs today and tomorrow at the Titanic building in Belfast.

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