Tattoo Summit vol. 7

Published: 13 December, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 141, January, 2007

The famous Japanese tattoo event TATTOO SUMMIT took place in mid July and this year we could see some positive changes in a culture that is deeply rooted but has the flexibility to adjust to make it grow and flourish for the better. The old school traditional Japanese tattoo or Irezumi will never die, but it will clearly be shaped into many different branches.


The Japanese Summers are hot! The city of Toyohashi in Aichi Prefecture is really, really hot. Toyohashi is located roughly 250 km southwest from Tokyo and another 60km to Nagoya in the North West. A small city on the coast of the enormous Pacific Ocean with a population of about 380.000 souls. It’s a pretty sleepy place and there isn’t much to do here for the lone traveler except soak in the tranquil city mode or maybe go to the beach to check out the sea turtles (the “Save the Sea Turtle” program made world news not long ago when Japans’ concrete protective coast line had to give way to environmental and turtle friendly man made beaches).    

So the reason why one of Japans’ biggest tattoo event is located here is a big mystery for most. Big Tattoo events start to become more and more commonplace in the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, but the one in Toyohashi is still the most visited and well known in the Japanese tattoo culture. The Japanese old school tattoo scene is, even you like it or not, still run by the Yakuza in one-way or another, this is especially noticeable in countryside Japan where the old ways die-hard. This is something that is changing in Japan though, the older generation is slowly giving way for the more hungry generation of tattooists working in American old School, tribal and western styles as well as in traditional Japanese.    

The major cities have more and more young tattooists craving for a place in the spotlight and most of these boys and girls have been abroad to foreign events and studios or have some contact with what’s going on outside Japan in form of the internet and foreign friends. The reason why TATTOO SUMMIT in Toyohashi has become such a big event lays in the high quality of artists attending, but also the location also plays an important role. It’s geographically a good neutral location with big tattoo cities like Nagoya and Osaka to the west and Tokyo with all the high-class studios to the East. It’s between these hubs of the Japanese tattooing and the rivalry from other so-called “families” (not only tattoo related!) is not a problem here where the local “family” has the monopoly over everything. But as long as it gives the Japanese tattoo scene a boost, nobody participating seems to care too much that the city in it’s self has nothing of interest and the drive there is long for everyone. And a boost it is!   

TATTOO SUMMIT is now running on its 7th year and the event gets bigger each time. It’s still an event for tattoo artists by tattoo artists, which might give the not so well informed customer a bit of a surprise. Don’t bring your kids or your old folks, they are not going to have fun at all. Last year the organizers tried to make it a “marathon event” with non-stop, round the clock tattooing during 2 days. The event was divided up into 3 parts where (A, B and C schedule) the artists worked and displayed their art at the same location (Club Parada) and then when their “shift” was over handed over the booth to another artist who continued the event. Proved to be very tiresome for the staff, artists and the paying audience, a better plan was set in motion this year. Two full days, with start on Saturday the 15 of July at 3pm to 10pm and then the 16th from 11am to 10pm. All divided within 3 different locations with a shuttle bus running people between them. It gave the whole event a more relaxed atmosphere. The audience could slowly walk through each place and see everything without the need to elbow your path to the artists’ booths. Also the artists got more space to work in a not too loud and stressful environment. Another thing that the organizers had thought about and it made a whole lot of a difference for everyone was the absence of the so-called “sexy dance”. This is a phenomenon you will see whenever attending an event in countryside Japan. It’s a mix between Jamaican reggae dance and acrobatics usually performed by either a single dancer or a duet. These dancers are in general teenage girls and the whole “act” is very memorable. But the connection between this Caribbean workout and the Japanese tattoo scene is hard to get.    

This year the parking lot outside was built up as a skateboard park with half pipes and ramps. Giving the stage over to graffiti artists and painters. I talked to one of the sub producers of the event, Mr. Ogi from Mindscape tattoo and he said –“This year we would like to push harder on the sub culture. The connection between the subculture and the growing tattoo scene is so strong right now that you can’t ignore it anymore” he ads “a new generation is growing up with a mixed tattoo culture, the western and also the Japanese, same goes for the music and street cultures like skateboarding and graffiti”.

The Japanese tattoo culture right now in an interesting phase, the old school traditional and the new school blending in a peaceful way. The old accepting the new as long the work is good and the new accepting the old for taking them where they are now. This might change someday in the future, new and old under the same roof. But with Japan being an Island nation with a very strong history and culture the Japanese tattoo culture will always be a scene to count on, even if it originates from suburbia graffiti or Kawanabe Kyosai’s wood block prints.    

One of this year’s main organizers as always was Mr. Horikoi, a local traditional Japanese tattooist. Mr. Horikois’ outstanding tebori (hand poked) style tattooing is a class in its own that will always gather a big crowd of curious spectators as well as other artists. The other one being the incredible gentle and talented Horisho from MindScape Tattoo in the neighboring city of Okazaki. He has made himself a name in the Japanese tattoo scene as on of the best, if not the best biomechanical artist, or like he said himself- “What I do I would like to call Japanese traditional mechanical without the “bio”,” he ads ”with a so strong culture like here in Japan its great to work with these forms and designs of the traditional style, but I have always loved mechanical stuff so I am mixing the two in a cool way!” Sub producer for the first time this year was Mr. Cambada from Tokyo, being an well-known tattoo event organizer in Tokyo and the founder of the very respected I LOVE TATTOO COMPANY, also based in Tokyo, he brought some fresh blood to the event with his outstanding knowledge in the Japanese tattoo world and everything around it. With people like Mr. Horikoi, Mr. Horisho and Mr. Cambada, the TATTOO SUMMIT gave everyone participating a great insight into what the Japanese tattoo scene looks like on all levels and shapes.   

Also this year we saw some new faces tattooing, booth Japanese and foreign. All the way from Sweden came Ulrik from BLOODWORK TATTOO. From South Korea came Mr. Yushi, a name we should look out for in the future. He is a member of Shiryu Family from Niigata, Japan and being well known in his hometown of Seoul (where tattooing is forbidden!), he is now making his name and face well known even here in Japan. From Taiwan returned this year again the team from DIAU-AN, putting out great work in the style of Swiss artist Filip Lou. American artist Adrian Lee and Matt Shaman originally from NEWSKOOL TATTOO worked with the well-known American artist Chris Trevino in the THREE TIDES TATTOO booth with the artists from their Osaka based shop. Makoto and Dasei from HOKUS POKUS TATTOO did as always outstanding work. Well, the list is long, but there are names that we should look out for in the future even in the European and North American scene. Names like DARUMAGOYA, CAT CLAW TATTOO, 8-BALL TATTOO, JACK POT TATTOO, BLACK EYES TATTOO, TATTOO CHURCH, HORIZARU TATTOO ART, BACK IN BLACK and K-BLOOD are among all these.    

“This is a great chance to see what’s going on in Japan right now. The level is unbelievable high compared with Sweden and even the best Scandinavian artists would have a lot to learn from even the Deshis (apprentices) here,” says Ulrik from BLOOD WORK TATTOO when I asked him about the Event. Rico and Shion from DARUMA GOYA said, “It’s great to have been invited to be here and tattoo. We live and work in a very remote town up in North Japan and to have clients from up there coming all the way here to get tattooed from us and to check out the event is so cool!”   

Like mentioned before, big tattoo events with various different angles are popping up in Japan at the moment.    

The traditional tattoo event is slowly changing bit by bit due to more foreign influences and the fact that the global village is becoming smaller as time goes by. This is only healthy for an already deep-rooted culture, a culture which foundation is what we in the west call traditional Japanese, but the Japanese call the Irezumi. What will happen with Japans’ biggest and most well-known tattoo event in the future is not clear. But if not a great tsunami, a devastating earthquake or a ripping typhoon erases Toyohashi from the map I’m sure we will all be there next year again.


Text and Photography: Mattias Westfalk (


Skin Deep 141 1 January 2007 141