So, I Got a Tattoo

By: leelefever on May 27, 2006 - 6:18pm

 Japan seemed like the perfect place for me to get the most durable souvenir I could imagine- a tattoo.  I’ll talk about why I choose a Butterfly Koi soon, but for now I want to describe the process.

  I had been considering a tattoo for many years and have a few designs stashed away should the inspiration hit.  Upon arriving in Japan, I learned about the history and style of tattoos in Japan and thought it would be perfect timing.  The inspiration had hit. 

In a modern-history nutshell, the Japanese government used to tattoo prisoners, which led to tattoos being a symbol of criminals (perfect! I know).  In the 18th century, released prisoners would seek out an Irezumi-shi –a Japanese tattoo artist who could cover their criminal past with new tattoos.  The Japanese Irezumi style evolved from this past and is now considered the most artful in the world.  Visiting dignitaries like King George V had a tattoo placed on his forearm in 1881.  It helps too that Japan (and her tattoo studios) are very clean and responsible.

I cannot claim that my tattoo is in the Irezumi style, as it lacks color and is not elaborate or intricate.  After resigning myself to the event, I spent a lot of time on the design, taking inspiration from these two pictures among others. 

(The artwork on the right is by Barbara Psimas

My goal was to get a small tattoo placed on the inside of my right arm and high enough that that tattoo would not peek out from under a short shirtsleeve.  Here are the drafts, including the final one in the middle.

I took these drafts to a 5pm appointment at Chopstick Tattoos in Osaka on May 25th. There, I met the no-english-speaking Magoshi, the artist.  I have to say it is a bit daunting to work with a tattoo artist who does not speak your language and I don’t recommend it.  However, I was able to communicate through an English speaker and Magoshi produced a sketch that was an improvement on my own work and would provide the template for what would appear on my arm. I guess art is indeed universal


Before I knew it, Sachi and I were in a clean room and he was going at it on my arm.  For those that may have been confused, this video is of me reacting to the pain of the tattoo (I didn’t know Sachi was recording it). 

The pain wasn’t negligible, but it wasn’t excruciating either.  I have to say, like many do, that there is a bit of pleasure in the pain.  What freaked me out a bit was looking over at my skin after Magoshi had done the shading and seeing every pore leaking a tiny spot of blood. I could have done without seeing that.

 It took less than an hour and we left with a bandage on my arm covering my new souvenir and a smile.  It turned out even better than I expected and I have no regrets whatsoever.  I would like to say that I’m glad that I made this decision as a 32 year old man and not a 20 year-old college student.  I feel supremely confident that, at 32, I have the maturity and outlook to proceed with such a long-lasting decision with full awareness of the consequences.  Nevertheless, I’m sure my parents and in-laws are both ecstatic.

See also:  Why a Koi Tattoo? 

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Carrick's picture
By: Carrick on May 28, 2006 - 10:21am
So awesome.

By: JJ (not verified) on May 28, 2006 - 10:59am
you are one of us....brothers in arms, or rather brothers with fish on their arms. Koi on!!!!
By: leelefever on May 28, 2006 - 4:55pm
JJ, I totally thought about your arm when I was getting this little one.  I'm not sure I'm ready for a sleeve yet. :)
By: Anonymous (not verified) on May 28, 2006 - 7:35pm


By: Steph Tekano (not verified) on June 1, 2006 - 4:01pm
Hey, do you know who painted that or what that art piece is called? I am referring to this:
By: leelefever on June 1, 2006 - 6:12pm
I don't have a clue about that art piece, but I wish I did- I'd gladly give them due credit. I found it on Google Images.
By: Steph Tekano (not verified) on June 2, 2006 - 4:26pm
Found out who the artist is: Barbara Psimas.
By: Barbara Psimas (not verified) on July 18, 2006 - 6:03pm
Hi from Florida, USA. Enjoyed seeing the process of your tattoo. Interestingly enough, you're the second person to feature some of my work while making a journal of getting a Koi tattoo. Scroll down to 9th session:  If possible, I would appreciate my name being accredited under the image. It's also interesting that you got your tattoo in Japan where I was born, although I was brought up in the US. Thanks and Best wishes, Barbara
By: leelefever on July 22, 2006 - 1:51am

Hi Barbara!

I have added your name (and a link to a Google Search for your name) to the entry above.  I'm sorry that I didn't do a better job of attributing you and I appreciate your understanding. Your work is beautiful.

By: Barbara (not verified) on July 25, 2006 - 5:15pm


Thanks much; it's sincerely appreciated. Just returned from a trip and had a request for permission to use my artwork as inspiration for another tattoo! I should have a new website up soon showing my Koi paintings and other styles and mediums I'm known for. I'll let you know when it's completed if you're interested.

Best wishes to all,


By: Alcie Rose (not verified) on April 12, 2007 - 11:52am
Love your tattoo. Its funny because about a year ago i was wanting a koi fish tattoo and i came across that painting you mentioned called tranquility. So needless to say i now have that exact tattoo on my foot. It was probably the best choice i could have made. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
By: Anonymous (not verified) on June 15, 2007 - 12:27pm
hmm kois are really getting popular. what made you choose one? i know what made me choose one. i have six kois in an absolutly humongus tank.....spealing of which its feeding time....greedy bastards