In this article, you will learn a little about the history of tattoos, what a Hikae tattoo is and roughly how much it will cost you if you wish to get one.
Getting a tattoo can be big commitment, without the elevated prices…but many would argue that it is undoubtedly worth the expense.
Table of Contents
The Short History
Dating back as far as prehistoric times tattooing, in the archipelago of Japan, took hold and developed as a major artform during the Edo period (c.1600-1868).
Japanese tattooing: Irezumi or ‘inserting ink’ (入 れ 墨) is entrenched in the culture but has a sporadic line of history.
Whilst many make claims that tattoos originated in ancient Egypt, around five thousand years ago, others claim that the decorative form of body tattooing was developed much later in Japan, and began a lot earlier.
Due in part to their beauty, Japanese designs have become famous all over the planet.
Popular in the western world, tattooing is considered an advanced artform and can be incredibly expensive, depending on:
- the ability and reputation of the artist
- the method used
- the intricacy of the design
- where you are having it done
- both the color and type of ink
- and the size
Tattoos can be emblematic of beliefs, belonging or personal growth.
They can be stunningly designed, and they can also be socially shunned.
In Japan – Tattoos are also stereotypically linked to the Yakuza and are historically connected to violent crime.
Tattoos & Japanese Law
Considered by many as a form Art, across the globe today, tattoos have not always had a positive place in Japanese history.
Even now, many Japanese establishments will not even let you in the door if they see inked skin on your body, due to the links it has with the mafia but also because Japan has a history of outlawing them.
There was even a period in History when Irezumi was completely outlawed by the Japanese government and also a point when they were used solely to mark criminals; often those convicted of violent crimes.
It was only in the Edo period that tattoos became more mainstream and a lot more acceptable, but you still need to be aware that if you are going to visit Japan, it would be prudent to check the area in which you plan to stay – should you already sport some ink.
Links With the Mafia
Yakuza (ヤクザ) translates to English as the noun ‘gangster’ and Irezumi is implemented as a sign of membership.
Estimations in 2020 concluded that there were around twenty-five thousand active members across Japan.
Tattoos are rumoured to be a ‘rite of passage’, a badge and marker of identity and used to mark stages of progression through ranks.
As a Result of This Association – Japanese citizens have been known to fear people with tattoos as a precaution. To avoid trouble, some public establishments have even banned tattoos, solely for this reason.
Links to the Samurai
Body art is also documented amongst the ranks of the Samurai.
Using tattoos not only to identify with their collective but also as a superstitious form of protection; believed to ward off demons and evil spirits.
It was an easy method of locating the dead after a battle had taken place and, according to some sources, were even a rite of passage into the afterlife.
Some tattoo artists in Japan will refuse, apparently, to mimic Samurai tattoos which are specifically reserved for warriors.
Your Choice: It is also advisable to avoid asking in the first place. It may seem cool to get a tattoo like a Samurai but it can, like asking for religious imagery, be considered disrespectful.
What is a Hikae Tattoo?
A traditional Japanese tattoo is very unique and is often worn like armour.
Some even go as far as tattooing most of their body, the artwork frequently appearing like an open garment, having a space free down the centre of the torso.
This Being the Case – The Japanese have divided up the body into sections, the Hikae being a tattoo which covers the top-quarter of your chest, sometimes reaching towards to the neck and covering part or all of your upper arm (Hikae Gobu – combined with a sleeve).
A full Hikae covers both sides of the chest and can sometimes reach down beyond the nipple, covering the entire peck area.
Traditional Hikae Designs
Throughout History, tattoos have often been used to specifically symbolise things like belonging to a particular group or community, to illustrate change and personal growth or to pay tribute.
Now, we see a vast number of various designs, colours and uses – from matching couple tattoos, to a semi-colon used to demonstrate solidarity and increase Mental Health awareness.
In Japan, however, traditional Irezumi is linked with mythical beasts like the Dragon (Ryu – 龍), decorative flower and plant designs, the Japanese Koi, the Tiger, and the Phoenix, as well as other images linked to both Myth and Religion.
Designs and methods are passed down through generations, making the experience a humbling and very spiritual one.
But, even the relationship between master and apprentice was once criminalised in a effort to outlaw the artform.
A Traditional Tattoo in Japan
Traditional tattooing was and is very different from the technological tattooing we see today.
Before the rise of the technological Earth, tattooing was completed manually, with specific handmade tools for the job.
Ink was poked into the skin with a needle-mounted stick and these types of tattoos, can look very different from those produced via machine method.
Poking ink can also take a great deal more time and in the tattoo industry, time is definitely money…some tattooists charging by the hour.
More commercialised, frequent and expensive in the West, tattooing in Japan can be a little cheaper, however, factoring in the cost of travel soon evens the difference.
The Cost: Some sources looking at both Osaka and Tokyo studios for pricing, say that an hourly rate ranges from 7,000 to around 15,000 yen. That’s $130.00 per hour, at the top of the estimate. A far cry from western pricing.
How Much is a Hikae Tattoo Generally?
In the USA, this can range from approximately $100.00 to anything around and above $300.00 per hour session.
Although some tattoo artists will charge a set price, most will charge an hourly rate for anything above the size of an A4 piece of paper.
A machined Hikae covering just one side will take roughly 6-8 hours, depending on the design and how much skin coverage is involved, but a traditional hand-poked tattoo will take at least three times that.
The math works out pretty shocking when full body tattoos can take weeks to complete and reach into the thousands.
Although shockingly expensive, getting a Hikae can be an incredibly personal and spiritually symbolic experience.
Despite negative associations and stigma, tattoos are still immensely popular.
The tradition is globally flourishing, and you can even find authentic Japanese tattoo studios in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, saving you the need to travel very far.
It is arguable, though, that going to Japan and getting a real Japanese tattoo would be an epic experience.
Either way, once you’ve grappled with how much a Hikae tattoo costs and got over the idea of the pain, you might be in a position to plan your own Irezumi journey.
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