On March 8, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles will open the largest-ever exhibition dedicated to irezumi — Japanese tattooing. Titled "Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World," the six-month show will feature lectures, live tattooing and life-size photographs of irezumi inked by some of the most famous tattooists working in the world today.
Greg Kimura, the president/CEO of JANM, spoke to The Japan Times about the inspiration behind the exhibition: "Perseverance shows Japanese tattoo as an indigenous, full-fledged art form, comparable in tradition and technique to other fine arts. It draws historical parallels to earlier Japanese art and aesthetics, including ukiyo-e printmaking."
Such prestigious treatment of irezumi by JANM — and other international galleries over the past few years — stands in stark contrast to how tattooing is perceived at home in Japan, where many people regard it as synonymous with gangsterism and where those with even small tattoos can be denied entry to swimming pools and public baths. Despite tattooing having fallen out of fashion among many yakuza in recent decades, this stigma against ink in Japan is stronger today than ever; in January, for example, a school clerk in Osaka was docked one month's pay for having tattoos on her arm and ankle.