PEAU DE BROCART: Le Corps Tatoue au Japon, by Philippe Pons. Paris: Seuil, 2000, 142 pp., plates (color, b/w) 60, FFr 230 (cloth).

The full-body tattoo is, strictly, a kind of undergarment. It is displayed only in the privacy of bed or bath, and it carries with it the same flavor of transgression that the undecorated naked body does (or did) in the West. To be naked is, after all, to dispense with the signs and symbols of “civilization.” To further decorate the skin with a private aesthetic vocabulary is to marginalize still further the claims of society.

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