Translation and Article: Nina Matsumoto
Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know this already, but I have several tattoos.
I began admiring them in my early twenties, but didn’t have the courage to get any. I was too afraid of what others might think of me. They’re still a taboo in Japan, but they’re common in North America – so popular that, in fact, it’s unusual for someone in a creative industry to not have any. Yet, I still had anxiety over taking the plunge.
In 2005, I took a trip to Japan. At Shibuya’s Fashion Building 109, I was shocked to see a young female cashier with a lotus flower tattoo on her hand.
“A hand tattoo… even though she lives in Japan?! That’s so brave! She’s so cool,” I thought to myself. “I wish I could live freely and be cool like her…”
A voice inside me cried out: “then do it!”
That was what started it all.
In the fall of 2014, I went to Japan for the first time in 8 years to attend Tokyo Game Show. By then, I had three tattoos: a yatagarasu (three-legged crow) on my left forearm, a coyote on my right forearm, and a triangle on my right tricep.
I was to meet Producer Kan for the first time. Because he’s from an older generation and has a harsh persona on the show, I was worried about what he might think of my tattoos. Out of an abundance of caution, I hid them under a zip-up hoodie, since first impressions are important.
I met up with him at Tube, the studio where he was recording his narration for GCCX. After wrapping up his job, he showed me around Tokyo.
At some point, I carelessly rolled up my sleeves. He immediately noticed what they were hiding. As soon as I began rolling them down, he said:
“Can you show me your arms?”
I slowly revealed them.
Later that day, Kan introduced me to his son who was in middle school, and said: “show him your tattoos.”
I was relieved Kan was into them.
In 2015 and 2016, I had my thighs tattooed – a rabbit on my left, a crow on my right.
Winter of 2016. I went to Japan again, this time for the “I’m Stuck in a Video Game” book signing event in Akihabara. I was invited to the post-event wrap-up dinner. In an effort to keep up good manners, I didn’t remove my tattoo-hiding motorcycle jacket even after arriving at the restaurant; however, the sleeves were slightly short, so my inked wrists were peeking out.
I was seated next to Arino, whose eyes grew wide. “Huh?! Nina, you have tattoos??” Oh no, he saw them!!
I took off my jacket and showed him my arms. “Wow!”
“I have them on my thighs, too,” I said. “A rabbit and a crow.”
Arino laughed. “Not a rabbit and a turtle?” (In Japanese, hares are called “field rabbits” and tortoises are called “land turtles.” The famous “Tortoise and the Hare” fable is called “The Rabbit and the Turtle.”)
When he puts it that way, it is an odd pairing…
I was so relieved everyone was nice about my tattoos. I even learned there’s an unlikely staff member on the show who has one! Their identity is a secret.
To the young woman I saw in Shibuya: thank you for giving me strength.
PS: This year, I got an entire sleeve on my left arm of a crow with Japanese camellias. I have no plans of getting a turtle tattoo.