Oh how the time flies! One week left and so very much to squeeze into those remaining days, which seem to slip by before I can even blink. Exams and final essays have been taking up much of my time over the past while, but now those have all been dealt with and I’m entirely motivated to take in as much of Tokyo as I can before next Monday!
Although perhaps there’s a little bit of catching up to do before that. One of the biggest and most recent developments that has happened is getting myself a tattoo (sorry mom).
Even before arriving here, I was fascinated by the tattoo culture here in Japan, and how it is both highly respected as an art form by one part of society, and sternly frowned upon by another.
For those of you who don’t know, the reason for the dislike stems from the fact that tattoos here are most famously associated with the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia), and therefore considered relatively offensive. In fact, the implication extends so far as to prevent any people with tattoos to enter certain public areas such as onsen (Japanese bath houses), swimming pools, private gyms, most public beaches, and even some clubs and bars.
In terms of the lattermost category, this does make a certain amount of sense since many clubs in Tokyo used to be used as fronts for drug deals and other organized crime. Similarly, the ban on tattoos at public beaches can be traced back to several years ago when two Yakuza members were stabbed at Zushi beach during a party.
In general it seems that the anxiety comes from a desire to avoid making other people uncomfortable by general association. However, as a foreigner, I personally find this an entirely frustrating situation, since it should be quite obvious to most people that a small, white girl who can barely speak the local language would be associated with the Japanese mafia.
Yet unfortunately I have still been met with resistance while here, even due to my two small tattoos that I arrived with. Nonetheless, I decided that I wanted to look into some of the artists here in the city and maybe start brainstorming a design. I found inspiration in a trapditional Japanese phrase I learned about near the beginning of my trip: mono no aware which basically translates into “the pathos of things.”
I have written rather extensively about this phrase in my earlier blog post, however the general sentiment is a sadness in the fact that all things must pass but are all the more beautiful because of that. The longer I lived here in Japan, the more I began to fully appreciate the significance of this phrase and the idea that nothing is permanent and therefore every fleeting moment should be savoured. The most common symbol for mono no aware is the sakura (cherry blossoms) which bloom for a mere three weeks of the year. So I settled on cherry blossom imagery as the basis for the design.
(And yes, I am aware that it is rather ironic to get a permanent tattoo to symbolize the idea of impermanence, however I want it to be a guiding idea that I carry with me for the rest of my life).
Anyways, to make a long story short, I got in touch with one of the larger tattoo studios in Tokyo, who happened to have some English-speaking staff. I was able to spend some time emailing back and forth with one artist and come to an agreement about design and size, and make an appointment for the beginning of July. On the day, I arrived at the studio and spent some time talking in person with Hakura, the woman who had created the design, since she would be doing the actual tattoo.
I would also like to point out how unassuming the studio is (The two red circles in the top windows and the small sign by the door are the only indicator of the parlour’s existence), no doubt due to the societal prejudice.
She was happy to quickly make some adjustments and make sure I was happy with the look and placement. The tattoo itself took about an hour and a half, and was honestly not as painful as I had expected. I am absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out, and I have nothing but praise for the extremely talented Hakura and all the other staff at Studio Muscat.
Other than getting the tattoo, the next few weeks of July went by relatively quietly as the end of the school semester meant that homework became more of a priority. However, I was able to enjoy the summer weather on occasion, and even took a trip with my friend Nat to Zushi beach (yes, the one where the Yakuza members were stabbed) for an afternoon of sun and sand. Despite the fact that the beach was extremely crowded and the water not so clean, it was still wonderful to be by the ocean and actually get to swim.
At one point, a beach security guard did ask me to cover my tattoo, however, as long as I kept a towel over it while on the beach, that seemed to be enough for them. In fact, I don’t actually think that they even cared that much, but merely felt obligated to follow the rules.
The beach was actually quite close to Kamakura, Enoshima, and Yokohama – places I have visited previously, and written about.
I also took some time amidst my days of studying to do some solitary exploring, which mostly consisted of visiting a lot of shrines and temples. The peaceful environment that surrounds such sacred places will never cease to fill me with a sense of contentment and serenity.
My adventures also involved a visit to Ueno Park – the last of several times there. Although I’ve visited Ueno three times while in Tokyo, each time has proven entirely different and equally as interesting.
(This is the exact same street on each different visit)
On this occasion, there was a summer festival being held there involving many street performers, music concerts, and vendors.
At one point I found myself sitting in the front row of a taiko drum performance which I had stumbled upon quite unknowingly.
However, perhaps my favourite part of the whole visit was the large pond area that was now covered with pink lotus blossoms.
Similarly, these blossoms have been part of the park’s transformation that I have been able to witness over the months of my stay. I first visited in May when it was surrounded by cherry blossoms,
then in June when the lotus plants were just starting to grow,
and now again in July:
Many of these adventures and sights have made me think quite a bit about my time here, and the sacredness of such experiences. As my time dwindles, my remaining days slip by faster and faster. Yet I cannot help but feel a sense of calm contentment filling me up with every new sight and sound.