10 Most Famous Tattoo Artists in Japan
Looking through Tokyo tattoo artists on Instagram can be particularly challenging for people unfamiliar with the Japanese language. I’ll be honest, I know a tiny bit of basic vocabulary, and I still struggled to parse the tattoo world of Japan. Luckily for everyone, famous tattoo artists are famous for a reason. A Japanese tattoo artist Instagram is difficult to find on its own, but if you trace designs to their roots, you can find all kinds of amazing artists. Here are the 10 most famous tattoo artists in Japan!
Picking the Best Japanese Tattoo Artists in Japan
Each artist earned their place on the list of the 10 most famous tattoo artists in Japan based on their fans and their talent. Let’s check them out!
If we’re talking about the most famous artist in Tokyo, or even a contender for the #1 tattoo artist in the world, then Horiyoshi III is the tattoo artist to check out. Out of all living Japanese tattoo artists, he is the most revered. He charges over $10,000 for his designs, which can take years to complete. People pay that price anyways, since he is the ultimate Irezumi artist. His tattoos typically take up the full-body–in part because his inspiration to become a tattoo artist was a full-body-tattooed yakuza he saw in a bathhouse. That’s quite a sight to see, especially for a young child, so he became permanently inspired by that art form.
To be honest, his name isn’t really Horiyoshi. Horiyoshi is a name passed down from the original Horiyoshi to apprentices deemed masters of the art. The name references their profession. The Horiyoshi that came before him were also so skilled at tattooing that they are lauded as the best Irezumi artists of all time. Currently, Horiyoshi III clocks in at 73 years old, but his work is far from done. He wrote many books on the topic of tattoos and his silk scroll paintings can be found in exhibits around the world. He currently has one apprentice to inherit his official title.
Marcio Yuge practices a tattoo style that is decidedly western. Roses, butterflies, wings, nautical symbols, and crowns decorate his clients. On his Instagram gallery, you can even see instances of some unique flash designs. His American flair makes sense, since he lives close to the Atsugi base. WTS Tattoo Studio, his studio of choice, speaks Japanese, English, and Portugeuse to accommodate the vast diversity of their clients.
Despite this, you can spot a bit of Japanese flair in the art. His linework is vivid and the shading emphasizes the feature of every subject. When he works in color, he uses negative space to his advantage to highlight bright areas. Yuge is an excellent example of how two different worlds can collide to form something great. While you may not recognize his name, you’ve probably seen a few of his viral designs. If you want something unique, but also something that won’t look out of place in Western culture, then it’s worth your while to schedule an appointment with Yuge.
Including Anunnaki on the list might be cheating, as she is a traveling artist that can be found all over the world. She started in Mexico and has been seen all over the place. Japan seems to be her home base, though, and her style has an obvious anime influence to it. Her aesthetic focuses on bright, bold colors, huge eyes, glitter, shimmering crystals, sparkles…basically anything you would see in the intro shot of an anime love interest. Even animal tattoos have vivid colors and sparkling eyes.
To mention an ‘extreme,’ one design of a jellyfish features stars and moon shapes, a heart-shaped crystal, ribbons attached to the tentacles, and flowers around the bulb. It’s incredibly beautiful, and still looks like a jellyfish, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re into beautiful tattoos that invoke dreams or fantasies, then Anunnaki is the perfect artist for you. She’s one of my favorites on this list by virtue of having a highly distinct and beautiful style. I might also be an anime nerd that has a bias towards cute and sparkly things, but hey, there’s no denying her tattoos are great!
Ryugendo knows how to ink your typical traditional Japanese tattoos, but many of his designs take a unique spin on things. He exaggerates features, covers subject matter from all regions of the world, and has a penchant for creating blackout designs. As far as diversity goes, he sticks to this ancient tattoo style, but he is so good at it that I don’t blame him. Even when he pulls out the pigment, the tattoos still manage to look like classic renditions of yokai and gods. They could have sprung straight out of an art piece or a print from a three centuries ago.
Grabbing a tattoo from him is the same as grabbing a piece of history. He practices a long-standing tradition of hand poking all of his tattoos called tebori. The technique enhances his tattoo designs and shows off his skill. I love his pseudo-blackout tattoos especially–the black and gold koi design he shows off in his gallery looks absolutely amazing. Honestly, anything with scales in his gallery shows just how meticulous and precise he is. On top of a huge amount of tattoos, hiis gallery contains many traditional illustrations to whet your appetite for historical art.
Although Eiji Fujisawa tattoos traditional subjects like dragons, koi, yokai, and sakura blossoms, his tattoos are anything but. He has forged his own style in the tattoo world, such that even someone across the globe can recognize his unique inking technique. He uses an extreme amount of ink in his designs–he almost treats it like a pigment of its own. His tattoos rarely have vivid linework, instead focusing on shading and gradients to portray their subjects. When he opts to use color, it’s in contrast to his normal ink work. The colors will be bright and vivid, giving tattoos a metallic or artificial appearance. Alternatively, they serve as simple accents on a predominantly black tattoo.
Looking through his gallery, you can find a few non-Japanese tattoos. The dude practices all sorts of subject matter so he can work for a vast array of clients. However, if you want an American-style tattoo, don’t seek him out. He has a style all his own and will gladly tattoo American topics (such as nautical tattoos) in that style. Ultimately, Eiji Fujisawa has one of the most beautiful galleries on this list, and his skill with ink is obvious.
This artist uses two accounts for all her instagram needs. The first is for tattoos and art, and the second is for daily life and tattoo culture. I’m only going to focus on the tattoo side of her life, even though she goes on incredible journeys outside of the tattoo world. Mii may look like a standard artist on first glance, but in actuality, she beat the odds to wield an illustrative style in the middle of Japan.
She focuses on linework, putting detailed petals floating on the skin of her clients, or even going so far as to create intricate filigree frames for her designs. While she does use pigment, it’s usually just to accent her ink work, rather than give new form to the design. Her subject matter rarely dips into the traditional themes of Japan. Instead, you see her ink flowers, cats, jewels, the sun and moon, sleeves that look like stained glass, and even pop culture characters. She’s a versatile artist that covers a niche that just doesn’t exist in Japan. Her reputation for tattooing these unconventional designs have made her famous.
Based in Tokyo, Yume shows off a bit of Japanese tattoo styles that don’t get the spotlight. The cutesy, simple aesthetic of some of her tattoos rarely make it into anime. Unless, of course, we talk about cute animal mascots. Nonetheless, it’s a style that appears in Japanese children’s shows, slice-of-life fantasy manga, general Japanese youth art, and common product lines (Hello Kitty, anyone?). The simple style is only one of her techniques, but it makes her unique compared to the other Japanese tattoo artists on this list.
Along with her unique style, she tattoos regular manga and cartoon characters. Japanese subjects like fans, swords, or moon shapes show up, but they have a unique flair that makes them different from normal Irezumi. She does have one or two examples of traditional Japanese and American tattoos in her gallery, so the styles aren’t beyond her skill level. She simply prefers to explore her own style! If you’re interested in seeing unique tattoos, a variety of styles, and a clever use of color, then Yume is the artist to check out.
Mutsuo works at Three Tides Tattoo in the heart of Tokyo. He uses traditional Japanese Irezumi styles, with his portfolio showing more yokai, dragons, koi, samurai, sea creatures, and tigers than anyone else on this list. He uses a soft coloring style that makes the pigment blend out smoothy. This creates a greater amount of contrast around his lines and helps the tattoos stand out. If you can’t travel to Japan, you can find him in tattoo conventions around the world.
Kei Spin shows an excellent mastery of black and white tattoos. You can find him in the heart of Tokyo using a style many would consider American. Lots of the tattoos look like they could go straight onto a gang member. Many of them look three dimensional, as if they would pop out at any second! His portraits are superb and avoid the uncanny valley that many tattoos of that nature have. He can tattoo anything you request of him, judging by his gallery. Kei Spin knows how to use pigment to accent his tattoos, though his specialty is definitely black and white tattoos.
When people talk about Sailor Jerry’s style, they talk about a blend of American and Japanese tattooing. However, what if someone took that combination just a bit further? What if they blended it in a way where you couldn’t be sure which it pulled more from? Vin Uehara does just that. There is such a variety of subject matter in his portfolio that you’re just as likely to find a sailor tattoo as you are to find one suited to samurai. He also explores the world of modern tattooing, with fully colored roses and beautiful portraits of animals nestled in among his classics.
While he might be popular, he still thinks of other artists. He fills his instagram with tattoo examples, flash designs, works in progress, illustrations, drawings, and anything else a newbie tattoo artist would want to see from a professional. It’s fun seeing how Uehara continues to grow and influence those around him. He works alongside Marcio Yuge in WTS Tattoo Studio.
The Continuing Art of the 10 Most Famous Tattoo Artists in Japan
Looking at the artists on this list, the huge differences between Japanese tattoo styles becomes apparent. Art that imitates anime stands side-by-side with designs of koi and dragons that adorned the backs of samurai centuries ago. You can learn all about tattooing in Japan in our dedicated article on the topic. Modern tattoo machines compete with traditional tattooing methods. Even the choice of ink and pigment differs depending on the training and background of the artist.
Japan has a history of tattooing that goes back thousands of years. Tattoos intertwine with their history and culture. No one in the world could dream of separating the two concepts. Tattoos stood in the spotlight as marks of honor and hung back as symbols of crime. These drastic changes are natural with such a powerful art form. With the 10 most famous tattoo artists in Japan, you see how the cycle continues to this day.