Kazuma Kiryu, the hero of Sega's Yakuza series, has a back full of yakuza-style ink. But it's not only Japanese gangsters who tattoo themselves. Sometimes it's voice actors.
"Irezumi" (literally, "insert ink") is the traditional Japanese form of tattooing by hand. Tattoos, traditional or Western, are still not mainstream in most of Japan. Among younger Japanese, Western-style tattoos have become fashionable in recent years, but it doesn't matter if the work is traditional or Western, in Japan, tattoos still carry connotations of organized crime. Hence, individuals with tattoos are banned at many public baths or swimming pools in Japan.
That doesn't mean some people in Japan think irezumi is an art form. And that doesn't mean everyone with irezumi sleeves is a yakuza. There are those who are passionately into tattooing, just as in the West.
One of those is stage and voice actor Norio Imamura. He's made a name for himself doing voice work for transvestite character Emporio Ivanko in the One Piece anime and the show's Bandai arcade kiddy card game.
Imamura has spent a decade and somewhere between the equivalent of US$45,000 and $55,000 on his tattoos.
Being proud of his irezumi, Imamura began posting full body photos of himself on his blog starting this past April to show his completed canvas. He wasn't wearing any pants! According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, a 37-year-old male filed a complaint. The voice actor was arrested for the indecent photos — a story that has since made the evening news in Japan.
Under the law, he could be in violation of the Japanese Criminal Code, which states it is illegal to sell or distributing materials that have been deemed obscene.
Besides doing voice work and acting, Imamura also runs a bar for tattoo enthusiasts called "Toh" in Shinjuku where the male staffers are dressed only in loin cloths.