The 5 best destinations in the world to get a tattoo

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1: San Francisco Bay Area, United States

American Tattoo’s Ben Grillo at work (Bay Area Festival of the Tattoo Arts)

A hotspot for the tattoo revival of the 1960s and 1970s, San Francisco remains a place to find cutting-edge tattoos, as well as solid, traditional work with dozens of excellent tattoo shops. This city can lay claim to being the place where the grandfather of the contemporary tattoo scene, Lyle Tuttle, made his long-term home; you can still get a tattoo in his shop today, although he’s long since retired.

This is also where pioneer Ed Hardy went to art school and began creating his revolutionary blend of Japanese and traditional tattooing. today, his son Doug operates the family business, Tattoo City, with an impeccable group of artists.

As real estate in San Francisco skyrocketed, many artists dispersed to the Bay Area.
Although the inventive black work of Roxx and his team of geometry specialists at 2Spirit Tattoo has now closed its doors in San Francisco and moved to Los Angeles, there are still plenty of top inkers out there.


Sleeve tattoos by State of Grace owner Ryudaibori (John Agcaoili)

The roster of artists at Takahiro Kitamura’s San Jose State of Grace boutique ranges from traditional and innovative Japanese tattooing to those working in Chicano-influenced black and gray and Polynesian styles; he also leads the annual meeting Bay Area Festival of Tattoo Arts every October, if you’re looking to browse the work of the best tattoo artists around the world.

2: Japan


Black Turtles by Genko

In the middle of the 18and century, a new form of tattooing began to take hold Japan. Elaborate, extended horimono (grouped needles attached to the end of a bamboo stalk and dipped in ink) placed the traditional imagery of the Ukiyo-e imprinting tradition on the bodies of those who sought to imitate the tattooed heroes of folklore. This tradition has continued to the present day, although it is tinged with a certain taboo in Japanese society due to the adoption of this art form by Yakuza gangsters.

Many skilled artists, like the venerable Horiyoshi III, still practice classic Japanese tattooing, but obtaining such work requires years of commitment. Newer artists, such as Horimitsu, create updated versions, some using a combination of electric machines and traditional hand tattoo techniques.


Red Dragon by Horimitsu

As elsewhere in the world, tattoo styles have multiplied in Japan. Japanese youth culture favors smaller designs that reference American nostalgia or pop culture. One of Japan’s most innovative new artists, Taku Oshima, tackles incredibly ambitious blackwork compositions, many of which reference JapanThe ancient tattoo past of the Jomon culture from 12,000 to 300 BCE.

3: London


Geisha tattoo by Claudia de Sabe

The UK has arguably the highest percentage of tattooed people in the world, even more than the US. It comes from a long historical tradition from Renaissance pilgrims to the Holy Land, like traveler and alleged spy William Lithgow, who got a tattoo in 1612, to sailors around the world and royals, like King George v.

It’s obvious that London serves as an international epicenter for tattooing: it is home to one of the largest annual tattoo conventions in the world at the end of September each year, with artists of the highest caliber congregating from places near and far.

Almost any type of tattoo you could want to find can be had in London, from old school designs to the most experimental work. In addition to many artists practicing their profession, London also has many regular tattoo exhibits which often feature artwork in other media by tattoo artists.

Historic shops abound, such as Into You owned by 1980s tribal innovator Alex Binnie, and new initiatives, such as Maxime Buchi’s Sang Bleu (a hybrid tattoo shop and art center), which promise to pushing the tattoo ever further into the future.

4: Israel


Wassim Razzouk at work (Anna Felicity Friedman)

Many people might be surprised to find Israel on this list. A popular urban legend claims that you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos, but there is nothing in Jewish law to support this claim. In recent years, the tattoo scene in Tel Aviv has exploded, and it’s hard to walk its bustling streets without seeing plenty of great tattoos. The city recently hosted its first college tattoo symposium, bringing a scholarly air to an already burgeoning scene.

From the pioneering studio Psycho Tattoo, with its many veteran tattoo artists, to the stunning spiritually-inspired dotwork of freelance artist Yasmine Bergner, you can find any style you wish you had applied in this bustling city.

However, if tattoo history is your passion, you must visit Jerusalem, where the oldest continuously operating tattoo company in the world still inscribes Christian pilgrimage marks on the skin of devotees to commemorate journeys to the Holy Land; Wassim Razzouk and his wife Gabrielle Predella can also tattoo you with contemporary designs if you are looking for a different souvenir.

5: Polynesia


Polynesian tattoo art

It is difficult to identify a specific group of islands in Polynesia as the place to visit to get a tattoo. In Samoa, tattooing has strongly persisted despite colonial missionary influence. When artists from the surrounding islands sought to revitalize and reintroduce tattooing into their cultures, many sought out master tattoo artist Sulu’ape Petelo; he and his family still tattoo traditional peas and evil today, as well as modified designs for those of non-Samoan descent.

In New Zealandthe revival of facial care moko and other forms of indigenous Maori tattooing have sparked interest in fusion styles for those of mixed cultural heritage, as well as pakeha (foreigners). Julie Paama-Pengelley creates a wide variety of Maori and Maori influenced designs, while Steve Ma-Ching blends his Samoan and Chinese roots with Maori aesthetics to create a unique style.


Traditional Maori Art by Julie Paama-Pengelly (Norm Heke)

The vast French Polynesia, with its islands scattered for miles across the Pacific Ocean, is home to many artists working primarily in Marquesan-influenced motifs, from Nuku Hiva to Bora Bora to Tahiti. The island of Moorea, a short ferry ride across the bay from the capital Papeete, served as the epicenter of the Polynesian tattoo revival in the 1980s, and some of French Polynesia’s finest artists are still based there today. today, as well as new artists like Mate who updates traditional blackwork with shading and contemporary elements. You can also find a multitude of artists in the capital, Papeete.

Anna Felicity Friedman is a tattoo historian and director of the Center for Tattoo History and Culture. To see tattoohistorian.com

Anna Felicity Friedman’s World Tattoo Atlas is now available, published by Thames & Hudson. To see www.thamesandhudson.com.

Anna is also the head of a new educational foundation, the Center for Tattoo History and Culture, which she currently funds. To find out more, see centrefortattoo.org and to support the crowdfunding visit www.indiegogo.com.

Main image: Contemporary chest tattoo by Trash Polka (Simone Pfaff and Volker Merschky).

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