Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Japan, Ink: Global Flows of 'Deviant' Body Modification" at Pitt, November 28.


Tattoo by Taku Oshima, photo courtesy of his website.

Advance notice for a talk at the University of Pittsburgh's Asian Studies Center on November 28, "Japan, Ink: Global Flows of 'Deviant' Body Modification", by John Skutlin, a PhD candidate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Japan boasts a rich history of tattooing that flourished most visibly in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), when generations of horishi tattoo artists hand-carved intricate full-body tattoos of magnificent dragons, intrepid carp, and courageous heroes upon the flesh of the country’s working classes. In spite of this time-honored tradition, having a tattoo in Japan can prevent one from entering onsen (hot springs), public baths, pools, beaches, and gyms, and can even hinder employment and marriage prospects. Also, tattoo artists are technically punishable under Japanese law for “practicing medicine without a license.” Tattoos have earned increasing acceptance in the U.S. and Europe, with some polls estimating that 1 in 5 American adults have been inked, and similar numbers showing up in the U.K. Why then, in the face of the globalization of tattoo culture, has the stigma against tattooing persisted in Japan, and where did it originate? With increasing numbers of young people in Japan choosing to go under the needle as a fashion statement, how do they cope with the stigma and negotiate the meanings of their body modifications? As the Tokyo 2020 Olympics approach, the subject of tattooing is increasingly coming into Japan’s public spotlight. This talk uses the example of tattooing and other forms of body modification to examine the ways in which systems of “body power” – cultural, social, and institutional frameworks of control over the body – in Japan are both reinforced and challenged by global flows of “deviant decorative body modification,” such as tattooing, piercing, and cosmetic surgery.

John M. Skutlin is an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh's East Asian Languages & Literatures department and a current PhD candidate in Japanese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Having previously researched and written about goth subculture in Japan, his ongoing research project focuses on global flows of body modification in Japan from a cultural anthropological perspective.
The talk will be held from 4:00 pm in 4130 Posvar Hall (map) and is free and open to the public.

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