Sketch in process for Japanese fan tattoo design on the pierFeudal and Edo period Japan was a rich and sophisticated society with finely developed arts and Japanese arts and goods were highly sought after by outsiders, but trade with the West was limited– first going only through a few Portuguese ships per year, and later also through the Dutch. In 1854 the Tokugawa Shogunate opened the country to Western commerce and influence, and the Meiji Restoration beginning in the 1860’s saw an unprecedented push for open trade, modernization, industrial revolution, and education, plus the end of the feudal system and the rise of an educated middle class.

Japonism: Japanese art had a huge influence on French and European arts from the 1860’s through the Art Nouveau period, creating what amounted to a popular craze throughout Europe and America. “From the 1860s, ukiyo-e, Japanese wood-block prints, became a source of inspiration for many European impressionist painters in France and elsewhere, and eventually for Art Nouveau and Cubism. Artists were especially affected by the lack of perspective and shadow, the flat areas of strong color, and the compositional freedom gained by placing the subject off-centre, mostly with a low diagonal axis to the background.” (–Wikipedia)

Japan dock tattoo

Some decorative motifs:

  • Frogs: “Twenty-seven species of frog are found in Japan. Due to an agricultural economy based on the flooded rice paddy, the presence of frogs is considered to bring good fortune. Additionally, the frog has become a creature much beloved in poetry and art. Ceramic frogs are often sold at shrines as the Japanese word for ‘frog’ is the same as ‘to return’.” (–
  • Cranes: “Cranes in Japanese textiles generally represent longevity and good fortune. They are most closely associated with Japanese New Year and wedding ceremonies – for example the crane is often woven into a wedding kimono or obi. …Out of the many shapes, animals and works of art created by origami (Japanese paper folding), the crane is produced most often. It is customary within Japanese culture to fold one thousand paper cranes when making a special wish. Giant colourful necklaces of cranes are a common sight outside Japanese shrines and temples.” (–
  • Sun or Rising Sun: In early Japanese history, the Hinomaru motif was used on flags of daimyos and samurai. The ancient history Shoku Nihongi says that Emperor Mommu used a flag representing the sun in his court in 701, and this is the first recorded use of a sun-motif flag in Japan. (–Wikipedia)
  • Carp: “Primarily a symbol of perseverance, the carp (koi) is also evocative of faithfulness in marriage and general good fortune. …In Japan the carp is most commonly found in placid waters, however it is often depicted in motion, arched upward with sprays of water. This motif suggests the virtues of a determined warrior and is often associated with qualities desirable in young males. A design of carp ascending rapids symbolises the Children’s Day Festival on 5 May, which evolved from the Boy’s Day Festival.” (–
  • Fan: “The fan itself is symbolic, with the small end representing birth and the blades symbolizing the many possible paths leading away from this beginning. Fans were once thought to keep away evil…Holding a fan was also considered restorative to the soul.” (–Siva Stevens)

Crew sketching out the japanese tattoo o the pierTattoo History:

(Reprinted from Wikipedia):

“Tattooing for spiritual and decorative purposes in Japan is thought to extend back to at least the Jōmon or Paleolithic period (approximately 10,000 BCE) and was widespread during various periods for both the Japanese and the native Ainu. Chinese visitors observed and remarked on the tattoos in Japan (300 BCE).”

“Between 1603 and 1868 Japanese tattooing was only practiced by the “ukiyo-e” (The floating world culture). Generally firemen, manual workers and prostitutes wore tattoos to communicate their status. Between 1720 and 1870 criminals were tattooed as a visible mark of punishment; this actually replaced having ears and noses removed. A criminal would often receive a single ring on their arm for each crime committed which easily conveyed their criminality. This practice was eventually abolished by the “Meji” government who banned the art of tattooing altogether, viewing it as barbaric and lacking respectability. This subsequently created a subculture of criminals and outcasts, many of whom were the old Samurai warriors (“Ronin” – Master-less). These people had no place in “decent society” and were frowned upon. They simply could not integrate into mainstream society because of their obvious visible tattoos, forcing many of them into criminal activities which ultimately formed the roots for the modern Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, for which tattoos in Japan have almost become synonymous.”

Japan tattoo design, water detail

Installation Crew:

Design & Sketch: Liz LaManche
Projection techs: Heidi Clark, M.T. Murphy, Tanya Rose, Joe Rodgers
Inking: Katya Reimann, Dan Alroy, Jenn Zawadzkas, Brigid Watson
Shading: Liz LaManche
Surface Protectant: Dan Alroy, Liz LaManche