Just think.

If you want to appear really scary and formidable, give a flash of your tattoo the next time you take your kids to a Japanese pool. In doing so, you may earn the honor of being associated with an organized gang (Yakuza). Your ability to endure the colored needle shows your loyalty to the gang- and more importantly the fact that you can tolerate excruciating pain.  Or not. Tattoos (irezumi) have a strange history here in Japan- but nonetheless they used to be associated with the yakuza (Japanese mafia)- and it still persists. If you travel throughout Japan, you will notice resorts, onsens and water parks require you to cover up your art- or you’ll be banned altogether.

It’s pretty common to see an American’s bulging bicep adorned with cherry blossoms, a large koi swimming the downstream current of the latismis dorsi and least we forget a script of Kanji close to that ankle bone. Even though Japanese symbols make an appropriate “souvenir”- most Japanese locals still don’t become a needle slave. Isn’t that a tattoo shop on 35?

A lovely reader, Diane Isla was willing to showcase her tattoo adorned with her three kiddos names. I asked her a few questions about her experiences at Needle Slave, a local tattoo parlor. So give her the much needed adoration that all good tattoos deserve. Thanks, Diane!

1. Why did you choose Needle slave?

I opted for Needleslave because it was close by where I lived, for one, the other reason being that once I popped in for an impromptu visit I was happy with the cleanliness, the tattoo artist’s knowledge, and the overall vibe of the parlor.

2. Did you create your own tattoo? How? Did they have a lot to choose from?

I arrived at the shop with a general idea of what I wanted…my kids’ names in conjunction with a star of some kind. Dan Dan the Tattoo Man (that is what I named him…his name is just Dan) hooked me up with this computer to browse different designs. All the designs had the ability to be altered if I requested. There were about 50 pages of stars for me to look at. I chose one and told him about my kids’ names and he gave me a few suggestions as far as font type, but ultimately I made the choices. He was really helpful, yet wanted the decision to be up to the customer.

3. Did they speak English?

Dan was American and his other co-worker at the time I was in there was also American. So no worries on a language barrier.

4. Did you make an appointment?

When I had initially walked in to check out the place, next thing I knew I was picking my design and making an appointment to get inked that same visit. There was a $40 deposit (for most all tattoos) and the rest paid at the time of the appt. which was about two weeks down the road (by my request). He could have done it sooner than that.

5. What was the approximate cost? How long did it take to finish your tattoo?

My tattoo cost a total of $65, which was awesome!! I thought the price was easily comparable to the states…maybe even cheaper! My appt time was for 7:00pm and I was done before 8:00pm. I’m glad he was a diligent worker.

6. Any other information that you think a reader should know before getting a tattoo:

First I would like to say that if you are planning on checking out Needleslave, the shop moved recently. It is located on Hwy 58 south of Foster between the Commissary gate and the 58 bypass on the right hand side. There is a sign with SHOP 58 on it, parking nearby and it is upstairs I believe. The hours are Weekdays 5pm-12am and Weekends 1pm-12am. They are closed every Tuesday. The phone number is 090 3790 3604. The webpage is:

Now that the particulars are out there, my personal tidbit of info you should consider before getting a tattoo is the obvious of making sure it is what you want on your body for the rest of your life. Also, it might be wise to consider whether or not you plan on giving blood on There are rules forbidding people with recent ink to give blood. You can call the Blood  Donor  Center for more specifics on the time frame. Other than that…have fun and be creative!!

So, dear readers, have you had a tattoo done while stationed in Okinawa?

What art did you have done? Why?

Where did yo go? How was the experience?

Do tell.


  1. I had a tattoo done last week at Kaori’s and love it. The studio was clean and they were very accommodating to my kiddos. They refined my design and it looks awesome. She speaks perfect English.

    It is the bottom floor of a high-rise behind Starbucks/Blue Seal/Autobaks, across from Lester’s main gate.

  2. I agree!Oneshot Tattoo is the most proffessional shop on the island with the most authentic japanese and American traditional tattoo’s.
    The guest artists they bring over are some of the Worlds best!Oneshot’s artists also are the only artists on the island featured in many japanese and international magazines and do guest spots at some of the more famous tattoo conventions around the World.

  3. Shortly after arriving on the island I began researching tattoo shops. I researched and researched and researched. I wasn’t too concerned about cost but definitely quality. I found One Shot Tattoo down in Naha. The guys there do absolutely phenomonal work. If you are looking to get a larger piece and are very concerned about how it will turn out, I would suggest any of these guys all the way. I got an entire back piece, although it was done by a guest artist that was from Puerto Rico. Every month One Shot has a new guest artist from pretty much any given place from around the world, they bring in the best.
    Most of the artists speak pretty good English, mine of course spoke it fluently. I was actually surprised at how much the tattoo cost me, very comparable from those I have received in the states. I actually plan on returning in a year or two for another tat and would highly recommend this place to anyone interested. Here’s their site: http://www.wundergr tropical/ tracking/ wp200815_ 5day.html# a_top

  4. My husband and I (as well as my friend and her husband) have had tattoos done by Taka at Bonten. It’s not a very big or advertised studio but he does a great job! I have a large cherry blossom tree on my shoulder to represent my time spent here and my husband has a Japanese devil mask. I plan on getting at least 1 more tattoo while we’re here!

  5. I never knew about Coko’s. I will have to check that place out. I am so itching to get my last and final tattoo of 5 lil sea turtles real soon. I’ll go back to Dan if I can. He did me right!! Hopefully it will be my last crave…

  6. I’m dying for ink! It’s been way to long since my last fix. When we got here and I started making plans to get work done I found out I was prego. So between that and nursing baby #3 I haven’t had a fix in over 2 years 🙁
    As for donating blood, you have to wait 1 year after any tattoo or piercing.

  7. Great info! I say I am done after each tattoo I get but always end up going back for more! And, of course I will be getting one here at some point, not sure where (as in body and place) or what, but I know it will happen!
    I say I have 6, but you will see 3. There are add-ons. 1st at 18, a yinyang. That universal sign of balance. Got that in London. 6 yrs later got the I-ching around that yinyang. I used to know all the meanings but long forgotten with Mummy brain! Again, London. Next, in ’97 right ankle, Bronx, NYC “real” in graffiti tag. That was my name and still is to some! It hurt A LOT!
    2001 – London, back to same tattoo studio in London as i-ching (unfortunately, the lady who had done the i-ching one had passed away of cancer) Her boss (the owner) did my butterflies and ‘April Celeste’. Along came Lewis and of course I had to have a tat representing him, so his name on my L shoulder, San Diego, 2005/6. Then an add on to his name. A hibiscus flower, everywhere in my life now (you don’t find these in London!) and I love to photograph these flowers. Got that just early this yr, Santa Monica, AC. Sorry for the long reply :o) I ramble!

  8. I have 6 tattoos total, 2 of which I’ve gotten in the 9 months we’ve lived here. I’ve gone to Coko’s for both, and could NOT be happier. Coko’s is run by Ken, a former US Marine, and his Okinawan wife. They are both great, friendly people. Ken’s art is amazing, and the prices are very reasonable, much less than the art I got done in Hawai’i and Maryland. I don’t mind paying more for a quality tattoo, but with Ken you get the best of both worlds.

    Coko’s is located just outside of Kadena Gate 1. They’ve got a great website with maps here: