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Le corps tatoué au Japon

Philippe Pons

No person who spends his vacations on the beaches in Europe – and in Italy in particular! – could spend a single day without seeing all sorts of tattooed anatomies parade across the beach. These can be butterflies, serpents, as well as barcodes or numbers –as if the death camps had not warned us against this type of inscription. As we all know, tattoos have a long history intertwined with that of marginal groups or groups with a strong identity, such as prisoners, or sailors. Now it has become a universal fashion. This essay, written by a person who is very knowledgeable of the country, where he spent years as the correspondent of newspaper Le Monde - teaches us Japan underwent a similar fad in the beginning of the 19th century. Not only among stable boys, rickshaw drivers, prostitutes, and various members of the mob, but among the uprooted proletariat in the growing cities. It reached such a point that Shoguns decided to forbid all tattoos, both decorative as well as ignominious – and punish the culprits with a fine or prison. Photograph notebooks show the creations of current masters – Horihide or Horiyoshi II – and a snapshot on page 129 sends shivers down the spine. It is an object from the collection of Doctor Fukushi, kept under glass at the university of Tokyo, a human skin. The name of the generous donator is not given.

Le corps tatoué au Japon by Philippe Pons, Gallimard, 2018, 160 p., €25.

Le corps tatoué au Japon - Philippe Pons

Review published in the newsletter #524 - from 6 September 2018 to 12 September 2018

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