At the very first anime convention I ever went to, one of the guests was Go Nagai, creator of numerous manga, including Devilman, Mazinger, and Cutey Honey. During his autograph signing session, while most fans came up to Nagai’s table with comic books or posters for him to sign, one attendee rolled up his sleve and asked him to sign his Cutey Honey tattoo, which the artist good-naturedly did.

But while many dedicated overseas anime fans have offered their bodies as canvases for their favorite art form, the practice hasn’t completely caught on in Japan. Recently, though, there’s been an upswing in anime tattoos, which some have taken to calling ita-tattoos.

Much like the anime-decal covered itasha cars that inspired their name, ita-tattoos are what happens when hard-core anime fans really want to display their devotion.

IT 1

Ita-tatoos, also called wota-tattoos (from the hip new way to spell otaku, “wotaku”), are a triply bold choice, as in Japan tattoos in general, an obsession with anime past the age of 20, and even excessive individuality itself are all likely to earn you a few disapproving looks.

Still, some fans’ love of their favorite character is stronger than their fear of social stigmas, which leads them to the tattoo parlor with a piece of sample artwork in hand.

Anime tattoos are still a pretty small subset of the body art scene in Japan, and most studios get one or two such requests a year, at most. Things are a little different at Diablo Art in Yokohama, though, where resident tattoo artist Aki creates two or three ita-tattoos a month.

▼ A Diablo Art ita-tattoo

Aki himself has a long-standing love of anime, saying he was an otaku growing up. Going to a rough junior high school, though, he felt pressured to hide his passion in order to avoid being bullied, and it wasn’t until several years after finishing his education that he once again felt comfortable being openly a fan of anime.

Now, he’s helping other fans broadcast their love of Japanese animation. Despite his many years in the hobby, Aki admits that even he isn’t familiar with each and every character a customer requests. As a professional, though, he doesn’t feel right inking a customer without having a proper background in the source material, so in the event that someone comes in with a drawing of a character he’s never seen before, the tattoo artist will track down and watch the series before doing any other work on the project.

Despite the slowly rising popularity of ita-tattoos, Aki still bemoans the current cliate regarding body art in Japan. “Especially on the Internet, when some people see someone with tatoos, they’ll say things like, ‘Go someplace and die.’”

The hostile reaction is partly due to Japan’s former practice of tattooing convicted criminals during the Edo Period, which lasted from the 17th to 19th centuries. Attitudes are slowly changing with time, though, as a growing number of Aki’s customers are taking what was once a mandated mark of shame and turning it into a self-imposed badge of pride.

Related: Diablo Art website
Sources: Hachima Kiko, Otakuma