Shodai Horiren (pictured below) got her first tattoo as a lark on a trip to Australia nearly three decades ago. Now, tattooed head to foot, even on her shaven scalp, she is one of Japan's most renowned traditional tattoo artists.
4 Sep 2020. Warabi, JAPAN. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Horiren prays in front of an altar before tattooing a customer at her studio.
"Your house gets old, your parents die, you break up with a lover, kids grow and go," said Horiren, 52, at her studio just north of Tokyo.
"But a tattoo is with you until you're cremated and in your grave. That's the appeal."
Horiren belongs to a proud, growing tribe of Japanese ink aficionados who defy deeply-rooted taboos associating tattoos with crime, turning their skin into vivid palettes of colour with elaborate full-body designs, often featuring characters from traditional legends.
24 Sep 2020. Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Restaurant owner Hiroshi Sugiyama lies in the water at a Japanese public bath called a "sento”.
Banned from spas, hot spring resorts, some beaches and many gyms and pools, the enthusiasts hope the presence of tattooed foreign athletes at last year's Rugby World Cup and next year's Tokyo Olympic Games - postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic - will help sweep away suspicion.
3 Jul 2020. Warabi, JAPAN. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Horiren walks in rain.
"If you watch the All Blacks do the haka with all their tattoos, it makes your heart beat faster," said Horiren, referring to New Zealand's national rugby team and their pre-game ceremony.
"Basketball players are really stylish, too. But here, even boxers cover up with foundation.
16 Feb 2020. Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
People with tattoos attend the annual meeting of the Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association) in Tokyo.
Tattoos have been linked to criminals for as long as 400 years, most recently to yakuza gang members, whose full-body ink-work stops short of hands and neck, allowing concealment under regular clothes.
18 Feb 2020. Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Tattoo model Yuki, 30, performs on set for French pop group Supernaive's music video in Tokyo.
The popularity of Western rock music, though, with musicians increasingly sporting tattoos, has eaten away at this bias.
A court decision last year that tattoos were for decoration, and were not medical procedures, helped clarify their murky legal status and may signal a shift in attitude - perhaps leading the industry to regulate itself, giving it a more mainstream image.
2 Oct 2020. Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
"I usually cover it up, so nobody even in the neighbourhood can say that guy has tattoos. But if I'm walking somewhere or using the train or something, police stop me a lot and ask me to roll up my sleeves to see if I'm using drugs, or if I'm in a gang,” said construction worker Hiroshi Yoshimura.
Referring to them as tattoos rather than "irezumi" - literally meaning "inserting ink" - as is becoming more common, may also help give them a stylish, fashionable veneer.
25 Sep 2020. Niiza, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Mari Okasaka and her son Tenji pose for photographs at their home in Niiza.
"Some people get tattoos for deep reasons, but I do it because they're cute, the same way I might buy a nice blouse," said Mari Okasaka, 48, a part-time worker who got her first tattoo at 28. Her 24-year-old son, Tenji, is working towards having his whole body covered in ink and colour.
16 Feb 2020. Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
People attending Nemoto’s annual gathering that he organises for Irezumi Aikokai (Tattoo Lovers Association), pose for a photo.
Tattoo devotees are edging into the open as well, meeting at large parties to bare and share their designs.
"We may have tattoos but we are happy and bright people," said party organizer and scrapyard worker Hiroyuki Nemoto.
4 Oct 2020. Isumi, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
"Have I had any trouble on beaches because I have a tattoo? Yes, definitely. If I don't hide them, I won't be able to come up on the beach, according to regulations in Kanagawa Prefecture," said Takashi Mikajiri.
Surfer and TV set-maker Takashi Mikajiri, though, is still stopped on some beaches and ordered to cover up.
7 Sep 2020. Warabi, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Yoshihara shows tattoos on her back as she poses for a photograph at her home.
Rie Yoshihara, who works in a shop dressing tourists in kimonos, said her shocked father has still not seen her full back tattoo, while Okasaka wears long sleeves to take out the garbage so her neighbours won't talk.
10 Jan 2020. Hitachinaka, Japan. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Nemoto, 48, poses for a photo with his one-year-old daughter Tsumugi at their home in Hitachinaka.
"In America, if you have a tattoo, people don't really care. There's not really any reaction," said Mikajiri.
"That's the ideal. It'd be really good to just be taken for granted."
PHOTO EDITING MARIKA KOCHIASHVILI; TEXT EDITING TOM HOGUE; LAYOUT JULIA DALRYMPLE