Preparing for Your First Tattoo Experience

What can a person expect for their first tattoo experience? They can expect to have an awesome time. So long as they come prepared and in the right state of mind.

A Horimitsu tiger tattoo on a forearm. Whether large or small, your first tattoo experience can determine how you feel about your tattoo. That's why it's critical to be prepared.

Whether large or small, your first tattoo experience can determine how you feel about your tattoo. That’s why it’s critical to be prepared.

Get Lots of Rest

This is pretty self-evident. Both the mind and body will be better able to handle the process if they’ve had lots of rest. This means trying to get a full night’s sleep prior to the day of the tattoo session. It also means avoiding any strenuous activity that will leave the body sore and tired.

Get Fluids

Stay hydrated! The process of being tattooed is physically demanding on the body. And much like any physical activity being hydrated is just part of setting yourself up for success. It also helps to bring along some water or fluids for during the tattoo session. Avoid soda and super sugary drinks.

This doesn’t mean pound water or Gatorade… It is possible to overdo it. It really won’t help the tattooist or recipient if you need to stop every five minutes and run to the bathroom. Be hydrated and comfortable.

Eat a Good Meal

Who needs an excuse to eat? In this case it’s well warranted. Not only will the tattoo client be tied up for the next couple of hours but their body will need the nutrients to deal with the increase in adrenaline and the process of having needles applied to the skin repeatedly.

People who feel faint or nauseous during their tattoo appointment usually haven’t had sufficient food or liquid and their blood glucose levels are quite low. Be kind to your body and it will be kind to you in turn.

It’s also a good idea to bring a few small snacks for the session to keep up energy. It goes without saying that meals and snacks should be healthy choices when possible. Proper nutrition will help the preparation and healing process.

A bowl of noodles sits in front of a grill for meat. Tipping in Japan precludes leaving gratuity for meals such as this.

Reimen is a specialty of in Iwate. The noodles are very chewy and the broth is usually cold. A delicious regional treat!

Comfortable Clothing

This point is often neglected. We are in the habit of dressing in a certain manner every time we step out the door and it doesn’t always occur to dress for our destination. I’m certainly not thinking if I’m dressed correctly for grocery shopping when I head out to do the daily rounds. In this case it can really affect a tattoo recipient’s comfort level during the process.  And many people neglect to take this into account for their first tattoo experience.

Applying irezumi to the skin means accessing the canvas area. It’s best to wear clothing that will allow easy access to the entire area. Or wear clothing that can be easily removed and put back on over the area in question. Loose clothing is ideal as the tattoo will be bandaged at the end of the session before leaving and putting on tight clothing can dislodge the dressing. Loose fitting clothing is also good for the healing process as you won’t want fabric pressed against a fresh tattoo.

Otherwise wear general clothing that is comfortable for staying in a static position for a couple of hours. Tattoo artists don’t want to deal with someone squirming around.

Bring Identification

Bring valid and current ID. If you’re travelling this generally means a passport.  This is because a driver’s license from a different country isn’t likely to help out much.  At least something that has your name and age on it.  Lots of people forget this for their first tattoo experience and it can cause major delays.

There are age restrictions. Tattooing in Japan faces greater stigma relative to Western countries.  And artists can subsequently face greater scrutiny from authorities.  Your artist wants to do their due diligence.

Don’t Use Drugs or Alcohol

This isn’t an ill informed social commentary from the 80’s. It’s just a good idea if you have a tattoo appointment coming up. A night out involving drugs or alcohol has been shown to disrupt sleep.  And there is significant time required for the mind and body to recover afterwards.

The tattoo appointment will be much more enjoyable if there isn’t a hangover to deal. It also helps the recovery process.

Avoid Painkillers and NSAIDs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Aspirin, Motrin, and other ibuprofen or acetylsalicyclic acid based medicines, reduce inflammation and provide an analgesic effect. Inflammation is part of the body’s response to wounding. As such, the skin being punctured by the tattoo needles may not coagulate as it normally would. This can lead to excessive bleeding and if this happens the tattooist will likely halt the session.

Acetminophen (Tylenol and other Paracetamol medicines) on the other hand is not an anti-inflammatory. It can be taken but it’s unlikely that it will provide much pain relief. It’s better if taken in small doses during the healing process if the pain is quite bothersome.

There are topical anesthetics that can be applied to the skin numbing it from pain. These usually contain lidocaine or some other ‘caine’ drug. Many are often marketed and sold explicitly for numbing the skin before tattooing. We don’t recommend these and definitely do NOT use these without discussing it with your artist first. Don’t apply anything to your skin before first discussing it with your artist.

If pain is something you’re very concerned about read through these articles on pain and how to manage pain related to tattooing.

Horishige Doing a Tebori Tattoo. A client may be asked to rest in unusual positions for extended periods of time. That's why it's important to have comfortable clothing. Being comfortable can help mitigate pain and prevent the need to use NSAIDs. Very important for your first tattoo experience.

Horishige Doing a Tebori Tattoo. A client may be asked to rest in unusual positions for extended periods of time. That’s why it’s important to have comfortable clothing. Being comfortable can help mitigate pain and prevent the need to use NSAIDs.

Plan the Route

Make sure to look up the route to the tattoo studio well in advance. If it’s in an area that is unfamiliar it makes sense to do a dry run and pop into the shop before the appointment.

It’s also important to consider the time of day. If transiting or driving during rush hour will be required, it’s good to know in advance.

Generally it’s best to have more than enough time to get to the tattoo appointment without rushing. Being super early means having enough time to grab a drink and a snack for the session!

Relax and Have Fun

There you go! A few do’s and a couple of don’t’s. Following these simples pieces of advice will make sure your tattoo is a stress-free and enjoyable day.