“Japan has been known for centuries as the land where tattooing has achieved the status of an art form; to quote the Kodansha Encyclopedia, it represents “the very highest level of artistic expression”.
What has, until now, been a closely guarded secret within the inner circles of connoisseurs of this macabre art, is that techniques exist, and are used, to save these living canvases from the grave.
Until a few months ago, this skin belonged to Kazuhisa Takahashi, a middle-aged bank-worker, who endured years of pain to have an amazingly elaborate tattoo impregnated across his back, buttocks, upper arms and legs…
Relatives came to Kato, one of the few doctors in Japan who knows the ancient technique of flaying human skin. The method, which involves peeling off the skin and pickling it in a mixture of rice-bran and salt, is not mentioned in the medical texts and was passed down by word of mouth from his old anatomy professor.
After Takahashi’s skin has been thoroughly rinsed, it will be stretched on a frame, dried, and hung in the university’s medical museum. Apart from a slight darkening of the pigment, it should last as well as any old master. About a dozen other works of tattoo art are on display in the museum – a number of arms, a back, and, in a display case stuffed with cotton, the complete, beautifully decorated body of a carpenter who died about 70 years ago….
Indeed, though everyone denies it, there are persistent rumours of a trade in these tattooed skins among Japanese collectors. People are said to have willed their backs for money, and the author D.M. Thomas claims that a particularly glorious specimen sold a few years ago for $US50,000.”