I caught up with Jens Hammer to talk tattoos, pain, and Japanese art.
What was the first tattoo that you got?
My fist tattoo was the smaller one on my shoulder. It’s the sign of my favourite record label.
I always loved the idea of getting tattooed, ever since I was around 20 years old. I think that guys with tattoos look very hot, sexy, and masculine. I just love the look of tattooed skin. It’s a huge turn on for me.
But I wasn’t sure if I would survive the process of being tattooed, because I had no idea what the pain was going to be like. I thought that at first I should try something small — my thinking was that if I could only ever sit through one tattoo, at least I would have my favourite record label from the last 20 years.
What I like about tattoos is that you can show the world what kind of artwork you like — you’re carrying it around with you all the time. So, if somebody asks about Japanese woodblock printing, I can just show my tattoos to explain what it looks like. It also covers up my pale skin, which I was never really happy with.
Plus, I love the process of being tattooed — I found out that I can actually bear quite a lot of pain for a long time, it´s a certain kind of pain that I actually like. So far only the area close to the nipple on the chest hurt quite a bit. The upper chest and inside the arm pits are very sensitive. I wonder how it feels on the rip cage. You hear quite some stories about that area, but I can´t tell yet how that feels. The feeling afterwards, when you are finished is just amazing — the constant pain for hours seems to set free some natural chemical in your brain that makes you feel awesome after the session.
Is there a specific inspiration or story behind each of your tattoos?
The one on my forearm is the combination of a 50s sci-fi movie style UFO and the art of Takashi Murakami, who I adore. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, horror, and genre movies.
All the others are about Japanese woodblock printing. My sleeve on my right arm and chest is a modern take on that kind of art. I just wanted an octopus on my arm. The whole sleeve now shows the ingredients of a famous Japanese meal which is supposed to give strength and a long life. The artist who created it incorporated a few things that are very modern and never appear in traditional Japanese imagery, so my really traditional Japanese tattoo artist is always smiling when he sees my sleeve.
The big one on my left leg is the story of Kana me ishi no fuku. In medieval times it was believed in Japan that catfish cause earthquakes because they would always be swimming around frantically right before an earthquake happened. In Japanese folklore there’s this samurai who puts stones on the head of the catfish to keep them calm and prevent earthquakes. The idea was pitched to me by my tattoo artist, and I liked the image and the story behind it. It was hand needled using the traditional Japanese tattooing style of tebori.
All my artists are Japanese, except one artist from Brazil. I started with a tattoo studio close by that my friends advised me to go. That’s where I met the tattoo artist from Brazil. This whet my appetite for more, so I went to the Tattoo Convention here in Frankfurt, where I was lucky enough to meet the three Japanese tattoo artists Horimyo, Sousyu Hayashi, and Kawai. Kawai-san lives here in Mannheim, Germany — not too far away from where I live. I still want him to do a sleeve on my left arm and chest. Horimyo lives in Den Haag and is nice enough to come to the Frankfurt Tattoo Convention, where I see him for two full days each year. Sousyu is back in Japan, I hope to get a new tattoo by him some day. If I had all the money and the time I wanted, I would have a full Japanese body-suit.
What sort of reaction from guys do you get to your tattoos?
Mostly positive. There’s a guy on Instagram who knows me from my porn days — he totally freaked out because of my tattoos. He gave so many bad comments that he really got on my nerves and I blocked him. I don’t mind critique, but that became unbearable. I love my tattoos! If somebody else has a problem with them, that’s not my problem.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about getting a tattoo?
Don’t start too early — your tastes my change throughout your life and it’s not that easy to get rid of them if you don’t like the artwork anymore. I’m kind of glad that I waited until I was way over 40.
Changes in your body will change the look of your tattoo. If you’re planning on becoming a big body-builder, you should wait until you have all that muscle and then get your tattoo.
The most important thing is not to be cheap with the tattoo artist. The good ones will charge a bit more, and it’s quite an expensive hobby. If the tattoo artist seems to be pretty cheap without any reason, beware. On his Instagram, Kawai-san frequently shows cover-ups he’s doing of old tattoos — it’s quite crazy to see all these bad tattoos he’s covering up.