Yesterday, the LA Times published "Horihide still practices the dying art of hand tattoo" -- Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore's article on the Japanese tebori master Oguri Kazuo aka Horihide. It's a fantastic read and one that I wish was ten times longer to get a greater sense of the rich tradition this master carries forth as he continues to tattoo at age 79.
The article follows a Japanese-born American software manager, Motoyama Tetsuro, as he goes to Gifu, Japan to finish a tattoo that began decades ago. Here's a taste:
With old masters passing away and young apprentices lacking the patience to learn the painstaking craft of tebori (hand tattooing), many followers believe its days are numbered.
Software managers have not made up the bulk of Horihide's clientele. Yakuza and geisha wear much of the master's art. And while the popularity of tattooing expands beyond the underground in Japan today, it still holds deep social stigma -- as evidenced by Osaka's crazy right-wing mayor ordering government employees to reveal whether they are tattooed, then basing employment decisions on this. As the article notes, this stigma still keeps artists like Horihide "under a cloak of secrecy" -- or at least out of the spotlight for the large part, making profiles like this in a mainstream publication a rare treat.
Horihide also talks about his start in tattooing as an apprentice at the age of 19, where he suffered beatings to learn the craft. There are some great quotes, which left me wanting more. So I did a search and came up with this 1996 essay for Tattoos.com in which Horihide muses on his life as a teenage gang leader to becoming a tattoo artist and later meeting Sailor Jerry. Also a must read.
Great stories and a bit of history.
Our go-to source for historic photos, including but not limited to tattoos, is The Selvedge Yard. What's particularly cool about the site is that editor JP also puts the images in context with interesting background info.
Our most recent fave, which Pat dug up, is this post on Japanese tattooing in the 40s called:
Ancient Art of the Japanese Tebori Tattoo Masters: Ink in Harmony.
Images include the one above of "A group of traditionally tattooed gamblers," hand-tattooing (tebori) on women, and preserved tattooed skins, among other beautiful photos. They illustrate the words of legendary Japanese master Horihide, which were taken (in their entirety) from his personal story told on Tattoos.com. Here's a taste of that story:
When I was an apprentice, feudal customs still existed in Japan. The apprenticeship was one of the feudal customs called uchideshi in Japanese. Normally, pupils lived with their masters, and were trained for 5 years. After 5-year training, the pupils worked independently, and gave the masters money that he earned for one year. The one-year service was called oreiboko in Japanese, the service to express the gratitude towards the masters. The masters usually told new pupils about this system, 5-year-training and 1-year service, when they began the apprenticeship.
[I chose this particular quote to shut up whiny tattoo apprentices today who think they have it so rough.]
For much more of Horihide's stories on Japanese tattooing--from apprenticeships to traditional designs to the tebori technique to tattoo thieves--go to the original article on Tattoos.com.
Our past posts on The Selvedge Yard:
John Mack offers another guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years Check out his previous posts: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.
In a comment to my last post, a reader inquired about the difference between machine and the tebori (hand poke) tattooing. I was just going to tell you about that.
As for how it feels, the location matters much, much more than the method. The main sensory difference is the sound and cadence of tebori. After this video above of Horiyoshi III doing tebori winds up to full speed, I can almost feel it myself.
Horiyoshi explained that it is the result attained after about four years that makes the biggest difference. He said that a machine works best for outlining because its precise, thin line does not spread over the years while tebori does spread into soft, smooth gradients ideal for shading. He had an almost poetic way of stating it in Japanese that went something like, "The disadvantage of one method is an advantage in one application, and the disadvantage of the other method is an advantage in the other application."
Horiyoshi then commented, "You like tebori better, don't you, John-san." This man can see right through me. I guess I do like tebori, not because it feels any better, but because it's a rarer and more authentic experience that yields a superior result. Both methods use needles, and getting stuck with needles hurts.
For the past few years, Horiyoshi has used a machine exclusively. When I asked about this, he said that as one ages, it becomes difficult to perceive fast-moving objects. He dramatized by waving his hand past his face, then making a mystified expression as if he had missed something.
As you can see in the video, your skin moves around quite a bit during tebori, but with a machine, it stays relatively stationary. So, no more hand tattooing for this master.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos, and we all keep him really busy. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
Editor's Note: In our survey, many of you wanted to read more personal experiences from other tattooed readers: not the reality show "every tattoo has a meaning" thing but stories on creating the design, choosing the tattooist, the vibe of the shop, the artist's bedside manner, plus any fun anecdotes. Well, I've got something gooood for you. In a weekly series, guest blogger John Mack shares his stories on getting tattooed by Japanese master, Horiyoshi III. Here is Part 1.
By John Mack
I've been getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III for nine years now. Originally attracted by his first class tattooing, I also had the pleasure of getting to know a fascinating and intelligent individual. I've experienced a side of Japanese society that I otherwise would not have encountered. This has been by far the most interesting application of my Japanese language skills.
Getting tattoos all over your body is never boring, but an unexpected bonus has been the amusing anecdotes I've accumulated. I'd like to share some of them with you. I'll start with how I met Horiyoshi III and how I chose him to transform my skin.
I had admired tattoos since I was a boy and had dabbled in hidden tattoos. In 2000, I decided that at last it was time to go big with a backpiece. I began my search for a local San Francisco artist skilled in Japanese style tattooing, but Japanese style was not enough. For me, Japan itself was an essential component of this adventure. I decided to go directly to the source of the art form.
On my next trip to Japan, I interviewed two artists. My first consultation was with Horitoshi, whose art I had long admired. I arrived punctually for my appointment. An apprentice greeted me at the door. I was cordially invited to sit down to discuss to the tattoo. The apprentice brought us tea. I held forth in my most formal Japanese. Horitoshi responded in kind. Now this was first class. They made the people at Brooks Brothers look like fishmongers.
I explained that on my back I wanted a traditional dragon with black scales, red belly and yellow dorsal fins. He examined my back, took careful notes and agreed to tattoo a dragon on me. Horitoshi was not just Japanese style, this man was the real thing--a first class craftsman with impeccable etiquette.
The other consultation was with Horiyoshi III. He told me to just show up any time. Such informality is so uncharacteristic in Japan that I called a few minutes before my arrival to make sure it really was okay. When I arrived at the Noge studio, he was tattooing a client. The client did not seem to mind my intrusion; I myself would later come to welcome the diversion provided by such visitors. Horiyoshi listened to my plans as he worked. During his next break, Horiyoshi took a brief yet thoughtful look at my back and agreed to tattoo me. Horiyoshi had that rare balance of familiarity and formality, confidence and humility possessed only by those few who are accomplished and intelligent, while also managing to be pleasant people.
Success. My top two choices in the world of tattooing had agreed to accept me as a client. Both men were professionals I could trust. I liked both Horitoshi's more muted and traditional work, and also Horiyoshi's louder, evolved yet traditional style. Either way, I was in for a sublime tattoo experience.
In the end, the tiebreaker was not skill or style, but location. Getting tattooed requires a huge time commitment, and Horiyoshi's Yokohama studios were more convenient. The three-hour round trip to Horitoshi's studio from my usual base of operations was too much. Ironically, I once lived just down the street from Horitoshi's studio. Too bad I missed him then.
Having made my decision, it was time for action. I'll tell you about the first tattoo session with Horiyoshi III in my next guest post.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos. People are no longer welcome to just show up at his studio without an invitation. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
Photo of Andy Lin by Sean Toussaint
At last Friday's party, a lot, and I mean A LOT, of women (and a couple of guys) came up to me to say they loved our new "Objectified Tattooed Men" series where we, yeah, objectify tattooed men. As the last three men featured are "taken," a request for an unattached hottie was made. At least to help the fantasy along. And I shall not disappoint.
Behold the awesome Andy Lin.
* City: New York City / Rochester, NY (born)
* Age: 31
* Relationship status: Single (yes, ladies!)
* Work: Photographer / Bartender/ Artistic Coordinator for Other Worlds Are Possible
* Fun: Dodgeball, big buck hunter, cooking, yoga, and lounging around with my cat.
* Music: right now, listening to the Animals, Bob Dylan, Citizen Cope, Arcade Fire, Souls of Mischief, Van Morrison, The Secret Machines, Wu-Tang, Jeff Buckley, and Johnny Cash.
I used to play in this band: Nozomi Phoenix.
* Tattoo: Blackwork Lotus by Shinji Horizakura.
"Shinji Horizakura, who is now at Brooklyn Adorned, did it back when he was at New York Adorned on 2nd Ave. My first tattoo. It's a lotus flower. With an edge. But really it's an artistic distillation of who I am, and I feel an accurate one at that: it was created by my ex-girlfriend, someone who knows me better than most. Save for the outline, which was done by machine, the entire piece was done by the Tebori traditional Japanese hand poke technique. Getting this tattoo was incredibly meditative and fulfilling. I got it back in 2006 and it still hasn't settled into my skin. When I wear a wifebeater, the tattoo peeks out from either side and makes it look like I've got wings."See a video of Shinji working by hand (at Miami Ink).
If you wanna be objectified, or are being forced to by your friends, send me a pic and your stats to marisa at needlesandsins.com.
This weekend, I was asked about one of my fave Japanese tattooing tomes, aptly called Tattoo in Japan by Edition Reuss.
While I wrote about it for Needled.com, I wanted to post here as well because I feel this photo book is must for any serious tattoo collector.
Unlike many other Japanese tattoo books, it shows the full spectrum of tattoo art in Japan today from the traditional bodysuits adorning Yakuza to interpretations of Americana and tribal tattoo work by the new school of Japanese tattooists.
The 320-page hardcover can be ordered from here for 89 Euros or for $165 US from Last Gasp Books or 61 British Pounds from Amazon UK.
Check our Flickr photoset for a taste.
You'll be hearing more about Edition Reuss as they're publishing my upcoming book. More on that soon.