By Crystal Morey
When asked to do some interviews over here in Japan for the TAM Blog I immediately thought of profiling Kishi San from 56 Tattoo in Shibuya, Tokyo. In the tragic aftermath of the quake in Japan’s Tohoku prefecture, Kishi-San immediately went into action contacting his immense web of tattooers and organizing his motorcycle club, the 56 Syndicate, to assist in the still ongoing struggle. I sat down with him and Ako (owner of Ghetto Culture and brother to everyone in the Tokyo underground scene) for a coffee…
Crystal Morey: Let’s start with your tattoo career. How long have you been tattooing and who did you study under?
Kishi-San: 56 Tattoo has been around for 22 years. I’m a self-taught tattooer, being a Harley Davidson enthusiast I was always drawn to tattoos. I eventually became part of the Horitoku family but I prefer to tattoo with machines instead of the traditional tebori (hand poke) style of my master.
CM: You are known worldwide for your skulls…particularly your signature one-eyed skulls, almost everyone I know around here has a 56 skull somewhere on them, it’s badge of honor for people in the underground scene here, how many do you think you’ve done in your career?
Kishi-San: (Belly laughs) I have no idea! Well over 1000!!! I’ve lost count!
CM: Why the one-eye… What’s the story behind that?
Kishi-San: I can’t see out of one of my eyes. I had an operation and they saved the eye but I doesn’t work. So the one-eyed skulls became a sort of mascot for my shop and motorcycle club. People that know the story will ask for their skulls to have only one eye but I do get asked to do them both ways. I like tattooing them, to be honest there really isn’t anything I don’t like to tattoo. I’m not exclusive to one style, I do anything from Japanese Traditional imagery to American Traditional -I like it all.
CM: Where is your shop and how does a foreigner go about booking an appointment with you?
Kishi-San: 56 Studio is located in the heart of the Dogenzaka in Shibuya, Tokyo. I prefer foreigners to please call the shop to book, and to give me at least a month’s notice.
CM: Let’s talk about Support the Underground. What is it, and how did it come about?
Kishi-San: SxTxUx is an organization founded by Mr. Narita, owner of a custom cycle shop called Phantom Gate and singer for the band Hash Ball, and includes individuals from all facets of the Tokyo underground scene – tattooers, artists, bikers, skaters, graffiti artists, bike messengers, and musicians.Mr. Narita called a few of us bike club leaders and asked for our assistance biking supplies into areas where cars and trucks couldn’t go.
When I got the call I thought why stop at just bikers and put a collective call out to all my friends, and they in turn called they’re friends, and so on. Ako and a Tokyo based photographer named Motoyan established Support The Underground and gave Mr.Narita’s organization web presence and international contributions as well.
Ako: We have made numerous runs now, received thousands of dollars in supplies and are still going strong. Tattooers have made t-shirts and shops have donated charity goods and we’ve even set up a PayPal account for donations. (SxTxUx PayPal Account: firstname.lastname@example.org)
CM: Have you been up there personally?
Kishi-San: Yes. It’s truly like Godzilla came stomping through the city. Those people still have no running water or electricity. We have been going to a small fisherman neighborhood once a month removing debris, the mud and dead rotting fish. The storm left water pocket everywhere which has in turn brought huge swarms of mosquitoes and disease. It’s a mess. Three villagers were attempting to clear it alone, with our group of 80 it’s getting done a lot faster. (Laughs)
We are delivering food door to door and are on hand to determine what is needed from one week to the next. They are attempting to rebuild but are essentially starting from zero. Those that left did, but many people have no where else to go and no means to get there. They still need a lot of help.
I know this is a blog for tattooers and I apologize for taking off on a “save the people” tangent with this post, but for everyone here in Japan, tattooing is still secondary to getting the country back on its feet, so I felt obligated to report on the reality of life here at the present.
If you’ve ever tattooed a koi fish, or a dragon, it’s time to acknowledge the deep roots Japan maintains in the tattoo community and get involved. Help.