By Crystal Morey
Additional Photos By Hiro Hata
I recently had the opportunity to go out to Horiren’s studio in Saitama. Self-taught tebori (hand-poke) artist and student of legendary Ozuma Kaname. Horiren discusses the disappearing art of Shamisen Bori.
I love going out to Horiren’s, her studio is standard for a traditional Japanese tebori artist, a secluded house with no street signs, traditional tatami mats and a low kotatsu table. Her client today was an older gentleman with an amazing black and grey koi backpiece, laid out on the mats in fundoshi, the diaper-like attire seen in photos…
Crystal Morey: Let’s kickstart this by talking about your personal experiences. How long have you been tattooing? Who did you study with? When compelled you to get into, what is here in Japan, a very male dominated business?
Horiren: I’ve been tattooing for 13 years. My father is a motorcycle mechanic and owns a repair shop and I was doing a motorcycle tour in Australia when I got my first tattoo… [She starts laughing and shaking her head.] It’s a dragon, and I got a grim reaper on that same trip. Ha-ha I keep trying to get them covered but they’re still there…
I’ve been drawn to tattoos for a while and after working as an artist in several different capacities. [She helped design the graphics in many of the earlier 8-bit video games and also worked as a muralist.] I gravitated into tattooing and found my center. I came across a book of Ozuma Kaname and fell in love with his illustrations. I met one of his students, Ryushi, at his gallery show in Ginza and he introduced me to Ozuma Sensei (Master).
I asked and was accepted as one of his art students and was recently paid a great honored by Ozuma when he did a portrait of one of my clients. (Ozuma Kaname does amazing portraits of tattooed Japanese Women and works primarily with Horiyoshi III’s clients as his models).
My studio is in Saitama, about 20 minutes from Tokyo and I recently opened another studio in Osaka and am currently splitting my time between the two. My client base grows predominately through introductions from previous clients. I haven’t noticed the tattoo community here being male exclusive, I’m friends with many tattooers in Japan and work to promote positive ties with them.
CM: Wow, Ozuma Kaname, that’s impressive… What exactly is he showing you? How does that integrate into your tattoo work?
Horiren: He’s showing me how to create balance within my illustrations, how he gives his paintings flow and movement. His works have an amazing vitality I would like to infuse into my tattoos. Studying with him, listening to him talk about art has been such an honor.
CM: I bet. So I’ve known you a while and I know that as a tebori artist you tend to tattoo predominately wabori, (Japanese traditional motifs) although I’ve seen a Star Wars’ samurai and a siberian husky backpiece with your name on them, ha-ha. What is your favorite imagery to tattoo and who do you reference?
Horiren: I love doing yokai (Japanese monsters and goblins). They are so much fun. I like dragons and the Suikoden heroes as well. I reference Kyosai for yokai and demons and use Kuniyoshi for the Suikoden samurai. I’m definitely attracted to the darker motifs!
CM: And you’ve recently started studying (what is now) an almost extinct style of Japanese hand-poke tattooing, can you elaborate on that?
Horiren: Its called Shamisen Bori and I’ve been flying down to Kyushu, with my friend and fellow tattooer Horimyo, to study with Nakamura Sensei, one of three people left in Japan that work using this method, the other two being students of his.
With Shamisen Bori, the needles are attached to a Shamisen pick. [Shamisen are a very traditional Japanese musical instrument much like a banjo, the bamboo pick used to strike the strings is lacquered bamboo, very strong.] Do you remember that Shamisen master we saw? Remember what the leather stretched across it was made from?
CM: Yeah, cat skin. Nasty! Will you show us the tool and how it’s used? It’s held differently, correct? It almost looks like your sewing…
CM: Very cool. You do seem to have quite a few foreign clients, what is the best way for them to get in touch with you and how would a person go about booking an appointment?
Horiren: It’s best if they e-mail me through the website (http://horiren.com/) at least a month in advance. I need to know what they want and where, how big. For larger projects I require a consultation beforehand as well.
CM: Of course. Well I won’t take up any more of your time, thank you for the Shamisen Bori demonstration, amazing.
Horiren: My pleasure!