By Crystal Morey
Sooooo… I was hoping to interview Bunshin Saikian Horimasa while racing through the Nagano mountains in his Porsche 996. He and 69 other Hemi enthusiasts have formed a “touring” club that meets once a month and just drives fast. The 69 Brothers. I was hoping for footage of me screaming obscenities and wishing I had a helmet but on the day we went it was raining. And there were police. With cameras. It was the weirdest thing… We would pull into a truck stop and the police would follow us, one would eventually come over and say how much he liked the cars and asked where were we going, while another car came around the back of us and took photos.
I’m from Texas, when cops are taking your picture on the sly it is NOT good. Back in the car I asked Horimasa if he was concerned and he laughed and said we were fine, that we weren’t ‘bōsōzoku’ (teenage gangs identified by their obscenely festooned motorcycles and cars that they race through the city causing as much noise and mayhem as possible) and we weren’t doing anything illegal. Except doubling the speed limit. He maintained that he and his crew were adults and responsible drivers therefore it was not a problem. We did slow down whenever a cop caught up, and the guys in the back quickly texted the guys in the front to let them know, but no one was pulled over or issued even a warning and, as there are no speed cameras in the tunnels, we did get a fair bit of racing in. We drove for eight hours and is seemed like three, with stops off here and there to see the Shunen no Ishi – the rock of regret*, and eat soba on the peak…
Interviewing Horimasa was harder than I thought it would be. We work together so much I know how he works and what his views on tattooing. We slipped into a discussion on wabori and some of the dos and don’ts of traditional Japanese tattooing, and I decided to focus this blog around that. It was actually a really cool talk because he answered a lot of questions people e-mail me with!
Wabori refers to traditional Japanese tattooing (opposed to yobori which refers to Western style tattoos). Practitioners of traditional wabori follow specific rules of design. The pieces are clear and not cluttered, usually with a central image surrounded by water, wind or clouds. Traditional Japanese tattoos should be recognizable from space. One of the biggest appeals of Japanese tattooing is that it is timeless, a well-rendered piece remains forever a thing of beauty.
Crystal Morey: I think one of the things I get asked most about are flowers. Which flowers go with what, and why…
Horimasa: Botan (peony) is the king of flower and Karashishi (foo dog) is the king of beasts so they always go together. You do not put sakura (cherry blossoms) or kiku (chrysanthemum) with karashishi. Peony is a chinese flower and it goes with animals from chinese mythology -the karashishi, phoenix, snake and tiger.
CM: Can the phoenix or tiger go with anything else?
Horimasa: Yes -the phoenix is versatile and pairs with many things, Ryu (Japanese dragon) karashishi, hebi (snake), sakura, botan, koi (carp). The tiger pairs with bamboo or botan. The snake however pairs only with botan.
CM: Are snakes malevolent or benevolent beings in Japanese mythology?
Horimasa: Snakes are good luck… especially white snakes, white snakes bring money!
CM: Good to know! And there is a rule about mixing flowers, correct?
Horimasa: Yes. Don’t do it. It doesn’t make sense to put sakura with kiku -one is a spring flower and one is a winter one. So for example, taka (hawk) you can put with pine trees or sakura -but not both, and in choosing one you are creating a scene for the hawk.
CM: So what about dragon, what do they pair with?
Horimasa: As far as flowers? I think kiku pairs best with dragon but you can do sakura as well. Japanese dragons do not, as a rule, pair with botan. You can put then in cloud scenes as well, with the face, a claw or two and part of the body showing. The clouds are called Reishi and look like mushroom, they are a symbol for eternal youth.
CM: You see this a lot in sumi paintings. What about Koi?
Horimasa: Koi are also versatile. They can pair with momiji (maple leaves), sakura, botan any flower really, but only one. You don’t do a koi with botan and sakura. It doesn’t make sense.
CM: Why are cranes always paired with Minogame (long-tailed turtles)? I see this imagery all the time working with kimono…
Horimasa: Cranes represent long life -1,000,000 years of long life. Minogame also represents longevity -1,000 years. When these are put together it means a long life full of happiness so it often goes on wedding kimono. Cranes alone are paired with either take (bamboo) or ume (plum) blossoms.
CM: Why do rabbits always appear with the moon?
Horimasa: Rabbits pair with waves or the moon. Japanese believe there are rabbits on the moon who pound rice with mallets to make mochi (Japanese rice cakes). They are night creatures so the go with the moon.
CM: How about insects? Butterflies or spiders?
Horimasa: Butterflies are symbols of beauty and go with any flower. They can pair with karashishi as well. Spiders are evil. Not lucky.
CM: And Kitsune? Do they have a traditional motif they pair with?
Horimasa: Kitsune go with momiji (maple leaves).
CM: Okay, here’s one I get a lot -daruma dolls, do certain colors mean certain things? You gotta know this one, you live near Takasaki! (An area famous for making daruma dolls.)
Horimasa: Yes, there are certain attributes associated with color. Red is for good luck, white is for love and happiness, gold is for bringing money, yellow is for protection and purple is for heath and longevity.
CM: Okay, one more because I always forget this… Manekineko, the lucky cat, which paw brings in money and which paw brings in customers?
Horimasa: I always forget! Wait, right paw is money and left paw is customers… left paw is usually for izakaya (bars) because to be hidari-kiki – left-handed person means you are a strong drinker!
CM: Did not know that. Ha! That explains a lot!
*Just a quick note about Shunen no Ishi – the rock of regret. The story goes that during a fierce 3,000 man battle, Damyo Taken Shingen was cornered by his arch rival Uesugi Kenshin, “The Dragon of War” who attacked from horseback. Hara Osumi, Shingen’s retainer stepped up to defend his master and attacked the mounted Kensin but missed, allowing Kensin time to flee. Osuma, whose mistake allowed the enemy leader to escape, thrust the errant spear into the rock of regret and the hole it made is still there today.*
(Bunshin Saikian Horimasa’s studio is in Gunma, Japan. He travels frequently for tattoo conventions and can be contacted via his website: http://www.horimasa.jp/ or Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001758200162 for bookings.)