Hand tattoo artist Horihide is one of the few tebori practitioners who remain, as body ink carries a stigma in Japan and young apprentices are few.
GIFU, Japan — Hidden away in the backroom of a modest apartment in this central Japanese city, one of Japan’s last remaining hand-tattoo masters is preparing his tools. Over the last four decades Oguri Kazuo has tattooed notable geisha and countless yakuza, members of Japan’s notorious mafia. Today, the 79-year-old artist, known professionally as Horihide (derived from “hori,” meaning “to carve”), is working on a client who is a little more subdued.
Motoyama Tetsuro has spent hundreds of dollars, traveled thousands of miles and waited more than three decades for a session with Horihide. The Japanese-born American software manager wanted the master’s ink in his skin — a living legacy for a dying art. 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.
“If you know the master, why would you want to work with someone else?” asks Motoyama, 62, who first received the outline of a dragon by Horihide on his right shoulder in the 1970s. Motoyama lost touch with the master — who works only by word-of-mouth introductions in backdoor locations — before the work was complete. Last November, after a 30-plus year search, he finally located Horihide and traveled back to Japan from his home in Cupertino, Calif., to finish the piece.
Japanese tattoos are steeped in thousands of years of history and bound by rigid tradition and social mores. This distinguishes them from American tattoos, which are largely personal expressions of individualism. Japanese masters spend years perfecting their craft and learning the stories behind the tattoos, derived from woodblock prints and Chinese folk tales. The body-suit tattoos, spanning shoulders to below the buttocks, can take hundreds of hours to apply and cost as much as $20,000.
Banned during the Meiji period, irezumi (literally “to insert ink”) remains underground today; many hot springs and bathhouses still bar tattooed individuals. Artists such as Horihide work under a cloak of secrecy plagued by associations with criminality. Still, social stigma has not put off the soft-spoken Motoyama who, with square glasses and salt-and-pepper hair, appears the epitome of respectability. Although the grandfather is happy to show off his tattoos in California, he, like most, is careful to hide his arms in Japan behind long sleeves despite searing summer temperatures.
Controversy is now flaring up again. Last month, the right-wing populist mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, ordered all government employees to voluntarily divulge any concealed or visible tattoos. The 100 or so discovered to be inked, who mostly work in waste disposal and transport, are likely to face an ultimatum: Get the offending tat removed or find another job.
Such pariah status has led to a decline in tattoo masters, with Horihide estimating that there are only five or six left who can do the traditional black-and-white tebori as opposed to the machine-operated colored tattoos. (Horihide offers both.)
“Specializing in tebori is not commonplace,” says Kip Fulbeck, an art professor at UC Santa Barbara, who is organizing a 2014 exhibition of Japanese tattoos at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles with tattoo artist Takahiro Kitamura (known as Horitaka). “For one, it takes a great deal of time to traditionally learn how to do it correctly. It’s also a much slower tattooing method, so it takes much more time. [Unlike machine tattooing] it’s very subtle, it’s very quiet.” Although Horihide has eight students, none can yet draw their own designs and just a few are learning tebori.
Horihide became an apprentice at age 19 and spent five years learning the craft. “It was very strict. In the morning you have to get up at 5 o’clock and clean the house. If you didn’t do it right, you could be beaten,” recalls the artist, as he sits cross-legged on the floor, carefully filling in the yellow hues of a tiger on Motoyama’s other shoulder. “But nowadays young people can’t do that. Some people who want to be students ask me, ‘How much can you give me as a salary?’” He laughs, shaking his head. “So things have changed.”
As a teenager, Horihide fled to Tokyo after a street gang fight. When money ran out and hunger started to gnaw, he saw a sign offering room and board to a tattoo apprentice. Despite lingering prejudices surrounding the once-forbidden art (the ban was lifted in 1948 by the occupying forces), Horihide carefully practiced on his own skin — scars of now faded squares and circles on his thigh today.
Past clients were largely the yakuza and an occasional hot spring geisha, who marked themselves with phoenixes, dragons and killer whales. Horihide’s memories of the yakuza — who provided generous gifts — remain fond. “Younger people do not know how to be courteous and do not know how to speak to me,” he complains.
Today, however, his clients are largely construction workers and firefighters, members of fraternal organizations who are traditionally tattooed. Asked what a popular design is, Horihide describes the Japanese carp. When caught by a fisherman, the carp does not thrash around like other fish, but remains still, quietly accepting its fate. “So Japanese guys take the spirit of the carp,” he explains, “rather than struggle against fate.”
Motoyama pulls a white T-shirt back over his head and then buttons up a black shirt — carefully hiding both the dragon and newly inked tiger, which still bubbles with small specks of blood. “Today, tattoo artists just use a stencil and copy designs,” he says sadly. “With Horihide’s designs, every one is unique. [But] in the long run I don’t know how long they can survive.”
By Jeff Gogue
Whether you are a seasoned veteran looking to reduce and rebuild your skill set, or a new aspiring artist that is trying to fill in the gaps, we hope this video helps to advance you forward. Our objective at UB is to embody the intention of excellence. We are giving this to you with our whole hearts, hoping it enables you to produce original works that inspire others to do the same. Thank you for your support!
The drawing from this video is available as a PDF unicyclebrand.com/tutorials
Instructor: Jeff Gogué
Director: Ryan Moon
Free Tone Textures By Small Colin
Kosmiche Slop by Anenon
Tattoo by GueT Deep (Paris)
Done on Fabrice (Switzerland)
Tattoo Machine: No iron Tattoo Machine
As tattoos are slowly but surely gaining acceptance and popularity amongst most of the American population, it is interesting to note how widespread the appeal of this practice is becoming in other countries around the world. It is also interesting to consider how various other cultures view this practice, and whether those views have changed over time as has been the case with the United States.
In America the main source of familiarity with Oriental symbols and other artwork comes from viewing this lovely, traditional art in tattoo studios all across the United States. It may, therefore, be surprising to many Americans to know that, due to the significant influence of Buddhist and Confucianist religions both the Japanese and Chinese societies take a very negative view of tattoos. In these societies, tattooing was a means of branding criminals; it was not acceptable for citizens to engage in the process. In today’s society, tattoos are still unacceptable. Although their younger generation usually takes a more liberal view of tattooing, the youngsters who have them generally keep them covered.
Tattoos have long been a part of life for royalty in Great Britain. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors King George the fifth and King Edward the seventh, one of today’s most well-known royal figures, Prince Charles, also sports a tattoo. Unlike in the distant past, however, tattoos in Great Britain are no longer limited to the class of royalty; during the past few decades, tattoos showing up on their rock stars has brought the practice to the mainstream population. What was once a status symbol for wealthy public figures has become a widespread part of everyday life for the younger generations.
In Mexico, tattoos were originally thought of as a symbol of courage. The early explorers who arrived in Mexico in 1519 believed the practice to be the influence of Satan. In a recent survey, more than half of those polled who were over age thirteen stated that they would consider getting a tattoo. While most expressed a preference for designs such as flowers, religious symbols, or names, some said they would like a tattoo of their favorite brands of soda or beer. This is assisting in marketing to some degree, as many people in Mexico City now consider tattoos to be a fashion accessory, not only widely acceptable but in style.
In Vietnam, tattooing is still currently illegal, and is rarely done except in prisons. For those who insist on having some type of body modification in light of the laws against tattooing, cigarette burns are used instead. It is rare that anyone other than gang members utilize this practice.
Considering both the Biblical prohibitions against tattooing and the still-present memories of the Holocaust, it is not surprising that most of the older generation in Israel continues to hold a negative view of tattoos. It is a little surprising, though, that the younger generation not only does not always share this viewpoint, and actually considers the practice of getting tattoos of religious symbols to be a visible sign of pride in their Jewish heritage and identity.
In assessing both the historical aspects and present-day points of view, it’s not difficult to see that for many countries around the world culture plays a significant role in whether or not tattoos are thought of as an acceptable form of self-expression. In most cases it is also clear that with or without cultural influences, times change and with the changing times comes different ways of looking at the subject of tattoos. What took a very long time to gain widespread popularity in the United States has proceeded in a similar fashion in most other countries also.
The suggestion that “tattoos are not just for sailors any more” is a familiar one. It might be surprising to learn, then, that the popular media has been reporting the arrival of tattooing in high society for nearly one hundred years. To celebrate the release of “Forever: The New Tattoo”, Gestalten hosted an evening of informative and entertaining talks by renowned tattoo artists Alex Binnie and Duncan X, as well as by heavily tattooed art historian Matt Lodder, author of the book’s preface. Further tattoo protagonists, namely Jon John, Liam Sparkes and Zoe Binnie, attended the event at the Gestalten Space in Berlin and gave us additional insight.
The book shop.gestalten.com/forever.html
See photos from the event here bit.ly/V4w6rP and bit.ly/Sqd5uW
More videos on gestalten.tvhttp://vimeo.com/50360812
By Katherine Brooks
Oh, the tattoo. From an innocuous badge inked ever so carefully on one’s back to a blanket of color flowing from the shoulders to the ankles, the world has proven the tradition of permanently adorning the body with artwork is here to stay. Hidden from sight or paraded in public, designed by professionals or picked and poked by amateurs, humans just can’t get enough of this particular brand of body modification. Take, for example, a Harris poll from 2012, which declared that in the U.S. alone, one in five individuals had chosen to bring needle to flesh. That’s 20% of the adults surveyed, for those bad with fractions.
By Aimee Heckel
Accept the discomfort with love, I keep telling myself, knowing that love is the opposite of fear, and that any drop of fear will destroy this experience. If I let fear cloud me now, I am going to miss the message.
Any rational human would say I should be scared.
I have given my entire back to Chris Fuller, a tattoo artist at Junkyard Ink in Louisville. I met Fuller during an interview in a few months earlier. I clicked with his philosophy: that tattoos are art on flesh. In fact, Fuller and most of the other employees at the shop were traditional artists first. Fuller was a painter.
I visited the shop regularly to talk about my next tattoo. My first four had been specific words or designs in specific places on my body for precise reasons. I had over-thought them all. They felt like extensions of my body, and they were an external expressions of internal enlightenments. They were my babies, in ink.
This time is different.
I don’t know what Fuller is going to tattoo on me. Neither does he.
We agree to not go into the tattoo with preconceptions, but to approach it in the same way he paints his murals on canvas. I will be Chris Fuller’s canvas for a free-form tattoo painting.
Like I said: not rational whatsoever.
But rationality — the over-thinking, the limiting human mind, the man-made labels and explanations — is exactly what I want to suppress.
I am hoping by stilling my brain, I will shift perspective. Gain sight through the endless spirit, not eyes, which can shut or go blind. I hope that by diminishing the physical absorption of a physical experience, it can transcend into something spiritual.
And maybe not hurt so dang bad.
Of course, it’s a far leap. But you can’t catch air without leaping. And I’ve always believed art is an experience and expression, not a logical, finite explanation to prove, or even understand.
Like Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
I get that, in theory.
I am about to really get it, personally. Do you believe in anything deeply enough to let it transform you? To let it become you? For the love of art, and the sake of its raw beauty, I am about to become it.
Hour two: As I lean over the chair, breathing into the pain, I decide this is what it must feel like to be the marble, or wood, or iron being welded into a new form.
When Michelangelo created some of his greatest masterpieces, he did not go in with an agenda. He did not carve the marble into an angel. Quite the opposite. As he put it, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” The angel was already inside.
Amid the dull hum of the tattoo machine, this quote haunts me. I try to imagine the beauty living inside everything: every piece of paper, every chunk of wood, every empty stage. Potential is hovering beneath the surface of everything, like scientific joules: artistic jewels.
Fuller “carves away” at my canvas in the same way he paints. He lays down layers of color until something emerges out of the lines and shapes, and he builds on that. He had been wanting to attempt this revolutionary style of tattooing for years, but he said he could never find anyone who wanted to do it. They were too afraid of letting go of the control.
What — or who — is living underneath my own skin?
As I sit, I wonder. It could be my own Michaelangelo angel. An octopus. A tree. Beneath my skin could be a flower, a lion, a snake. A demon.
Hour five: I think about beauty.
A person’s style is their temporary artistic expression. A daily opportunity to paint and celebrate our bodies.
Fashion is only as shallow as how you choose to confine it. Because it is possible — albeit difficult — to appreciate something for its pure and simple beauty. In fact, the origin of Zen came from that idea, a “silent sermon” during which Buddha held up a flower and gazed at it, saying nothing. Enlightenment might just be letting go of everything we thought we knew, the labels, the mind, the over-analyzing of every single thing, and just letting the beauty be.
I wrote about this one night. Just a free-form poem to myself. Not to share with anyone. I opened up and the words fell out onto the page.
It was the next day that Fuller told me his tattoo idea. I didn’t hesitate. I would lose control, but gain a mark for beauty’s sake alone. What greater honor than that? Not to remind me of something that I had experienced and learned; but rather to be that very experience and lesson.
Hour 11: I think more about Michelangelo.
Perhaps we all are born with the ability to unearth this perfect beauty, in various ways. For some, it’s dancing or drawing, photography, singing, writing, woodworking, playing an instrument, cooking, theater, a sport, making jewelry or designing clothes. You do not pick your art; it is a gift, given to you. You know it is yours because it chases you.
And it will. It nags at you until you die. That’s because it is your duty to do something with it. Art is what you give back, in exchange for the love that you receive, and the opportunity to have life. And it is balanced; every human’s art is as deep and breathtaking and awesome as the perfect love that God created us from and offers to us.
But occasionally — most of the time, actually — people decide that gift is not there. They suppress it. They bury it under things that do not satisfy. It is almost as if they don’t want their gift, or for some very human reason, they are afraid of it. They do not acknowledge or accept it, so they cannot express it.
Michelangelo accepted it. He opened up and took it. If people accepted their art and stopped thinking about it, and just became that gift, their art would flow from them perfectly and fully and completely.
The reason Michelangelo’s art was so incredible is because he simply removed the dam and could see what was already inside — of the marble, and of himself. Art flows out, like love flows in.
By letting go and releasing my canvas to an artist, and trusting him, I was allowing him to follow his art.
Of course, the very manifestation of this experience, the reason I was ready for it, came from the poem I had written the day before. In an artistic cause-and-effect, this made the tattoo a ripple effect from my own art: writing. Art begetting art.
Hour 20: I can’t wait to see what is living inside my skin.
It has been four sessions of about five hours each. Fuller used more than 20 different shades of blues, greens and purples. The white highlights he added at the end will continue to grow brighter as the tattoo heals.
He tattooed the entire right side of my back, from my neck to waist. I felt him painting swirls. I felt spirals and coils and curls, tracing the natural curves of my body. Fuller followed those shapes and connected them until they created a picture.
I stand up to finally see the completed project. I feel open and trusting, but exhausted. Above all, I feel honored to spend the rest of my life wearing a painting. Fuller initials it. I turn to see the mirror.
One of her arms is reaching up to the sky. Her chin is lifted, and she’s gazing up. She is feminine, elegant and fragile. She is abstract, almost a mermaid, or a cyclone, a Siren, a ghost, or an illusion in the water or sky or both. Fuller barely knew me when we started, but he tattooed my spirit.
Underneath my skin was a dancer.
This article originally appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera.
Photo by Mark Leffingwell/Daily Camera.
By Deb Yarian
The first thing out of my mouth when a couple says ” We’ve decided to have a baby ” is usually “Congratulations” not ” What happens if you get a divorce?” I wish as many obstetricians counseled their patients against having babies using the same reasoning as some tattooers do when they advise their customers against getting a partner’s name – “What happens if you break up?”
Well… what happens if you break up is that you, having made an adult decision to show your devotion to someone by getting their name tattooed on your skin must now make another adult decision and learn to live with it, cover it, or change it. A ludicrous comparison, yes- but the name tattoo (a foolish choice only in retrospect) seems far less permanent when compared with the really permanent -living child
This sort of counsel is a particular pet peeve of mine. I think that when a person wishes to commemorate their love and devotion to another person by getting a tattoo of their name, that is their adult decision and they don’t need my opinion other than possibly font or calligraphic design choice or placement. I’ve heard so many tattooers respond to name requests with such negativity. With mocking responses ranging from ” That’s a sure way to end a relationship!” “You sure you want to do that?” To ridicule or refusal to do the name tattoo. But why should any couple coming in to get name tattoos from me or any other tattooer have to validate anything other than their legal ability to get tattooed? Since when did the tattooer become the priest and rabbi and moral counsel of their customers? During my 35 years of tattooing there have probably been hundreds, even thousands of tattoo designs that I have been asked to do that I myself would not have chosen to get. In my opinion many more ugly or foolish design choices have been made than choosing to get the name of a loved one.
I am speaking solely on my opinion of a person’s decision to get another’s name- not the aesthetics of it. Certainly, if the aesthetics of type interferes with the look or design flow of a larger tattoo then when asked for my artistic opinion I would give my honest one. However, if asked my opinion as to whether someone should get their partner’s name – how could I answer that? I feel that it’s only my responsibility to advise on design choice and placement and to try and do the best job that I can regardless of my opinion of someone else’s choice of what to wear on their body.
By Some Quality Meat
For Some Quality Meat we created a short and playful series about beautiful woman and their tattoo’s. Celebrating femininity and independence. With these shorts we try to depict the essence of and way of live of these beautiful females.
Model: Michelle Goormans
Jewelery: Monocrafft | monocrafft.com
Music by Hippie Sabotage, Stay High.
I will be attending the Seattle Tattoo Expo this weekend. This is one of my favorite shows in the US… So many talented artists… the show is busy, and the city is fun. If you’re around, please stop by and check it out. They always have good entertainment, good food, a good bar, cigar lounge, and most importantly… GOOD TATTOOS! Hope to see you there!
For more information about the show like featured artists and event schedules, visit: www.seattletattooexpo.com
By Erin Boyle
I think there’s something to be said about searching for an artist you can trust with personal symbols and parts of the self. I stumbled upon Melissa Fusco’s portfolio by pure chance after searching 4 years for artists in a different style; I was instantly swayed. I found her work captivating and unique: her craftsmanship was soft, colorful and organic, and I saw hints of depth and spirituality in her portfolios – these things really clicked for me. I had consulted with many artists over the years, and the request to tattoo over my scars was nothing new to me – I even met some who refused to work on scars. Finding a good fit was important; the artist would, after all, be spending several hours confronted with these scars and whatever it brought up for them. I was looking not just for the quality of an artist’s work but also the personhood of the one applying it, Melissa’s warmth and professionalism really showed through during our consultation process. Though she had no idea of my story at the time, I told her, “but really, who gets out of life unscarred in one way or another”…everybody has their thing…it’s all in what you do with it.
Now, I’m not much for telling soggy and dramatic tales about my life, much the reason why I chose this particular flower for my tattoo – but I’ll get to that later. The Buddha once said, “every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind; the goal is to find it”. I, like many, was blessed with a difficult childhood; abuse and neglect were my reality for much of my childhood and adolescence. Though high achieving, at 17 there came a point where my goals took a backseat and I thought there was only one way out. This thought became not just a memory, but left behind the scars to prove it.
Every good story has a twist; mine came a few years later after coming out of an abusive relationship. At that point I looked long and hard at my life, I spent a lot of time healing old wounds and rebuilding the Self. Mindfulness, courage and sacrifice were essential building blocks in my process of change and moving towards doing what I love and loving what I do. I threw away my masks of success and achievement, gave up my fancy title and hefty paycheck, got a second bachelors degree in pre-clinical psych, and began working at a Residential Treatment Center for youth with mental illness. In other words, for mere pennies I worked with teenage boys who liked to break shit, especially your face, and taught them how to give and receive love. This is what makes sense for me; this is what life is about, using our humanity to help others grow.
The paradox of my story is that no matter how much I healed and evolved, I still had my past written on my arms along with the judgment from others about what that means. No amount of success, forgiveness or compassion would ever make that go away. However, life with this tattoo is different. Not just myself, but others see beauty and strength where shame and secrecy once lived. In a way it removes the stigma I once felt. I don’t perceive myself as a victim or a survivor, I see myself as a person with the drive and motivation to create and sustain social justice through guiding others to lead the best possible life they can. As an Art Therapy graduate student en route towards doctoral research, I’ve found that having the permanence of this image in my skin helped ignite this fearless internal integration of my personal and professional lives. It’s closure, it’s dignity, it’s confidence, and in a huge way it is taking ownership of my body while standing grounded in authenticity and unapologetically residing in my own identity and truth.
Embedded in the image also lies the memory of the process. To match my initial impressions, Melissa was grounded, focused, caring, calm, gentle, warm, empathic, funny, respectful, edgy, and an incredibly skilled independent female artist in a male dominated field. She made the process personal and relational, and that’s not something I got from any other tattoo artists I reached out to. I don’t know if I would have found another talented artist that I felt as comfortable with during this process, not to mention one who honored the experience. I’m grateful to have found her, and look forward to collaborating on future work.
As a symbol of the self, this phoenix of a flower holds no mythology – only truth. Coming from one of the oldest families of flowers on earth, whenever a wildfire ravages the area the King Protea is the first sign of new life. In fact, wildfires are central to their evolution – just as challenges, failures and setbacks are to ours. As I see it there is no fantasy in real life – our results come from our own hard work…or as Melissa would say, there is “no progress without sacrifice.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
To see more work by Melissa, or to get in touch with her, go to:
This has nothing to do with tattoos, and everything to do with humanity. I just really like it and wanted to share…
What have you done to touch someone’s life lately?