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.”
It’s an image ingrained in the culture of both the United States and countries throughout Central America: the heavily-tattooed, ruthless gang members on the prowl for victims.
These inked-up thugs – such as members of the feared Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) and Barrio 18 street gangs operating in El Salvador and Honduras – have been blamed in part for the surge in unaccompanied minors streaming north toward safety in the U.S. and have kept border agents busy making sure that none of these hoodlums enter the country.
While law enforcement officials in places like Los Angeles and throughout the federal prison system have been studying gang tattoos for years to get a grasp on affiliations and meanings, the countries in Central America have only recently latched on to this practice as violent crime rates spiral out of control throughout these nations.
Police in Honduras now claim to have cracked the code on the symbolic meaning of these tattoos even as more and more gang members hide their ink amid a crackdown on gangs in the country.
One of the most popular images found on gang members is two hands clasped together and fingers facing skyward in prayer posture. Experts interviewed by Honduras’ El Heraldo newspaper say that this tattoo is not a representation of any religiosity on the part of the gang member, but a plea to “forgive me mother for my crazy life.”
“This phrase means that there are normal moments in the life of gang member or a gang that let you think properly about the actions carried out in the course of one’s own life,” the newspaper reported. “As a result the position of consciousness arises because [the gang member] realizes he is doing something wrong which is against morality and decency, even taking the life of one or more persons.”
Other religious tattoos, such as Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe, are found throughout the Central American gang world and represent similar meanings, although the Christ tattoo is almost exclusively used by MS-13.
The yin yang is also a popular tattoo in gangs throughout Central America. While most commonly associated with Asian gangs, it has become increasingly popular among the MS-13 street gang in El Salvador.
The design, experts say, symbolizes the balance between good and evil, which the gang members have achieved through force, violence and death.
One the most notorious and widespread tattoos in any gang culture is the spider web, meant to represent power and a gang’s expansion into new territories. It is found mostly on elbows, shoulders or knees.
Experts recommend that young people thinking of getting a tattoo should study what they want carefully and make sure that the ink they get doesn’t have some subliminal meaning that could have them hurt or even killed unintentionally.
“Just having a tattoo alluding to one of those groups and crossing to some other group’s turf is an offense, because the person is identifying himself or promoting a different group,” an unnamed expert interviewed by El Heraldo said.
Tattoos, however, are becoming less prevalent among gang members in Honduras after the country cracked down in 2005 on gang associations by threatening people with ties to street gangs with nine to 12 years in prison and a hefty fine.
With tattoos being easy identifiers of gang associations, some members of gang’s leadership have warned their fellow brutes to cover up their body art or put it on a place of the body that is not easily seen.
Younger gang members have been saved from the cover-up because they came into the groups after the gang laws went in place, but older members have been forced to wear long sleeves in the hot weather and even caps to cover up their head tattoos.
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.
By Kevin Miller
Tattoo artists in Brazil are being trained by doctors to look for signs of skin cancer, thanks to Sol de Janeiro. Sol de Janeiro is a sunscreen company, and had the brilliant idea of having artists attending training courses to look for early signs of skin cancer.
This is simply brilliant. With skin cancer being the most common type of cancer in the world, this could help people quickly identify the early signs.
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 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
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?
Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World
MARCH 8 – SEPTEMBER 14, 2014
About the Exhibition
Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World explores the artistry of traditional Japanese tattoos along with its rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices in this groundbreaking photographic exhibition.
As Japanese tattoos have moved into the mainstream, the artistry and legacy of Japanese tattooing remain both enigmatic and misunderstood. Often copied by practitioners and aficionados in the West without regard to its rich history, symbolism, or tradition, the art form is commonly reduced to a visual or exotic caricature. Conversely, mainstream Japanese culture still dismisses the subject itself as underground, associating it more with some of its clientele than with the artists practicing it. Both of these mindsets ignore the vast artistry and rich history of the practice.
Although tattooing is largely seen as an underground activity in Japan, Japanese tattoo artists have pursued their passions, applied their skills, and have risen to become internationally acclaimed artists. Through the endurance and dedication of these tattoo artists, Japanese tattooing has also persevered and is now internationally renowned for its artistry, lineage, historical symbolism, and skill.
Curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip Fulbeck, Perseverance is a groundbreaking exhibition and the first of its kind. Perseverance will explore Japanese tattooing as an art form by acknowledging its roots in ukiyo-e prints. This exhibition will also examine current practices and offshoots of Japanese tattooing in the U.S. and Japan.
Perseverance features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists, Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken, along with tattoo works by selected others. Through the display of a variety of photographs, including life-sized pictures of full body tattoos, these artists will cover a broad spectrum of the current world of Japanese tattooing.
Mariko Gordon and Hugh Cosman
UCSB Academic Senate
UCSB Department of Art
The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Arts Commission
Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation
By Melissa Fusco
For a few years now, I have had a strong desire to visit the land of my great grandparents and become immersed in my ‘genetic roots’. Italy, my much anticipated trip, has arrived…
Outside of conventions, guest spots and gatherings in the states, I crave a culture change and new scenery at least once a year. I was meeting a friend here in Venice, unfortunately for good reason she was unable to make the first leg of the trip. So I prepared as best as I could to be in Italy for 6 days before the Rome convention, alone.
For more than half of my life, about 20 years now I have traveled alone more times than accompanied by a travel companion. No doubt I would enjoy a companion on my travels, however, there is something precious about solo travel and how it contributes to my inner self. It helps build my confidence and aids in my personal growth. For me, when I travel, I prefer to live amongst the locals, so first thing off the plane, I find my way to the small water taxi dock. I purchased a water taxi pass on-line that would take me from the airport to the nearest taxi stop from my hotel destination. After the taxi makes a few stops along the way, I finally arrive at my exit and play the alley way game to find my hotel. Hotel Tiepolo, is settled down the alley that runs directly along side the Piazza San Marco. One of the most visited tourist landmarks on the S. Marco Island in Venice. I thought I was a little further away from this touristy area and at first was a little let down by the busyness of the surrounding areas. However, I feel I couldn’t have picked a greater location.
When I depart from the front door of the hotel, which is located at the end of an alley, I weave my way through narrow alley ways that ended at the water front Palazzo. I quickly find myself amongst the crowd. The sounds of sea gulls, water taxi’s, sales men, and tourist chatter fill the breezy ocean air. Kiosks filled the waterfront walkway selling duplicate Venezia souvenirs, scarf’s, hats and Italian leather handbags. Landscape artists work amongst rip off Coach bag sellers, and not to forget the slightly annoying single rose auctioneers. The phrase “ no thank you” leaves my lips more times then I could count throughout the day. I quickly head to the water taxi stop titled S. Marco Zaccaria.
Photo and Caption by Michal Duchek
A fascinating culture of the Igorot people brought me and my girlfriend to Kalinga. Head-hunting ceased decades ago, however, the motifs of Kalinga tattoos and the way they are being tattoed remains the same (charcoal and an orange thorn). We decided to visit this beautiful tribeswoman who is the last Kalinga tattoo artist. After a few days, long hours spent on buses and jeepneys, we were lucky to find a local guide Francis who brought us to Buscalan. We were overwhelmed how hospitable and friendly she is. Her natural beauty and her tattoo tempted me to ask her for a pose outside her dwelling.
Location: Buscalan village, Kalinga, North Luzon, Philippines
My favorite style tends to be illustrated realism, not even sure if that’s an actual style haha.
By Aya Lowe
The Spanish conquistadors who landed in 1521 dubbed the Philippines the Islands of the Painted Ones after the heavily tattooed locals. Nearly 500 years on, tribal tattooing is almost extinct. Aya Lowe met the islands’ last practitioner and those trying to keep the tradition alive.
For more than eight decades, Whang-Od has been inking the headhunting warriors and women of her Kalinga tribe.
Using the traditional “tapping” style, dating back a thousand years, she hammers ink into the skin using the spike of a calmansi (lime) tree attached to a bamboo stick that has been dipped in wet charcoal.
The simple designs are evocative of the nature around her in the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – outlines of centipedes, trees and snakes or basic geometric patterns such as diamonds and squares.
These, she says, are “earthly messengers from the gods [that] protect you from enemies or bad spirits”.
Not for the light-hearted, this slow, primitive method is extremely painful and would have been endured for short periods only. Large tattoos might take several months to complete.
However, at 94, Whang-Od – whose own skin is etched with a variety of designs – is likely to be the last of her kind.
Training her niece
Tradition dictates that skills can only be passed down family lines. Having lost the love of her life at the age of 25 in a logging accident, Whang-Od did not marry again and bore no children.
“It can’t be passed on to anyone else,” she insists. “It has to be within the same family because if someone else who is not from the same bloodline starts tattooing, the tattoo will get infected.”
However, the young in her village are not keen on adopting the body work of their elders. Though she is training her niece to carry on her work, Whang-Od says that her young relative is more interested in her studies to become a teacher.
The preservation of tribal tattooing may, however, lie thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, where a group of dedicated members of the Filipino diaspora has been working hard to ensure the tradition is not lost.
Tatak Ng Apat na Alon, which translates as “Mark of the Four Waves Tribe”, was formed nearly 15 years ago in Los Angeles by Filipino-Americans.
Their name is a reference to the “waves” of immigrants who came to the Philippines.
The group has grown to become a global community made up of hundreds of people with Filipino heritage looking to revive the tattooing traditions of Filipino tribes by having their designs etched on their skin.
“People are sacrificing their skin to revive this ancestral form of art and make sure it is not forgotten,” says Elle Festin, the co-founder of the community.
“The only way you can find proof of designs is through oral history and artefacts. The only way to stop it becoming obsolete is by reviving the designs.”
Having left the Philippines as a teenager, Mr Festin said his journey into the world of tribal tattooing became a way for him to connect with his own heritage, something he felt he had lost growing up in the US.
“Filipinos in the Philippines don’t need to define themselves, but for the Filipino diaspora many are looking for a connection back to their heritage,” he says.
“It’s more important for them to define themselves as Filipino in a foreign country.”
Tattoos were a prominent feature among pre-Hispanic tribes of the Philippines. They acted as a corporal roadmap designating people by tribe and rank, acting as a protection charm or medal, or as permanent make-up.
Dr Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist in the Visayas region of the central Philippines, says traditional tattooing practices had vanished in the region by the 1700s because of the presence of the Spanish military and the influence of the Church.
But in Mindanao, an island in the country’s far south, and the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – the home of Whang-Od – the practice survived because of the area’s remoteness and warrior tribes who successfully defended their ancestral homelands from foreign invaders, like the colonial Spanish.
People who receive a tattoo have to be of Filipino heritage. The artists work closely with their clients to research their family histories and life events to create a design.
“We were very careful about how it grew and who our tattoo artists were,” said Mr Festin. “We didn’t want it to go viral and turn into a trend like Polynesian designs. We wanted to encourage curiosity to getting people talking about the meaning behind the markings.”
In 2008, Mr Festin made perhaps the most important pilgrimage in his career as a tattooist when he returned to his homeland to visit Whang-Od and the Kalinga tribe.
“When I first met Whang-Od I was afraid of what she would think of my designs, especially as they were modified from original form,” he said.
“But she was impressed with my tools and asked me to tattoo her. You could tell she was experienced by the way she lay down and stretched her skin.”
While the sight of a fully tattooed man or woman is becoming a rarity in the Philippines, it is this small dedicated group of enthusiasts, far across the ocean, that is keeping the art form alive, hopefully for many decades to come.
About the author: Based in Manila, Aya Lowe writes business, travel and human interest stories around South East Asia and the Middle East.
Lastrites.tv: A NEW and Online Community
New York, May 2014 – Last Rites is excited to announce the launch of its brand new website, Online Community and Forum. Lastrites.tv will serve as the umbrella site for both Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery, uniting the two separate meccas for the dark arts under one roof, alongside the birth of the Last Rites Online Community. Although Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery will still exist independent of one another, we hope this new site will make it easier for our patrons to enjoy all the talent and beauty under one roof, similar to our space at 325 West 38th Street in NYC. Our intention is to provide a digital space to serve as a comprehensive community of like-minded individuals that have a true appreciation for the dark side of art.
We’ve designed the structure of the website to make your journey simple yet visually stimulating as you peruse all facets of the dark art world that is Last Rites. Our main navigation gives constant access to Last Rites Tattoo Theatre, Last Rites Gallery, the Last Rites Store, Forum and Online Community. Each category gives you access to drop down menus allowing you to choose which component you wish to explore. Further, we have integrated social media streams, videos, appointment forms, a forum and tons of images for your viewing pleasure! It is our hope that our patrons will browse and interact with the art and one another on our platform through our Forums and Online Community.
Paul Booth truly wishes to unite friends, fans, and enthusiasts from both the Fine Art and Tattoo worlds. His inspiration and aspirations can now be accessed through the free Last Rites Online Community and Forum. The Online Community will allow visitors to create their own profiles, photo and video albums, chat, and interact with the website fully, including commenting and liking on artwork and pages. The Forum will offer a wide array of subjects to ponder and discuss, also accessible from logging on to the Online Community. It is our hope that these avenues of discussion and social sharing will allow you, without the restricting guidelines of censorship, to explore, contribute and embrace the dark arts.
Lastrites.tv is also mobile friendly and easily accessed from all smart devices. We hope our site proves to be ergonomic and a haven for all friends, fans, and enthusiasts.
Last Rites Gallery
325 West 38th st #1 NYC