Horihiro Mitomo is a horishi, or tattoo artist, who works completely by hand in his studios in Tokyo and Osaka, drawing on conventional supplies and strategies to create the frilly, full-body tattoos often called horimono.
He seems within the opening scene of the VICE movie Horimono: Japan’s Tattoo Pilgrimage, co-directed by David Caprara and Kira Dane, and is a member of the Choyukai, the group the movie follows on their holy mountain pilgrimage.
Horihiro bought into tattoos nearly twenty years in the past. “I bought a tattoo and since I like drawing and portray, I wished to attempt it myself,” he stated. Since then, he has labored repeatedly to grasp his craft.
Right here, he talks to VICE World Information about conventional Japanese tattoos and why he sticks to the previous strategies.
VICE World Information: You’re employed completely by hand, eschewing tattoo machines. Why is that?
Horihiro: I don’t have something in opposition to tattoo machines. A number of very proficient tattoo artists, each in Japan and abroad, are producing actually superb tattoos with machines, together with Japanese-style tattoos. I used them too, after I first began doing tattoos, nearly twenty years in the past. However about seven years in the past, I switched to tebori tattooing. Tebori, which accurately means “hand carved,” makes use of strategies developed in Japan a whole lot of years in the past, lengthy earlier than electrical energy, so naturally, all work needed to be executed by hand.
Are you able to clarify what you imply by Japanese-style tattoos? There are plenty of phrases bandied about when individuals discuss Japanese tattoos—for instance, irezumi, wabori and horimono. What’s the distinction?
I’m conscious that many individuals, each in Japan and abroad, use the time period irezumi when speaking about Japanese-style tattoos. However strictly talking, irezumi refers solely to a really particular sort of tattooing that was executed way back on criminals. These had been easy strains, in black solely, that had been tattooed on criminals’ arms or faces to warn others that that they had been convicted of criminal activity. Tattooing as a punishment was abolished in Japan greater than 150 years in the past.
When Japan opened to the West within the nineteenth century, after centuries of isolation, Japanese individuals noticed Western travellers with tattoos, which had been fairly totally different from what anybody in Japan had seen earlier than. So the time period wabori (Japanese tattoo) was coined at the moment to differentiate conventional Japanese tattoos from Western-style tattoos. It’s type of a catch-all phrase.
Most of your work is the so-called horimono tattoos. Are you able to clarify what they’re?
At its most elementary, a horimono is taking a design from the Japanese woodblock custom – ukiyo-e prints – and making use of it to your again. Not like the standard Western tattoo, which begins as a small piece and not using a background, and should develop into a number of small items labored in collectively, a horimono is at all times a single, unified design. When full, it covers the again and shoulders, and extends round to the chest and arms, and down the buttocks and legs. Nevertheless it’s all one, unified design.
This fashion of tattooing developed within the 18th and nineteenth centuries, a part of an ideal flourishing of tradition in Edo (now Tokyo), which was then the most important metropolis on the earth. At the moment, it was very trendy among the many working-class males of Edo to sport considered one of these full-body tattoos, significantly amongst these in occupations that required working in a state of partial undress.
Wait… there have been clothes-optional jobs?
There have been plenty of bodily demanding jobs in these days. Clothes may get in the best way and even pose risks. In lots of occupations, together with mail runners, palanquin bearers and carpenters, males often labored in solely loin cloths and sandals. Their our bodies had been uncovered and could possibly be freely seen, they usually appreciated to brighten them with elaborate and colourful tattoos. The phrase used for that type of tattoo, at the moment, was horimono. By not utilizing the phrase irezumi they had been making a transparent distinction between any such trendy tattoo and the easy monochrome ones beforehand used to mark criminals.
What kind of designs had been standard?
They favored designs from standard ukiyo-e prints of the day, significantly these executed by well-known artists like Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1982). Kuniyoshi did a well-known sequence primarily based on the novel “Suikoden” (recognized in English as “Tales from the Water Margin” and “Outlaws of the Marsh”), which is definitely a Chinese language story, but it surely turned an enormous hit when it was revealed in Japanese. It’s also the inspiration for lots of manga, and even a online game, and is well-known in Japan. The heroes from the story are nonetheless standard motifs for horimono tattoos as we speak.
By the best way, most of the heroes in Kuniyoshi’s prints are themselves sporting tattoos, so plenty of my clients ask for what’s referred to as a nijūbori, which suggests a double tattoo or a tattoo inside a tattoo. Principally, I’m giving them a tattoo of a hero who has a tattoo. It appears to be like actually cool.
Do you need to adapt an ukiyo-e design to make it work as a tattoo?
Certain, as a result of the human physique may be very totally different from a flat piece of paper. There are conventions in ukiyo-e for physique proportions, reminiscent of hattōshin (actually, eight-heads-body), during which the top makes up one-eighth of the overall peak, and rokutōshin (six-heads-body), during which the top makes up one-sixth of the overall peak. However for a tattoo, it really works higher to enlarge the top fairly a bit, so it’s actually exaggerated. It matches higher on the again. You additionally must simplify the design as a result of there’s no method to obtain the identical degree of element in a tattoo. The artisans who carved the blocks for ukiyo-e masters like Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige had been extremely expert carvers, capable of produce amazingly tremendous strains. It’s simply not attainable to get the identical degree of element when working with needles on human pores and skin.
As an attention-grabbing apart, some students consider that most of the early horimono tattoos had been created by the very artisans who carved the blocks for making woodblock prints, moonlighting of their spare time. Most of the instruments, supplies and strategies do certainly appear to have been comparable. And the phrase for a woodblock carver, horishi, is similar time period used for a tattoo artist. The “hori” in “horishi” and “horimono” means “to carve.”
What makes a tebori tattoo totally different from one executed with a machine?
With a tattoo machine, the needles function straight up and down, at mainly a 90 diploma angle to the pores and skin. However in tebori, we insert the needles at a fairly steep slant relative to the pores and skin, so it goes in at an angle. This modifications the best way the colour seems from the floor, with the black taking up a greenish tint. It offers the completed tattoo a unique look. Working by hand offers you extra choices in the way you mix and configure your needles, and the angle at which you insert them. For me, tebori permits a better vary of expression.
There are additionally variations in ink. Artists who use machines use ready inks which can be formulated for machine use, however for a tebori tattoo, we use conventional Japanese ink, which is known as sumi. There are a lot of totally different sorts, however the primary components is soot, collected whereas burning specifically chosen woods and crops, blended with an animal glue referred to as nikawa. The ink is available in stable type, as a stick, and you need to rub it on an inkstone with water to arrange your ink simply earlier than you begin tattooing.
Is that the identical ink that’s utilized by calligraphers and in conventional ink portray?
It’s. And if you happen to’ve ever labored with it, or watched somebody do calligraphy with it, you understand that it has some particular properties. Suppose first about watercolors, which I’m positive you used if you had been a schoolchild. As soon as they’ve dried, the colour stays put, proper? Even if you happen to spill water on them. The ready-made ink bought to be used with tattoo machines is like that – it’s designed to remain put the place it’s inserted, with out working or bleeding. However Japanese sumi ink is totally different. On paper, even after it has dried, if you happen to go over it with a moist brush it can run once more. It behaves the identical approach in human pores and skin. It tends to maneuver and unfold slightly underneath the pores and skin, so the strains turn out to be barely blurred. I just like the softer impact that outcomes.
Inform us about your instruments. Are these one thing anybody should buy?
No. Anybody who does tebori has to make their very own instruments. Sadly there’s little or no info out there concerning the instruments used within the previous days, when horimono tattoos first developed. We do have some previous books of tattoo designs however nothing about instruments, and the instruments themselves didn’t survive. So except you might be lucky sufficient to be taught by a grasp, determining what needles to make use of, find out how to connect them and devising the proper configuration, turns into a matter of trial and error. The configuration of needles makes an enormous distinction within the look of the completed tattoo, so everybody retains their instruments secret.
You’re a member of the Choyukai, the group that was adopted within the movie Horimono: Japan’s Tattoo Pilgrimage. What attracted you to the group?
I’ve been very influenced by the designs of Horiuno (1843-1927), a really well-known tattoo artist who lived and labored across the flip of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Choyukai was initially shaped by his clients, as a friendship group, organizing numerous outings and celebrations in addition to an annual pilgrimage to Mt. Oyama to pay respect to the gods and search blessings. Horiuno’s work was carried on by his son, Horiuno II, after which for another era by Horiuno III, and their clients continued the traditions of the Choyukai. Most of the older members of the Choyukai as we speak have tattoos executed by Horiuno III, who’s aged and not working, so for me, becoming a member of the Choyukai was a possibility to see these tattoos in individual and research the designs. The group now contains individuals who have tattoos executed by different artists too, so it’s also a possibility for me to check many various kinds and study from them.
The Choyukai’s annual pilgrimage to Mt. Oyama is a practice that has continued for over 100 years. I take part to assist transfer that custom ahead – one small cog within the wheel – so it may possibly proceed for an additional 100 or 200 years. I do that out of respect for Horiuno, and to thank him and his successors for every little thing I’ve discovered from them. It’s out of respect for all of the tattoo artists who got here earlier than me that I wish to hold the previous strategies alive and cross them on to the subsequent era.
With reviews from David Caprara and Kira Dane.