A Declaration of Intent

My purpose here is to keep track of my experiences with Japanese tattoo.  My perspective isn’t completely unique (many non-Japanese people have or appreciate the art), but it will be unique insofar as it is happening to me and to no one else.  It is my hope that I will be able to provide not only a journal of my experience and updates on the evolution of my tattoo, but also interesting cultural anecdotes, information, or articles about this art.  I will not discuss the cost and I cannot help you get a tattoo appointment.  Before proceeding, please note:

1) This site may be considered Not Safe for Work.  You can expect pictures of my butt and (mostly covered) crotch region.

2) The only photo adjustments I make are for white balance and exposure.  Contrast, black/white, and saturation levels are never adjusted in an effort make as accurate a representation of the work as possible.

This blog is inspired by and dedicated to Mike, a man I have never met.  Mike’s blog Munewari Minutes served as a constant source of inspiration early in my tattoo journey.  His blog was a touchstone for my goals and an assurance that what I wanted was worth patient pursuit.

Thanksgiving Conspires Against Me

Perhaps my title is a touch dramatic, but Thanksgiving travel is the only explanation for the traffic I hit on the way to my 96th appointment with Horizakura. A normal drive into the city should take around 45 minutes for me, but this commute (despite it being a Tuesday) took an hour and 45 minutes. It was absolutely brutal and so incredibly frustrating to be late on a day when work was finally not an obstacle in the way of me making it to an appointment. The bright side is that the holiday season tends to be a bit more calm in my industry so I’m optimistic about the appointments we have going forward. Getting there when I did only left Horizakura an hour to work, and I suspect that is why he opted to shade some of my arm instead of continuing with the outline. The background outline often takes some time to draw on and work out the flow and it’s my guess that he opted to maximize our time together by going with some shading which he can start right away. You might be wondering why I didn’t just ask him for his reasoning. I don’t have a very good answer to that question other than to say it doesn’t really matter to me. Sure I’m increasingly excited about being near the end of the full outline, but it all has to get done eventually. The order it gets done in will be largely inconsequential when we cross the finish line.

From an outsiders perspective there probably isn’t anything exciting about the results of this appointment. From my perspective, having full sleeves has been a goal since I started getting tattooed nearly 15 years go. Seeing this take shape is very exciting to me, no matter how small the step forward is.

In and Out

After three months of cancelled appointments, Horizakura and I were finally able to meet up for our 95th appointment together. Work has just been unbelievably busy for me and I had no choice but to cancel my appointments in September and October to accommodate. In fact, I was in danger of having to cancel this appointment if not for the willingness of my colleagues to cover me on a job last Tuesday. We were booked on a show in Soho so I was able to dip out around 5:30, walk over to the studio for a quick hour of tattooing, and then had to jet back to work to help the guys load out the show. I was in and out so fast there wasn’t too much time for chit chat or beer like we usually do, which was a huge bummer… but there wasn’t any other choice. Nonetheless, Horizakura was able to spend an hour or so drawing out and tattooing some background on my forearm. Not exactly the kind of content that will get me 10,000 likes on Instagram, but background is such a vital part of any horimono design that I am always very excited to see it come together. I was a little late taking the photos below and the lines have started to heal, so you may see some irregularities that won’t be there once the healing is complete. Not much else to say here other than I am so happy to be getting tattooed again and so happy to be writing updates here.

Also, the day after my appointment I had some interesting bruising in my elbow ditch. I don’t recall ever having bruised like this before and I thought it was noteworthy.

Group Effort

The outlining continues! My 94th appointment with Horizakura was 1.5 hours of outline around the Fudo-Myoo on my left arm. He continued the halo of flames on my inner arm and added the “head” of the Karura Flame on top of my shoulder. Longtime readers may remember that I offer very little input on the process. With the exception of a couple major pieces I have mostly let Horizakura design the whole tattoo on his own. This appointment was no different in that respect, but it was unique in another way. As he was designing the Karura Flame on my shoulder, he started having a conversation with his apprentices (who were observing) about the design. Mind you, all of this was in Japanese, so besides one or two words, my whole understanding of the exchange was from body language. The most interesting part about this was that this didn’t really seem to be Horizakura teaching his apprentices what he was doing, but more of an open dialogue about the design. It went on for maybe 10 or 15 minutes. He drew on me, they discussed, somebody made a suggestion, they drew an example on paper, he made some changes on me, and they discussed some more. At one point an apprentice even gloved up and drew on me a little, then more changes and discussion. The whole exchange was really fun to be a part of. I’m sure it would have been even cooler if I understood Japanese. While this was going on, I reflected on this part of the master – apprentice relationship. I don’t claim to know very much about the way a tattoo apprenticeship normally goes, much less a more traditional Japanese apprenticeship, but this particular interaction was much more of a two-way street than I would have expected. I suppose it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as I know lots of tattoo artists will trade off working on the same drawing to play off of and learn from each other. I found it interesting that this back and forth was happening regarding a client’s tattoo. I wonder if a more particular client would be adamant about the artist they selected being the one to design the piece. It didn’t bother me at all that other people in the room (be they apprentices or otherwise) were having input on the process, that sort of community feedback can be a big part of art in general. I thought it was pretty awesome to be a part of, I’m glad it happened.

It’s been really exciting to see this sleeve come together. My whole tattoo has felt very peaceful to me. This sleeve is adding an intensity that I think really compliments the rest of the work. My next appointment can’t come soon enough!

I Can’t Touch

My 93rd appointment with Horizakura was one hour of outlining flames and rocks on my Fudo sleeve. There were a couple spicy spots, but overall the whole arm is so much easier (by comparison) than some of the other areas that I’ve had tattooed. It was pretty breezy. I have to say that seeing this sleeve come together has been exciting. Longtime readers may recall that I had some reservations about getting a Fudo Myoo sleeve, mostly because I didn’t think my arms were big enough to communicate the power of the image. Each appointment has shown me more of the power of the image and I’m really stoked to see these flames in color (feels like that’s 100 years away). We chatted a bit about the future of the tattoo and about how he would like to tie my two sleeves together visually. He illustrated this by putting his two forearms together in front of his body, palms up. I proceeded to do the same so he could see what the areas would look like side by side and maybe sketch it out…. but I couldn’t do it. I’m either too fat or not bendy enough, but Horizakura’s reaction was simply, “You can’t touch?” Can’t wait to add this to the list of failures I go over every night before bed!

I almost forgot, something incredible happened during this appointment. I was told that I could keep my shorts on. First time in almost 6 years I didn’t have to wear a fundoshi. What a milestone!

C-c-c-combo Post!

This post will cover work done during appointments 91 and 92. Horizakura spent these appointments outlining a standing Fudo Myoo on my left arm. Normally I would post immediately after an appointment, but because he was only able to complete Fudo-san’s upper half during appointment 91, he asked that I not post anything until the entire figure was outlined. If there is one thing that has really developed in me during this bodysuit process, it’s my patience. I’ve always been fairly patient with people, but being patient with myself or the things I’m excited about isn’t always so easy. In light of that, it wasn’t too much to ask that I be patient with making this post.

We have chatted a bit about what’s to come. Namely, surrounding Fudo Myoo with fire and rocks. I’m really really excited to finally be working on my sleeves. Most people start with sleeves these days, and I fully admit that this sounds childish, but if I’m being totally honest I always kinda felt “left out” for not having my forearms tattooed. Not in a literal sense of course, there’s no club or group that could actually exclude me, but it always bummed me out a little to be at conventions or around tattooed people knowing that my own sleeves were still a long ways off and thus not visible to others. I know it’s an immature way to think, and I also know that many people I’ve been around probably never gave it a thought to begin with, but there has always been a part of me that felt hidden by not having my arms tattooed. I have been ready for this part of the process for a very, very long time and I’m just so happy it’s finally here. That is as much honesty as you will be getting from me this week, and maybe ever, let’s never discuss it again. Instead, perhaps I can interest you in these photos:

Side note: I’m also super happy to not have to be hiding my junk for these photo shoots in the immediate future.

The Black Hole

For my 90th appointment Horizakura, as expected, continued shading the background on my belly. You’ll notice fresh work around the navel and in the clouds/wind behind the most prominent tail feather to the bottom left. Due to time, we weren’t able to finish all of it, as you can see below there are still a couple windbars that need shading around my navel. Overall, this was an easy appointment for me, though I’m sure I have the gentle nature of tebori and the delicate touch of Horizakura to thank for that. At one point, Horizakura’s apprentice remarked at how deep into the belly button he was tattooing and he called it a black hole. I’m not sure why I found it so funny, maybe because the fatter I get the deeper my belly button gets, but I laughed so hard that he had to stop tattooing briefly so I could compose myself.

Next appointment is supposed to be the outline of Fudo Myoo on my left arm, but I’m not sure if that is still the plan since we didn’t get the stomach background finished. We’ve never done shading and outline in the same appointment before since it’s two different set ups, but there’s a first time for everything. As of right now, it’s looking like I might have to cancel my next appointment for a work project, but there is a glimmer of hope that perhaps I can schedule work around the appointment. We’ll see.

Feel the gravitational pull…. of the black hole….

A Gift

We are inching ever closer to being finished with the shading on my stomach. After my 89th appointment with Horizakura, which consisted of an hour and a half of tebori on the right side of my stomach, all that remains is the patch of background in the center of my stomach around my belly button. I’m especially excited for this area as I feel like it’s really going to help the phoenix pop. Not much more to say about this appointment, this area wasn’t bad at all and I was able to stay relaxed.

We had a really nice chat after this appointment. It mostly consisted of me word vomiting how much tattoo in general, and specifically my tattoo, means to me. I’m not sure that it’s something I’ve ever really spoken about here, and even as I type this I’m not really sure it’s something I want to discuss publicly. The meaning of my tattoo, not the symbolism, but the actual purpose and place my tattoo has in my consciousness and life, is very likely uninteresting to whoever is reading this. I suppose even if a person was interested to know more about it, I would consider it a little too personal to share in this way. What I would like to share, and what I discussed with Horizakura and his apprentice, are the two heaviest burdens that I bear in this process. These burdens, while personal, are much more likely to be felt by others and, I think, that makes makes it much more useful for me to share here. For your sake, I’m going to try to be brief. The greatest burden I bear in my relationship with Tattoo is that I am not (and will never be) a tattooer. Being relegated to the world of the collector or enthusiast, while totally awesome in its own right, puts a very clear barrier around what Tattoo is and can be to me. The second burden isn’t quite as heavy because I think it is mostly based on misunderstanding. It is that I am not Japanese. Obviously, that puts a clear barrier around the level of connection I can have to the content of my tattoo. I push back at the accusation of appropriation, frankly anybody who would suggest such a thing reveals more about their own ignorance than mine. However I do find myself considering often the limits of what my non-Japanese perspective can achieve with this art. I don’t really think this is a bad thing, but I do think it is important to remind myself of periodically. I pay money for the tattoo, but Horizakura has given me this piece of his culture as a gift. I try to make sure I always treat the cultural aspect of this process as such.

That’s the broad strokes of what I tried to explain that night. I’m not really sure why this appointment was the particular time it came up, but, just like vomit, once I started I could not stop until it was all out. I hope they (and you) weren’t bored by it, but it felt good to say it out loud.

I told you I would try to be brief… can you imagine how long this was before I edited it?

Sorry.

Home Stretch

I’m way late in posting this, but my last appointment with Horizakura was on April 13. It was my 88th appointment and he spent an hour shading the remaining background over my pubic bone. My legs are officially connected! I don’t have much to say regarding this appointment. Horizakura estimates we have two more appointments to go before we start outlining again. I am exceptionally excited for that as I believe we will be outlining the remainder of the body suit before going back to shading again.

Over.

Slow Going

My 87th appointment with Horizakura was 1.5 hours of tebori from the top of my thigh and across my pubic region. I really can’t begin to explain how little I enjoy typing “pubic region” but I don’t really know what else to say. It is what it is. This was a nice appointment, nothing too far out. Just some nice music and light chat. I was glad to be back as there have been a variety of circumstances that have kept us from maintaining our usual two week schedule. I’ve already cancelled my next appointment since my wife and I are going on a (very necessary) vacation. We’re averaging about 1 appointment per month in the new year which is definitely a bummer, but hopefully we will pick up steam as we move into spring. It has gotten to the point that I don’t really feel like myself when I’m not getting tattooed or healing a fresh tattoo. It makes me feel disconnected in a way that’s a little difficult to articulate.

I’m writing this post a little bit later than I usually do, so I can include a quick note about healing. Where my leg/crotch crease in a seated position has been rough this time. I didn’t have any issues healing this area on my left side, but this has been the most troublesome spot to heal in recent memory. I have dry healed just about every inch of this tattoo, but this spot got a little bit of ointment to try to aid in the healing. We’ll see how it goes.

Looking forward, we have maybe two or three sessions of shading left before it will be time for more outline. This excites me.

Spiritual

After a cancellation because of inclement weather, Horizakura and I were finally able to meet for our 86th appointment. Without any further preamble, I am delighted to say that he has finished shading the background on the deepest edge of my butt cheek/inner thigh. Regular readers will recall that this particular area is among the worst to experience, not because of the pain, but because of the undignified position required for the artist to access that area. For 30-45 minutes, I held my leg in the air while he tattooed this final bit of skin. Even though we have reached a very real comfort level with each other, there is no world where this position is comfortable, and I am delighted to be done with it. The remainder of the appointment was spent tattooing over my left hip area.

Prior to starting this appointment, we picked up the discussion of putting Fudo on my left arm. I have really warmed up to the idea overall, but I really wanted him to show me how the size and shape would fit on my arm. He took a minute before the appointment to sketch it out on my arm, and even in that rough outline, I could see the power of what he was going for. When I set out on this journey, a foreign deity was not on my list of subjects for this tattoo. While I always have and always will believe that these tattoos are given freely to everyone regardless of race or religion, I have to admit I felt a certain reservation about having a tattoo of a deity I had no connection to. Over the past month, I considered Horizakura’s explanation of why Fudo would be the right choice for my left arm. He said my tattoo is very spiritual and it needs something to unify it. I am not a particularly spiritual person in the sense of ritual, but I am fairly spiritual in the way I feel people interact with each other and the world around them. I also think that you can learn a little something from everyone, regardless of where you’ve come from. Even still, I wrestled with the idea of this tattoo going in this direction until I realized a certain aspect of the process that I had been glossing over. The true reason that I have been going through this process isn’t because I need to have a collection of personal medallions tattooed on me as talismans for my hopes or fears. I have been doing all of this because of my love for Japanese tattoo as a whole. Odd as it may seem, this isn’t about trying to lay bear my innermost being so the world can see. It’s about having and being tattooed and engaging with the mystery and energy that experience lends. Living the rest of my days with a tattoo from Shinji is really all that I have ever wanted. This is my path to engage with the culture of Japanese tattoo and I am not afraid to adjust my understanding of what that path actually entails versus my expectations for it.