The Wonderful 101

My 101st appointment with Horizakura was an hour-ish of outline on my right ribs. For those that don’t know, the style of my bodysuit would be called donburi soushinbori. The “donburi” (unprofessional translation: rice bowl) portion relates to the full front piece on my stomach and stands in contrast to the also very popular “munewari” or split-chest design. The soushinbori portion denotes the tattoo extending to my wrists and ankles. I think this information is important context for how these last two appointments have made me feel. I was very, very excited to finally start my stomach early in 2020, but because of the way it sits, it very much felt like a stand-alone piece. Now that Horizakura has begun to fill in my ribs, it feels like my rice bowl is filling up. I have a tangible sense that everything is getting tied together in a most exciting way. These last bits of outline are giving me the sensation that this whole tattoo is really coming together. Which is not to suggest that I had any doubt that it would, but when you move through a process so slowly, these portions of the tattoo feel like big sweeping changes. It feels like we’re moving at lightspeed lately!

You’ll see from the pictures that Horizakura added some wind/clouds and sakura to my ribs. A keen observer will notice a floating flower petal that looks a bit different than the rest. Almost like it was tattooed by somebody else. Because indeed it was tattooed by somebody else. During this appointment, Horizakura asked me if it would be alright if his apprentice Haru tattooed a single flower petal on me. If it wasn’t already obvious to you, my approach to this tattoo is not about having a “perfect” tattoo. This has always been about having MY tattoo. It is a tattoo that has always existed in spirit and is only being brought to the surface by those that tattoo me. Even the imperfections (though they are few and far between) exist as a reflection of who I am as an imperfect person. More than that, I went on at length in my previous post about how tattoo means so much to me but how my paths to engage it are limited (since I have no intention of ever being a tattooer). Horizakura’s question presented me with another path by which I might engage and support this craft, and that was by offering myself as practice to a young, aspiring horishi. How could I possible say no?! I am delighted to say that Haru tattooed a single flower petal on my ribs and I get to be counted among their earliest “clients.” It feels really great that even after 6 years and 101 appointments, there are still parts of this process that can come as a surprise to me. Two more weeks until the next adventure!

100 Appointments

On January 18th I had my 100th appointment with Horizakura. I am definitely susceptible to ascribing imaginary meaning to arbitrary milestones and I suppose this milestone could fall into that category for some folks. In tattoo terms, it’s not has monumental as something like finishing the outline of the bodysuit (which is growing close), but it also stands out to me as a monument to the patient perseverance that has been required of me during this process. I have to say that I am quite proud of myself. Certainly on the one hand I don’t have to “do” much more than lay there. On the other hand, pursuing a tebori bodysuit requires a good deal from the client, things that perhaps the more casual tattoo enthusiast may not really consider. I don’t mean to suggest that one method is superior to the other, tattoos are all about what you like. I just mean that perhaps a person that more casually collects tattoos wouldn’t consider what this process means in tattoo terms.

If you have no stomach for my exposition (who could blame you?), skip to the end for lots of photos. If you’re feeling a little brave, or just have nothing better to do, I would like to expand on my thoughts. Even now, I’m not sure which aspect of this process I would consider to be the most challenging. I suppose just like all things, it largely depends on the individual. Certainly a huge part of the difficulty of this process is financial. I will never discuss the costs associated with this process here, but in undefined terms I can say that the only way for this to be financially possible for me is to treat it like a bill I pay every month (a bill which I am delighted to pay). I feel very fortunate that I am in a position to be able to afford it, but make no mistake I work very hard to be in that position. I work hard not only at the job that pays me, but on the budget that I live by. Every dollar dedicated to this tattoo is a dollar taken away from some other part of my life and my family. Many, many times I have to look at the financial demands of homeownership, marriage, and life and weigh it against the luxury of getting tattooed. By any metric, tattoo is not a “wise” use of my money and I have been forced to put other aspirations on hold in order to accommodate it. I can’t say enough about the patience of my wife as we navigate those financial realities together.

Conveniently, that leads me to the next aspect that I find challenging, and that is having the patience to pursue this style of tattoo. Consider this: Aside from my half sleeve done by Horishun, no part of the tattoo that we have been working on for the last six years is actually finished. I am nearly totally covered in a partial tattoo. The outline isn’t done, the shading isn’t done, and there’s no color yet. It can be mentally exhausting to see other people get their sleeves done in a month when it took us about five and half years to even reach my wrist. Of course, it doesn’t actually matter what gets done when, but tattoo is a visual medium and the members of its community identify each other visually. It may be juvenile, but it can be frustrating to have 100 hours of tattoos that nobody can see. I see people with only their arms tattooed and in my heart I want to verbally express, “I’m just like you! I love this stuff too! We are from the same community of people!” because they (for the longest time) couldn’t see it on me outwardly. I am of course aware that the traditional Japanese mentality surrounding tattoos is that they are a private thing to be shared only with those close to you. This blog is called Gaijink for that reason. I love this artform, but I am not Japanese. I have longed for years to stand out as a member of the tattoo community that I for so long went about in in secret. Many of those feelings have begun to reach fulfillment when we began work on my left sleeve, but in a way starting the sleeve and feeling almost like I “came out” as tattooed amplified the way I previously felt even more so. It feels like people can finally see who I really am.

Related to the patience of being a part of the community is simply the patience of slow progress. This was much less difficult for me, but is still a challenge from time to time. Getting tattoos is exciting and even before the last appointment is healed, I’m eager to see what is next for us. The benefit of that excitement is that it helps to alleviate the two previous challenges I mentioned. This sting of finances and being anonymous is certainly numbed by the joy of the next appointment being just around the corner.

If you have made it this far, thank you. Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts or for offering the occasional kind word on this blog, Reddit, or Instagram. I’m sure it’s obvious by now, but I fucking love tattoos and the ability to share my experience with others has given me another avenue by which I can engage tattooing outside of getting tattooed. I never aspired to be a tattooer myself, so this process and this community is the sole means by which I can engage this thing I love so much.

Finally, I have to thank Horizakura. The confluence of circumstances that brought us together shine bright as some of the greatest moments of my life. Though there are many, many fantastic horishi all over the world that could have given me a beautiful bodysuit, I’m not sure that any of them would have been as good a fit as Horizakura is for me. It is tempting to dive deeper into this thought, but I think that I have said enough here for one post and will leave my thoughts on our relationship for another post entirely.

Now at last we come to the reason you all showed up to begin with. My 100th appointment with Horizakura was spent outlining my left ribs for about 1.5 hours. People love to talk about how brutal it is to have your ribs tattooed, and while it certainly was not pleasant for me, it was not the worst I’ve experienced. Especially of note is that Horizakura’s apprentice Haru drew the cherry blossoms that he tattooed on me during this appointment. In light of the milestone of this appointment, I have included some extra photos to show my bodysuit as it is today. Thanks again for joining me on this path.