Not a Book Review: World of Japanese Tattooing

I returned from a couple weeks of work travel to a very lovely surprise!  My copy of “The World of Japanese Tattooing” by Iizawa Tadasu was waiting at the office!  It took me a few months to get a copy of this book.  I suspect it would have been much easier if I was able to search for it in Japanese, but the only online option I could find was Donlon Books in London.  It cost more than I would have liked after the conversion to dollars and shipping/insurance, but I have it now and that makes me quite happy!  The book is a treasure trove of classic Japanese style.

Published by Haga Shoten in 1973, the book is composed of a large number of Japanese tattoos by such masters as Horiyoshi II, Horigoro III, Horikin and more.  It also includes an array of ukiyo-e prints and Japanese text that is (sadly) totally lost on me.  There is a brief introduction in English that gives some very interesting insight into how Japanese tattoo and its history was viewed during the time of publication.  It approaches the comparison between Japanese and Western tattoos with a pretty heavy bias, but it is a bias that no doubt existed in the late 1800s/early 1900s when cross cultural exchange of tattoo was beginning to ramp up.  Having gotten the book so recently, I haven’t had time to look through all of it with very much attention to detail, but I am very excited to do so.

All in all, that special mix of consumerism and the desire to collect has made it worth the price of admission.  I am quite proud to have added this book to my collection.  Below are a couple pictures I took:

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Ukiyo-e in Rome

I haven’t had any appointments lately since Horizakura has been traveling.  However, I did have the opportunity to go to Rome for work last week.  During that trip, I happened upon a very non-Italian art exhibit.  While I doubtlessly should have been trying to get into museums to see the works of Bernini, I saw a subway advertisement that informed me of a Hiroshige exhibit nearby.  Despite the fact that the collection is typically housed in Boston (a mere 4 hours from my home), I wasn’t sure when I would next have the opportunity to see it.  It’s a great exhibit with an extensive collection of his works.  They allow photographs, so I thought I would share a few of Hiroshige’s prints that most directly relate to Japanese tattoo in their subject matter.  It’s well known that Japanese tattoo has its roots in Ukiyo-e prints, but seeing some of that influence first hand was a treat.  I have also included a humorous print that depicts a battle between Sake and Rice as well as a poem that specifically relates to the content of my tattoo.  Check it out!

Damn good.

During my 44th appointment, the door buzzer went off.  As Monji went to answer the door, Horizakura casually mentioned that he had a friend and Horitoshi family member from Belgium visiting.  The door opens and in walks none other than Shad “Horitsukikage”!  I have known about Shad for a long, long time through my research on the Horitoshi family and figuring out the who/what/where/when of my tattoo.  It was pretty awesome to meet and chat with him and Horizakura during my appointment.  In my early twenties I would spend hours admiring the work of tattoo artists from all over the world.  At that time in my life, I didn’t dare dream I would be where I am now. As a result, it never occurred to me that I might have the opportunity to meet some of these artists I respect so much.  I’m going to cut myself off here for fear of embarrassing myself more than I have.  Suffice it to say it was a damn good appointment with some damn good conversation and damn good tattooing.  Damn good.

I almost forgot, this will be my last update for about a month as work/travel gets in the way of tattoo appointments.  In light of that, the pictures below show my whole leg sleeve (pant?) as it currently is.  They also show a very boring, mostly untattooed leg.

Connected

Well hot damn!  Appointment 43 is in the bag and Horizakura connected the leg shading to my already shaded thigh.  Feels great to have it beginning to form one piece!  The back of the knee was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  I think the line work hurt worse.  It is worth mentioning, Horizakura was quite merciful in his approach and would shade an area behind my knee, then move on to a different part of my leg to give me a break before returning to the back of the knee.  I suppose maybe some people would rather just get it over with, but I found that procedure very tolerable.  The man knows his craft.

The only other worthwhile note here is that he used those waterproof bandages again at my request.  I was a little ahead of the curve this time though.  I buzzed all the hair off my tattooed leg so it wouldn’t hurt like a bastard when I pulled the bandages off.  Worked like a charm!

I lied.  One more note.  I didn’t move.  I’m traveling for work, so these photos come to you from the bathroom of a Holiday Inn in beautiful San Antonio, Texas.

 

The Edge

Below are pictures from my 42nd appointment with Horizakura.  As mentioned in my last post, he began shading my left leg.  It’s so nice to have the peace and quiet of tebori back in my life.  I know lots of people who have a fondness for the noise of a tattoo machine, but after experiencing both, for my money I love the gentle plucking of tebori.  These pictures were taken a week after my appointment, as opposed to my customary following-day photos, because we are trying a different aftercare approach.  As a result, you will see a bit of dryness in the new work and it may be a little difficult to tell what is new and what was previously shaded during appointment 37.  This appointment also marks the first true “edge” of my tattoo.  Since nothing on my back is connected and my other leg and current arm will be extended, the end that was shaded here represents the final line of this body suit.  It’s an odd milestone to consider, but it’s a milestone nonetheless.  I love a good milestone.

It’s a little hard to know how much of an improvement the new aftercare is.  Generally, areas of tighter skin seem to scab less than looser areas (my jiggly thighs and fat ass, for instance), but all in all this seems to be healing more smoothly.  Instead of wrapping the tattoo for the night and then unwrapping and washing the next day, Horizakura used these large waterproof bandages.  I’m not really sure how to describe them, but I’ve included a picture below of what my leg looked like with them on.  Anyway, I was advised to keep them on for 3 nights, then remove and clean up as usual.  It feels like an improvement, but things can vary so much in the healing process, maybe it’s all in my head.  That being said, you should absolutely follow the aftercare advice of your artist.  Unless they are recommending rubbing dirt on it, they know best.

Putting the FUN in Fundoshi!

After a 7 week hiatus, Horizakura and I were finally able to meet for an appointment.  After consulting my spreadsheet (shut up.), this is the third time we have gone 7 weeks without an appointment.  I could have sworn this was the longest tattooless stretch since we started, but I guess not.  It felt like a damn eternity, perhaps because of how busy life has been.  Enough calendar talk! On to the work!

Horizakura was beboppin’ and scattin’ all over my leg last night.  He added some cherry blossoms and waves to fill in the outside of my left knee and near the tail and head of the koi on my thigh.  Additionally, and this is weirdly the most exciting part for me, he connected the shaded portion of my thigh to the outline on my leg.  It’s finally all one piece!  The current plan is to begin shading this outline with our next appointment.  It will be nice to take a break from the noise of the machine.

Oh, about the title: in the pictures below, I opted to wear my fundoshi because it was getting a little tricky trying to keep covered and take photos without obscuring the work.  The fundoshi is what I wear during our appointments.  Mind you, it’s not a true fundoshi.  I believe the traditional garment is created from a single piece of fabric with no strings.  Mine has strings because the learning curve of traditional Japanese underwear beyond my ability.  It’s also easier to put on or remove as Horizakura works.

Not a Real Book Review: “The Japanese Tattoo” by Sandi Fellman

(First, it’s worth pointing out that I have almost zero credibility when it comes to reviewing books.  My qualifications start and stop with me being a literate, native English speaker who has read books in the past.)

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Lately, I have taken an interest in trying to find photos/books of older tattoos.  The impetus for this was Horizakura showing me his copy of “The World of Japanese Tattooing” by Iizawa Tadasu (published in the early 1970’s).  I only flipped through a couple of pages, but there were some very striking pieces in that book.  Tattoos that showed their age, not in the fading of ink or sagging skin, but in design and layout and execution.  I’m not at all a scholar on the topic, but what few 50+ year old tattoos I have been able to find have some very interesting differences from what we see today.  While it is really easy to follow the trends of the modern Japanese tattoo and to see how different artists approach their subject matter, it is fairly difficult to find actual pictures of the works of past masters.  So I started poking around the internet looking for older books on the topic.

“The Japanese Tattoo” by Sandi Fellman was published in 1986.  As it is still in print, it is very easy to get a copy of this book, making it a great entry point for this new interest of mine.  Sandi’s description of the project and how it came to be is interesting.  It seems her primary first hand source was Owada Mitsuaki (Horikin), but there are photos of tattoos done by a couple other masters as well.  Her essay that comprises the bulk of the book’s text is only a few pages in length and vacillates between a historic retrospective and a philosophical examination of the Japanese tattoo.  I didn’t find it to be too overwrought and even found real pleasure in the expression of her ideas:

“I left Ohwada’s studio that day fascinated by the profound paradoxes inherent in the art.  Here was beauty created through brutal means.  Power bestowed at the price of submission.  Delicate elegance attained by way of violence.  And… the glorification of the flesh as a means to spirituality.”

The same cannot be said for the Intro written by D.M. Thomas.  In all honesty, I stopped reading after about 3 paragraphs because it was incomprehensible, up-its-own-asshole nonsense.  If you ever pick up the book, take a crack at the intro and let me know if I’m wrong.

The photos in the book are different than I expected, but still a treat to examine.  Whereas I expected photos of full body suits in their entirety, what we get instead are nearly life-sized close ups of specific parts of a variety of body suits.  The results are as if you were to put your face about a foot away from a body suit and inspect the work.  It isn’t great for understanding the whole concept of the tattoo, but it’s fantastic for seeing the subtle details in shading and linework.  Additionally, each photo is accompanied by a small blurb about what you are looking at.  I found this to be especially pleasing as many other books are content to just give you dozens of pictures with no context.

All in all, definitely a quality work and I’m glad I bought it.  I do wish that I had sprung for the hardcover, though, as shipping damaged the softcover copy I bought and the binding seems a little weak.  Not that I expect much more for $20.  If I do return this damaged copy, I will probably get the hardcover instead.

https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Tattoo-Sandi-Fellman/dp/0896597989/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516468829&sr=8-1&keywords=the+japanese+tattoo

A note for people who may be interested in cameras/photography:

The camera Sandi used for these photos is pretty unique.  It was (is?) a 5 foot by 3.5 foot Polaroid camera that produced 20″ x 24″ prints that self exposed in 60-70 seconds.  Literally a giant, 200 lbs Polaroid camera!