Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun

Things have been a little hectic between a busy work schedule and having a baby at home, so I kinda forgot to post an update after my 103rd appointment. Fortunately for us all, appointment 104 was on a different area of my body, so I was able to get a clean shot of the work done during 103. Overall I’m not sure there is much to say for either of these appointments. Of course, it’s always a pleasure to just be engaged in the process. Tebori is also always so much more pleasant to experience than machine tattooing. We’ve been bouncing back and forth between outline and shading a little bit more than usual over the last few months which has also been nice. I am eager to see the outline finished, but even as I consider that, the pictures of the shading remind me of how much this tattoo will change as the shading and color are complete. It’s all very exciting! Horizakura asked to cancel my next appointment because of a project he’s working on, so I will likely not have another update here for a few weeks. I have been thinking more and more about diving into some of these books I have. I think it would be useful to have some information about them here for the public to see. Perhaps I can squeeze one of those in before my next appointment.

Appointment 103 – 1 hour tebori on the clouds and bar just below the clouds

104 – 2 hours of tebori – You’ll notice that two of these photos are very similar. I wanted to illustrate how the tattoo (specifically the dragon’s head) and lighting changes by simply hunching my back a little. I think it’s important to keep body position in mind when you’re looking at photos of tattoos. Shapes and reflections can change pretty dramatically with even slight body movement and you shouldn’t necessarily be so quick to judge an artist’s rendering from a photo. Certainly things like the smoothness of shading or clean linework won’t be affected, but proportions and shape and light might be.

Neckline

My 102nd appointment with Horizakura was an hour of outline over my shoulders/upperback. It’s funny to think about it, but we have finally finished the outline of my backpiece after starting it over six years ago. Long time readers may recall that after we finished shading in what had been outlined of the backpiece, Horizakura wanted to begin with my sleeves in order to properly join everything together at the shoulder. A conversation about full sleeves vs 7/10 sleeves eventually lead to the decision to start on my legs instead. The backpiece was put on hold and he started from the bottom and began to work his way up, which is what we have been doing ever since. Starting from the bottom like that has always made me feel a little bit like a glass or cup that is being “filled” as we go. Not a very big cup. I’m short. Less of a pint glass and more of a tumbler. Now my glass is almost full and it is very exciting.

You can see in the pictures below, he connected the backpiece to my halfsleeve by Horishun and worked across the back to my left arm. Horizakura’s apprentice also chipped in on some of the linework on that left shoulder which is always cool. I like being a part of their learning experience. It feels like I’m helping! By the end of it all, he had reached my neckline and my backpiece’s outline was officially finished. Based on some of the sketching he did prior to the appointment, I think the next appointment will be on my chest. Hopefully that will be in two weeks, but we’ll see how it goes.

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.

First Appointment of 2022

My 99th appointment with Horizakura was very similar to my last couple appointments. So much so that I’m not sure I have anything to really say here. He spent about an hour and a half shading my left forearm/elbow ditch. Tebori is much more gentle on thin-skinned areas like the ditch, so it wasn’t bad at all for me. I actually nodded off a couple times which I don’t recall happening since we were tattooing my thighs. I try not to do that if I can help it but it’s just so damn relaxing sometimes. That’s all I’ve got for you today. Look at these pictures.

In retrospect, I wish I had taken a more “straight on” shot of the ditch. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but I suppose you get the idea.

Hitachino Nest and Sena Tattoo

I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel for how I should title these posts. Hitachino Nest is one of my favorite breweries in Japan. I learned about them on my second trip to Tokyo in 2015 and really enjoyed drinking a distinctly Japanese beer that wasn’t one of the ever present brands you always see (Sapporo, Kirin Ichiban, and the other one that I’m forgetting right now.). I was thinking about the beer a bit and decided to see if I could find some to bring to my appointment. Lo and behold, a liquor store just 20 min out of my way had some in stock in their Build Your Own Six Pack area. I cleaned them out, all 5 bottles, and brought them to my 98th appointment. The only reason I bother to spend so much time on the beer is there wasn’t much else to this appointment. The typical pleasant chat, calming music, and easy forearm tebori made it as pleasant as always. We started this appointment a couple hours earlier than usual, but wrapped up after an hour so that Horizakura could spend some time tattooing his apprentice. In between my appointment and theirs, we drank a Hitachino nest and chatted, and that was about it! We wrapped up the appointment at peak rush hour traffic for NYC (although it was a little lighter than usual because of the holiday season), so I decided to pop over to Sena Tattoo to check out their stock of GxBxT apparel. I had my eye on a particular hoodie with a Lango Oliveira design on it. Then, since I was in the area, I also went over to Five Points to buy a t-shirt. I don’t imagine I’ll ever have the time or body space to get a tattoo from Garver or those guys, so buying a shirt is pretty much my only way to support them and see the space. Afterwards, I drove home. Thus concludes the story of my 98th appointment with Horizakura. ASAHI! That’s the other beer brand I couldn’t remember!

Nothing of Note

My 97th appointment with Horizakura was a relaxing hour and a half of tebori shading on my left forearm. Nothing much of note here, just a nice time to chat and listen to music. I’m very late with this post as I have another appointment tonight. So there will be another update tomorrow, likely with more shading.

You will also notice that these pictures are perhaps not as uniform as what I usually post up here. I totally forgot to take pictures after the last appointment, so I had to snap these at work on an unfamiliar camera with a less than ideal setup. They’re good enough for archive purposes, but you’ll notice one is out of focus. It is what it is.

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.

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!