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?
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.
My 85th appointment with Horizakura was two hours of tebori shading around the jewel on the inside of my left leg. For this area, I once again had to assume my least favorite position: on my back, legs spread, with one leg held straight up. After about 15 minutes or so, he moved to an area that required my leg to be up and out to the side more. Here, he used one of the support stands he has in the shop and raised it all the way up so my leg could rest on it. That was a major game changer for me. Not having to focus on both managing the pain and keeping my leg up was helpful and relaxing. Generally, this area isn’t too terrible for me, except for where he gets really close to my crotch. That part felt very sharp. Other than that, mostly a dull pain throughout the night.
At the end of the appointment, Horizakura mentioned that he is thinking about something different than a dragon for my left arm. He thought maybe Fudo-myoo would be good. I like Fudo, but my concern is that my arm just isn’t big enough to accommodate the design. I also didn’t really want any deities in my tattoo when we first got started. As I’ve continued down this road though, I’ve definitely become more open minded to having something other than animals in the suit. I want to take some time to think it over though. Ultimately, I really want this tattoo to be something Horizakura is proud of. I want it to be his design. I just haven’t really digested the idea yet. We’ll see what happens!
I was originally going to write up a wrap up post for the end of 2020, but I didn’t. I don’t really have a good excuse. It just didn’t happen. Instead, I’ll combine it with this post which will also detail my 84th appointment with Horizakura.
2020 was better for me than it was for most people, so I am always hesitant to complain. I had my fair share of heartbreak, I certainly wouldn’t call it a good year, but I came out the other side better than some. NYC was locked down for a few months, so in total we logged about 21.5 hours of tattooing over 14 appointments. These are my lowest tattoo numbers to date, but some of the work has been really exciting which compensates nicely. Moving onto my torso was huge for me. There’s really only a small portion of my suit that isn’t outlined at this point.
Here are front and pack photos of how I look after my last appointment of 2020. You would think that by now I would have been smart enough to be regularly taking full body shots so we could see the progress in a more “macro” sense, but I’ve never claimed to be very smart, so here we are. You get two pictures.
Sorry the legs are a little dark here. I wasn’t evenly lit. Here’s a leg shot since you won’t stop complaining.
Moving on. My 84th appointment was more tebori on my left thigh. The wave that was only half finished was completed and a good chunk of background around the koi was shaded as well. We’re running out of leg here… in fact, we’re running out of background to shade. There is a small strip on my right thigh/hip, the rest of the left thigh, and the area over my pubic bone. After that it might be time for more outlining! I say that with an exclamation because new outlines are exciting, but the process is terrible. Tebori is infinitely better.
My 83rd appointment with Horizakura started off pretty similarly to my 82nd appointment. To his credit, he tried to get me into several different positions to best access the area that needed to be tattooed, but none of them were giving him the space he needed to work. He determined that my least favorite position would be the best solution. Thus I found myself once again laying on my back, holding my left leg over my head. It didn’t last too long, but any amount of time in that position is enough for you to be happy when it’s over. Afterwards, I was in a bit more of a neutral position with my left leg kicked out to one side so he could continue to shade my inner left thigh. My right foot was flat on the table with my knee bent. Quite comfortable. Until the cramping began.
I have a tendency to cramp when I sit motionless for long periods of time. This pretty much only happens when I get tattooed, but my diet/water intake doesn’t seem to ever change it. When I’m getting tattooed, I do my damnedest to not move at all unless I’m asked to. During this particular appointment, somehow, my knee cramped up. I did not know that this was possible, but sure enough, after about an hour of lying there with a bent knee, I could feel a cramp develop under my kneecap. It felt really, really weird. I try to never interrupt the appointment because I consider my time there to be precious, so I just kinda bit the bullet and willed the cramps away. Really, there is probably no need for me to endure that, but when you don’t have anything else to do during a tattoo appointment, any diversion can be a fun one.
Not much else to say here. My next appointment is in two weeks and I’m sure it will be more sweet tebori action. I am perpetually fired up!
Here I have some photos from my 82nd appointment with Horizakura. I’m actually writing/posting this a week after the appointment, Thanksgiving and a very busy work schedule got in the way. This appointment was more shading on the inside of my legs. When we were first getting ready to begin, Horizakura looked over the outlines and noticed that the only remaining unshaded background on my right leg was a small spot very high into my crotch, where my butt cheek meets my thigh. I don’t remember his exact wording, but he basically said something like, “There’s a small spot there…” As if he was asking me if I wanted to work on that spot today. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I later realized the implication was that since it would only take a short while to finish off that spot, he would be tattooing both my legs during the same appointment. My response at the time was, “Do whatever you think is best.” He did. The net result was me hobbling around like I had shit my pants for about two days while both my legs were healing. Whoops.
Anyway! Not much more of note from this appointment. In order to access the small spot, I once again had to lay on my back and hold my leg up in the air. Super cool tattoo guy pose! It’s pretty exhausting holding your leg over your head for like 45 minutes. The only good to come from that was once he finished with that area and moved over to my left leg, it was so relaxing that I dozed off for a bit. Of course, that’s after the initial shock of crossing over to the other side of my body went away. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere on this blog, but whatever natural pain management systems your body has, it doesn’t work moving across the center line of the body. It’s basically like starting the appointment from the beginning again. Inner thigh is a pretty easy area to get tebori though (for me), so no real drama there. Afterwards we grabbed a couple beers like usual. It’s getting cold in NY though, so I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be able to keep that up!
I have another appointment coming up next week, but before that, I’m hoping to get up a post or two about some of the books I’ve received in the past few weeks.
My 79th appointment with Horizakura marked a return to shading all the outline that has been added since we were able to start up again in July. My dream of finishing the outline of the tattoo was left to die on the vine as Horizakura still wants to consider the elements of my left arm and ribs/chest. My instinct is to charge forward and his is to slow down and hold back. That’s pretty much how it has always gone with us, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. Who am I to get in the way of the process?!
ANYWAY. All that preamble was just to say that for the next 8-10 appointments (I’m totally guessing here), this will be the All Tebori, All the Time Blog. No particular notes here. He spent an hour and a half shading the background of my right inner thigh. Not a bad area to be tattooed in my opinion. It’s nice to be back to the quiet sounds of tebori. I know for a lot of people the sound of a tattoo machine fills them with excitement, but having experienced a fair amount of both, I have to say the peace and quiet of tebori is far superior.
My 78th appointment with Horizakura was about an hour and a half long and consisted of connecting all the different areas of the legs and stomach to each other and to my backpiece. These pictures are a little bit of a treasure hunt in terms of figuring out where the fresh lines are, but you can definitely tell. Besides water/waves, a houju was added to my right rib area.
The only interesting tidbit from this appointment actually came from when he was tattooing over my pubic bone area. He had already finished tattooing up my right side and started working his way from right to left across the pubic area. I was braced for some serious pain, but it was fine. Then, something interesting happened. Imagine a line cuts my body in half vertically through my navel. As soon as he crossed that line from right to left, the pain intensified a lot. I had noticed at times before how crossing from one side of the body to the other hurts a lot, but I always thought it was kinda unscientific or all in my head. Well this was about as clear cut as it could be. Exact same area of the body, same time frame, right across. I guess my brain was sending all those pain hormones or coping mechanisms to the right side of my body, but it wasn’t doing anything for the left side. Eventually, it evened out too and the pain normalized, but that initial changeover was wild. Stupid brain.
Next appointment is in two weeks and it seems like we will be shading all the background that has been added this year. I had hoped we could just finish the rest of the outline since we’re so close to being done, but Horizakura still has some design stuff that he wants to think over for my torso/arms. I’m not really pushy by nature, it all has to get done eventually anyway, but the real reason I’m happy to give in to his plan is because not pushing forward with the outline is how we came up with the idea for the Hokusai stomach piece. I’d rather give him the space to think it over, that’s worked out pretty well for me so far.
My 77th appointment with Horizakura was very similar to the 76th appointment. For this hour, he tattooed the same area as last time but on my left leg, adding a houju to my inner thigh and another to my left hip. I really like them as little pops of color and I think it’s going to look great when everything is shaded and colored… in like 10 years.
I’M NOT CRYING! YOU’RE CRYING!!!!!
In terms of the experience itself, well it was also very similar to last appointment, although I have to say the compromising nature of the position wasn’t as bad having already experienced it once before. The only thing really worthy of note is that I had truly forgotten just how violently painful the ass is. He put a line on that thigh/ass fold that was like white lightning and instantly reminded me why I hated getting my ass tattooed so much. Fortunately, it was just the one line.
We briefly discussed next steps as well. Seems like the plan is to finish outlining/connecting the thigh and background around the phoenix, then he want’s to switch over to shading again before he does my arm outlines. Part of me wants to ask him to just finish the outline of everything first so I can be done with it. It’s arbitrary, but it does feel like having the whole suit outlined will be an “item crossed off the list” in this process. We’ll see what happens… it’s all got to get done eventually anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
There have been parts of this tattoo process that I have to admit I had never really considered when I decided on this path. One of the most grievously overlooked aspects was the physical requirements of tattooing some of the more “hard to reach” parts of the body. Up until appointment 76, laying down with my leg in the air so Horizakura could tattoo where my thigh meets my butt cheek was the most compromising position I had faced. Turns out it gets worse.
This is the first time lines have been tattooed on me that I can’t fully capture without becoming horrifyingly immodest. You’ll get the jist of it in the pictures below, but the edge of this tattoo on my inner thigh is literally where my leg ends. During this appointment, I considered such questions as “Does having my leg tattooed this close to my twig and berries make me cooler or more committed than others?” and “Where does my leg end and my taint begin?” I may never have the answers to those questions. For educational purposes, I will tell you that the mechanics of giving Horizakura access to that area of my body involved me pulling my fundoshi wrapped junk out of his way while he sat on the table and I had my leg stretched out wide and resting on a stand. It was, without a doubt, the least sexy I have ever felt.
Why is this post entitled, “Are you nervous?” Horizakura put that imposing and foreboding question to me just as he was getting the machine ready to begin. I put that high on the list of questions you don’t want to be asked while you’re laying in the position I was in. I couldn’t help but laugh, but the truth is I wasn’t nervous. It was certainly awkward, but no part of my leg has ever been as painful as the center of my chest or parts of the ass have been. Speaking of which, he also did some more feathers and such around the phoenix. I’m starting to think the chest is worse than the ass. Every line felt like I had intense heart burn.
Appointments like these are the ones that make me glad I started this blog. Many of you, and the whole of social media culture, likely just want to see a picture of the few lines done over this one hour appointment and move on. But this one hour appointment has yielded more laughs and thoughts than some of my longer appointments ever have. I’m glad that I will have a way to go back and remember what this part of the experience was fresh after it had happened to me.
It’s virtually impossible that I have kept your attention this long. Just look at the pictures and be on your way: