Horiren has made a name for herself working in shops and conventions from Bangkok to London. This multifaceted artist not only has a hand in tattooing, but as a muralist and public speaker. In order to be part of her world, you must be formally introduced. It was by sheer luck that I had the opportunity to meet and collect a piece by such a prolific tattoo artist. While exhibiting her piece for the Body Electric show, held at the Ricco Maresca Gallery in New York City, she did a three day guest spot at East River Tattoo before heading back to Japan. It was my first time getting tattooed in the Shamisen-bori style and I could not be more excited. Our conversations were limited, but with the help of her translators we were able to communicate a few aspects about her work and thoughts on tattooing.
How do you perceive the tradition of tattooing?
Japanese tattoo culture is changing now. We are starting to see designs based on anime and original illustrations by contemporary artists. We are starting to see tattooers who have little knowledge in traditional Japanese designs, picking up images off the internet and tattooing without knowing the meaning of the tattoos. We are losing much of our irezumi traditions, and when I say traditions, I mean not only the designs, but the methods of tattooing, ways to handle and take care of the tools, relationship between a master and his/her apprentices, etc. But since nothing stays the same, the change is inevitable.
You mention that your work is transitory. Why have you taken this approach to tattooing?
I view tattoos as alive beings, and tattoos and our lives both can only shine while they are alive. I would like more people to accept this as a fact.
How important is it, and how does Japanese tattooing see itself in global tattoo culture?
I believe that the Japanese Irezumi culture has revolutionized the (the Western) tattoo world. Even in the last 20 years, we have been seeing more and more large pieces and suits as opposed to small souvenir type ones, and to that I believe the Japanese tattoos have contributed much.
How has new media helped you? What is its importance?
Internet has been the thing that allowed me to look to the world outside of Japan. It also brought more clients from abroad. If the internet did not exist, I probably would have never left Saitama, Japan.
My 15th year anniversary project, in 2014 “Horiren’s World Gallery” (http://www.horiren.com/worldgallery/en/) would have never been possible if it weren’t for the internet! “A dot connects to another dot and becomes a line to form a big circle around the world.” (Even though we live far apart we are all connected.)
I’m interested in the Renyuusai event held in Saitama. How did you arrange such a large event?
It was a collaborative effort and not my achievement alone. A staff of about 40 people and almost 200 guests made it possible.
I understand that having tattoos is frowned upon. Where you are located, what are the legal terms for tattooing? What is it like to be your own boss and manage your studio?
First of all, having tattoos on your body in Japan is bad since many people are lead to believe from Japan’s old tattoo traditions that only members of yakuza groups have tattoos. For having tattoos, you are not allowed to enter most gyms, spas, swimming pools, and in some parts of Japan, beaches and you are not allowed to enroll in driving schools or go into esthetic salon. As far as giving tattoos, in Saitama where I am located it is not regulated much, but anything to do with tattoos is in the gray zone. It is a crime however to tattoo anyone under the age of 18 in Saitama which is punishable by imprisonment. As far as working for myself, it comes so naturally to me and it feels normal to me. I would like to take on an apprentice one day in the future.
As far as taking on an apprentice, how do you feel about the transmission of knowledge, and teaching others to tattoo? What other issues are of importance to you?
It is very important. I wish the masters of the art of Japanese tattooing would publish more books to share their knowledge, or even establish schools or places, which allows artists to be properly educated.
I would like to pass on what I have learned about traditional Japanese tattoos to the next generation. I dedicate the rest of my life in the effort in doing so. I will continue to draw, paint and tattoo for the future generations.
What is the importance of traveling and the longevity as a tattoo artist?
I love traveling and meeting people around the world, communicating with them directly. Going abroad gives me fresh perspectives and gives me opportunities to reexamine Japan and its culture. I intend to continue to travel as long as my health allows me to so please send me invitations!
And finally, we briefly touched on how fetishism and eroticism intersect between daily scenes in life and tattooing. Any thoughts on that subject area?
Where there are naked bodies, fetishism and eroticism exist. Tattooed skin is sexy and I am sexy as well. In ways very different from porn, tattoos are sexy and sacred at the same time.
What is the next step for you? In your art? In tattooing?
I am keeping this a secret for now!
By Shannon Daugherty, Translated by Mahina Yuki Terauchi