THE HISTORY OF TATTOO IS HARD TO RECOUNT EVENTHOUGH IT’S AN ANCESTRAL PRACTICE WE CAN’T PLACE IT’S ORIGIN.
IREZUMI : Body Fiction
According to the chines dynasty Wei, the inhabitant of japan used tattoo 1200 years ago to identify tribes and for religious reasons. The Ainous the first inahabitant of japan used tattoo for the spirit not topenetrate the human body. Traditional japanese tattoo, this supreme art, cacan be tracked until 300 years ago in the middle of the Edo aera (tojyo). At this times prisoners were tattooed according to their crimes as a sign of identification. When they were free they would look for a specialist in Iresumi-Shi, to get tattooed flowers or other that would hide the tattoo of the prison. with time more elaborated designs appeared such as integral tattoo or “body suit”. So tattoo became a real Art. but tattooers and tattooee were considered as crimonals and yakuzas. Its only a few time ago that japanese tattoo got respected as a real art thanx to the cultural exchange with the western tattoo.
So western tattoo got the tatoo trendy but thos tattoos are western ones…made with machines and can be done in a few hours. this is the great difference with japanese artistical tattoo, integrals for exemple can take 5 years of work.
At the time of Edo alots of firemen where tattooed. they were supossed to protect them. their work was dangerous they would climb on top of roofs to see where fires were. they had to be brave and tattoo was suposed to raise their spirit.
Japanese traditional tattoo is all handmade. But thanx to the contact with western tattoo artist some start using machines to draw the main lines of the design, Sujibori. Those machines enable a faster work and softer lines impossible to do with free hand. For the rest, the coloration they still do it hand made thats why some work take years.
The master Horitoshi is from Sapporo, Hokkaido. He was 15 when he came to tokyo for the first time. Most of the peolpe around him where tattooed, says he, and he got his tattoos at a young age. He started to study this art alone for 21 years. One of his friend who has started irezumi two years before him was a good source of information. But it took him ten years to accept himself as an artist of the irezumi and a few years more to realy master this art. His son Horitoshi IInd opened his own shop an dthe father has now seveteen studants. the youth of taday learn the technics more quicly than he did, he had to make a lot of tests and errors often on his own skin. With his friends they would make a lot of test on each others with a lots of errors. Hotitoshi says that he had to do everything himself: chosing the stings, the black ink, mixing colors, chosing the design. Nowadays the persons learning tatto don’t have to do all that. They just have to watch him work. To select his student their is no exam to pass their just the eye of the master.
The Deshi, “student” only come two or three days in a week at precises hours. For the three fisrts months they have to learn the good behavior. If i ask them to clean they must clean, they must do what i ask them to do. Then i teach them how to sterelize material. After six months they can start tattooing under my watch and they go on like that for three years. Thos who didn’t reach perfection in three years can stay two more years. Before i would let no one use a sting during the three firsts years, i would teach them only the good behavior to have. Now they can tattoo each other after sixmonth.
With the customer is going this way. their is a first meeting during wich i show them designs. Their is often a bad perception of time that a tattoo can take to be made. A few days or a few hours in fact a few centimeter square of hand made tattoo is an hour of work and pain…then some customers think that a body suit can take a year when in reality it takes five years…right now i have three customers that are coming three times a week and some others come less frequently. According to my physical strench i work from one hours to one hour and a half on a customer. I got a lot of customers so i can’t stay a long time on each and everyone of them. For exemple today i worked one hour and a half on a customer and two hours and a half on an other. usually i got four customers a day with one hour and a half of work on each wich means about six or seven hours of work a day. But some customers need longer sessions of about two or three hours but i try to avoid this kinf of session. becaus at the end of such sessions i’m less concentrated and not satisfied of my work…A lot of customers about 80% stop before the end of the tattoo, one needs a lot of character to undergo the pain untill the end. After a few sessions i know if a customer is strong enough to stay untill the end. IF the customer can’t stand the pain i can’t work correctly. It’s realy hard for me if someone is creaming and monving all the time…it’s realy painfull you know! An other reasons that customers don’t come back is that they are moving. In these case they have to have to search an other “Hori-shi” in their new town. In fact some of my customers got started elsewhere in an other “hori-shi”…
Master Horitoshi uses, according to the type of work and the body part, between 5,6 and 35,36 stings. It’s an exhausting work. Sitting on the floor for hours in seiza. we can imagine the difficulty of drawing on a three dimensions material. Iresumi requires a total concentration, no error is allowed. A master of this rank can’t make any error. Some artists use paper on the skin to draw the design. the first step is to set the design in its main lines. then colors follow naturally. for the wrinting the japanese stiil use the same ink, th e black ink did not change for three hundreds years. Methods of sterilization has changed. At the time of edo they would use alcohol. then during the meiji area they would boil. now the hospital sterilization process is used.
A lots of design are based on the history of japan or japanese mythology. everything is made for the young generation to remenber and love the traditional japanese design and not to mix it with western elements. Nowadays the colors are imported . maybe they are japanese pigments but it would take a year to test it on your own skin before using it on customers.
Master hotishi confess that he have somr special relationships with few customers: their’s agroup called horitoshi-mutsumi “customers i tattoed and we try to meet one time a years”.
We can’t talk about irezumi without quoting Utagawa Kuniyoshi and it’s Tsuzoku Suikoden Goketsu Hyakuhachinin (108 heroes of the Suidoken). He design are tha min source of integral tattoos often copied partly or totally. when mask are the background of big tattoos the central design is most of the time taken from a story of the kabuki.
thos irezumi tattoos (suidoken and kabuki) are not the only ones others exist: mythical figures, strange creatures and history. Dragon, koi, fish, gods each got it’s meaning as the blue sky, pink cherry tree, maple leafs, waves that are part of astonishing decorations.
the dragon is for the western people the most famous creature of the japanese bestiary. Symbol of richness he takes it’s power from the others creatures: it’s a snake with dear horns, carp skin, eagl claw, horse nose…it is consedered to be protecting against fire that’s why edo’s firemen loved it.
The koi, the carp is also a favorite! it is often design as swimming against the stream. its the strongest symbole of courage. a chinese legend says taht onces it got at the end of the wterfall it becomes a dragon. the other aspect is taht whent it’s captured it wait for it’s fate to come.
Finally their are the divinities. Fudo the hell keeper, with aterrible stare, circled with flames, one hand on his sword to beat his enemy. it’s the prefered of the youngsters because it’s a force for the good, it symbolizes the moral code of the suiduken and the yakusa’s. An other religious tattoo is the prayer Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (salute to the sutras of the lotus and the good law). I t comes from the fanatical buddhist sect Nichiren created in 1253; whom the six millions of anthusiats are still addict on singing and drumming. They believe that the simple repetition of this prayer will assure them the rebirth in the nirvana.
People want to have the qualities of the charatcer in their tattoos, so it’s not surprising that suidoken’s hereos and other traditional hereos are popular. One of the most famous is Kintaro also know as Koitaro. its a kind of super boy with powers of sdtrengh and perseverance. he is usually depicted with red hair fighting a giant carp. this legend is central during the festival of boys of the 5th march, a proof that courage and virility are in the meaning of tattoo.
The notions of yin and yang are an essential part of the design in the aesthetics of japanese tattoo. And the horishi “japanese masters” are proud of their ability to represents a figure of balance. Thats why in most of the irezumi the background is always amazing. When the fire is the main theme we’ll found rivers and waves in the background wa can find clouds storms, or nice poppys and mapple leaf to symbolize japan. Maybe the most complexe background is the Sakura, “blooming cherry tree” wich bloom in spraing and whom the flowers die in three days. It symbolizes the precariousness of the life of the warriorit’s often tattooed on yakusas and thos who have a dangerous life and accept their fate.
The colors of the traditional irezumi are : greens, reds, purple and ink black sumi.
Once the tattoo is finished and the borders are fixed the Hiroshi signs his professional name. usually in a “cartridge” under the arm or the leg. but a real japanese irezumi is never realy completed. somewhere their’s always a little part of th etattoo not finished because this is the only way to show the promise of original inspiration and the ideal of perfection.
The symbolism of numerous designs, the different variations on yin and yang and the numerous technic of shadding are extensive. Years of tradition, study and reflexion leaded to this system of complexe designs that we see in modern irezumi. So it’s no surprise that the hiroshi feel belittled when they are asked little tattoos without meaning and keep secret their methods and designs. That’s why masters don’t communicates between them and that the location of their studios stay secret untill an appointment is booked.
It’s clearly said that the motivations to get tattooed when your a yakusa are specials: initiation rite to enter this “order”, it’s a proof of perseverance and virility, irreversibility of the commitment in the world of the yakusas. To wear with pride one’s own name (with pride) and the mark of the order. to be ready to show one’s memebership. to the yakusas its a rite of passage to the age of man not to be anymore a Shonbenkusai “someone who smells piss”. Or to belong to the nakama, a community, the one of the tattooed people, not to be alone anymore in the great city…or fot nationalist reasons to commit in the traditions of the eternal japan. even religious reasons like the nam myoho renge kyo’s tattoo, with the famous “ohm” on the head.
Every tattoo has a meaning. Usually the symbols represent qualities (good and evil) whether they are desired or acquired. In western countries the most popular image was the eagle for it’s qualities of courage and nobility…another was the heart symbol of fidelity, honesty. In japan too tattoo represent these type of qualities. The classical japanese tattoo concentrates on animals, flowers, religious designs, popular hereos:
the poppy: sybolizes good fortune
the chrysenthemum: determination
the cherry tree: evanescence of life (samurais used it to show they could die th enext day at war)
the lion: is a guardian (the dog keeper of the chinese temple)
the tiger: comes from the tradition of suidoken’s hereos
THE BEAUTY OF THE SCARS
Nabanita dutt says us that irezumi is not only an ancient japanese art it’s also a way of life. To go into the irezumi is a serious matter wich requires a good preparation. the work is done by experts, the hiroshi. in the contemporary japan we can count about a hundred of these hiroshis. the are masters, SENSEI, and in fact they are the masters of the ceremony wich goes with the process.
you can’t just go into a hiroshi’s shop and ask a tattoo! you have to “find the way”, the path that leads to him by your own means, and obtain a first inteview during wich the master will study you and will consider if you are worthy to enter the irezumi!
At the time of edo they would get inspired by Ukiyo-e of kuniyoshi based on folk designs like the ryus “dragon”, orochi “giant snake” and sichi “snow lion” and some religious character like the buddhas. they would use very sharp stings and coal ink called sumi.