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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Turning Japanese,...

Ohayo gozaimasu! Hajimemashite. Watashi wa tato~uatisuto Johnny Dorobo desu,... nihongo ga sukoshi wakarimasu, demo mata jozu ja arimasen,... so I'll stick to English, and tell you about the trip I took to the eight islands of Nihon, my Japanese trip last December.

Being Seppuku Tattoo, all things Japanese permeate our daily lives, from art, manga, anime, tattoos, movies, fashion, motorcycles, culture, food, drink, and ethics. It was only natural that I would want to visit and delve into as many of the Japanese cultures as I could, from sampling their world famous cuisine to getting traditional irezumi from the most honorable horishi.

I can't say enough about my tour guide, Crystal Morey. Originally from Austin, Crystal has lived in Japan since the 90's, and is the owner of Gomineko Books, exporting rare historical periodicals to the tattoo community globally. She has an undying love for her adopted country and all of its timeless traditions. She is also heavily tattooed, has befriended many of the most prominent tattooists, and runs tours specifically designed for gaigin tattooers like myself to see Japan as only we can. She acts as interpreter, tour guide, history buff, manners coach, and if you're not careful, will also drink you under the table or kick your ass at a karaoke showdown. She does a number of tours during the year, with a maximum roster of fifteen, and in a number of cities, from Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. If you want to see a side of Japan that very few tourists ever will, or have always wanted to collect the tattoo work of some of the best artists on the planet, by all means, book a Gomineko tour. I would have been one lost and clueless otaku without her. I only wish there was a Crystal for every country I want to visit.

Crystal Morey:

The video below shadows my trip eerily. Its filmed by renown traditional old school master Marcus Kuhn, & is just one of this installments of the Gypsy Gentlemen tattoo travel series he's been producing. Take a look, both the tattoo studios I was tattooed at are represented. (Stop the film at  8:16 and see my poster collection I brought as omiyage in Horiyoshi 3's studio!) I believe he was there just a week after I was. This video is reposted with his permission, domo arigato gozaimasu Marcus San!

The Gypsy Gentleman Episode 7: Japan Part 1:

I'm including a number of links to sites, videos, and photo galleries to give you more of a feel for all the amazing sites we explored.

• We stayed in Shinjuku, the famous red light district, down the block from the Japanese version of CBGB's, Antilock. 

• We learned to navigate the extensive subway system, and visited Harajuku, Shibuya, Yokohama, Kamakura, and a number of seaside towns. 

• We partook in cleansing and money washing (zeniarai) rituals at Shinto shrines, viewed traditional weddings of samurai families at the Meiji Shrine, and climbed into the mountains to visit the Nikko National Park, a world heritage site. 

• We climbed inside the largest buddha statue in Japan at the Kotokuin Temple. 

• We visited a ukiyo-e woodblock print museum. 

• We burned incense at the gravesite of the Forty Seven Ronin. 

• We went underground in the Benten-kutsu Caves at the Hasedera Temple. 

• We climbed through hundreds of torii to the Sasuke Inari Shrine. 

• We turned into children at the Studio Ghibli Museum. 

• We rode a bullet train to the Gunma prefecture, where we painted at a daruma factory, and watched Steve experience tebori at the hands of sensei Horimasa. 

• We ate at fantastic restaurants, izakaya, ramen houses, famuresu, Indian, sushi bars, manga kissu, and a host of bars, watering holes, and karaoke rooms. We ate at a theme restaurant called the Lock Up, where your hostess handcuffs one of your party and escorts them to a prison cell to eat. 

• We drank at a west coast styled bar called Tombstone, on the night that visitors from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and California were celebrating after the Moon Eyes 21st Yokohama Custom Car Show. 

• We crossed Shibuya's famous scramble crossing in front of the statue of Hachikō.

• We ended up at David Lynch's Musuem Exhibit at the Laforet in Harajuku. 

• We sang karaoke with tebori master, sensei Horimyo, who blew me out of the water. 

• And, of course, I got tattooed.

Horiyoshi 3 is the godfather of Japanese tattooing, an apprentice of the second Horiyoshi, who's master was practicing ancient tebori (Japanese hand tattooing) before World War 1. He is considered to be not only one of the most skilled tattooists on the planet, but a living lifeline to tattooing's prehistoric past. In the book, 'Bushido: The Legacy of Japanese Tattoo', Horiyoshi 3 explains a series of ideals and ethics that we at Seppuku have used as the cornerstone of our careers and how we treat our customers. Just one examples is the fact that sensei Horiyoshi 3 hasn't raised his prices in decades, despite the fact that droves of people are continually making pilgrimages from across the globe to his humble Yokohama studio to sit at the feet of the grand master. His outlook is that people are making a sacrifice of pain, endurance and money to wear his art and carry it to the grave, so he honors their dedication and makes himself available to everyone, including those of humble means. (Not price gouging gullible star fuckers like some tattoo reality TV stars we could name.) I've dreamt about meeting honorable Horiyoshi 3 ever since I put on my first tattoo in 2000, and to sit in the same studio featured in the books I've studied all these years was simply mind blowing. 

My tattoo, placed on one of my hands that I create my art with, is a namakubi, or severed head. The final act of a formal seppuku ceremony is when the kaishakunin, the second, cuts off the head of the bushi warrior who has finished slicing open his own belly. The tattoo has multiple meanings, but is meant as a tribute to both my dedication to the studio and to the samurai code of chivalry. 

We visited Horiyoshi 3's Tattoo Museum, not far from his Yokohama studio. The museum is a huge collection of tattoo artifacts and memorabilia from around the planet and across the ages, donated by hundreds of artists who have made the pilgrimage to sit at the grand master's feet. Although I was tagging Seppuku stickers everywhere I went, and using them as senjafuda at the shrines, the highlight was when Horiyoshi's wife asked us to add to her sticker collection on the front of the building.

I chose Yellow Blaze as the second place I wanted to be tattooed. I've long admired Shige's meteoric rise to being one of the youngest new stars to be included in the best tattooists in the world. Shige is currently not accepting new clientele, but I felt that his apprentice, Tomo, was easily also one of the most skilled horishi in Nihon. I had planned two days in a row, and wanted a jigoku-dayo, (courtesan of Hell), and scheduled enough time for a sizable piece. Tomo was taken with the idea of taking the idea and turning it into a project, and convinced me to let him take up the entire leg, from hip to ankle. I agreed, as a tattoo artist, I know that giving the art as much room to breath is vital. But also, the courtesan's robes are embroidered with scenes from buddhist hell, demons torturing souls, and the largest the robes, the more art that can be shown. Naturally return trips will be necessary to complete the art.

Not enough can be said about the trip. Even at ten days it was impossibly short. This marks one of many trips I'm planning that involve getting tattooed by masters in their home countries. If you have any questions about my experience, please feel free to ask.

Ja mata! Johnny Thief


Nikko National Park :

Zeniarai Benten Shrine:ō