(Born to be mild)
Having put Nagoya on the international tattoo map with their topnotch freehand tattooing for years now, it’s time we take a closer look of what the true meaning of an ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO is. Sabado and Genko have expanded their superior duo to a trio with Kunii as the new kid on the block and the ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO continues to give the traditional tattoo world here in Japan a fresh wind of possibilities and freethinking all in a diehard DIY spirit.
First time I saw some work done by Sabado from ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO was a couple of years ago and I remember that it was something I hadn’t seen before. Clean, well done perfectionism with a really bold design and a new way to use different colour tones. During the years here in Japan I got to see more of the ECCENTRIC’s work and it was always with a certain admiration. I know I don’t just speak from my own perspective, this is what I always hear when designs and tattoos from Sabado and Genko come up as a topic. The shop is located in the old parts of Nagoya city in the neighborhood of Naka. Here you will find shops (not tattoo shops) that have been around for hundreds of years. Shops still dealing with a slowly dying trades like old handicraft for the local traditional market. The ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO was the first tattoo shop in this area and is still going strong on the same location where Sabado started it all in 1990. The original shop on the street level has been transformed into a small café run by the active Yukino, Sabados younger sister. She also takes care of all the chores that a busy tattoo shop has to deal with on a daily basis. She’s a friendly first contact with the rest of the shop, fluent in English and Japanese which makes the shop feel very international without the usual culture barriers that most of us have to struggle with first and foremost in many tattoo shops before we can make that crucial step and actually decide if, what and where the tattoo should be. There are 3 tattooists at ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO, the local newcomer by the name Kunii, a skateboarder who has around 3 years experience working with Sabado. Kunii is going to be a name to look out for in the future. Then we have Genko, an exceptional artist that is letting his work speak for himself. Having been a good friend of Sabados for over 11 years and who started out his tattoo career as one of Sabados clients and then started to tattoo with him and after only 9 years of doing this, he might be one of the best naturally gifted tattoo artists in the world if you ask me. Genko has just opened up his own shop just down the street from the original shop and is now tattooing independently but still with all his ties to the old shop just up the street. This soft-spoken man can turn out some serious stuff, that’s for sure, and it’s after you have met and made the acquaintance with Sabado that you’ll see where it all comes from. A natural artist and a natural teacher and mentor.
The “style” (hard to put a finger on this one) of the ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO in not only the tattoo aspects but also personalities and the way of dealing with clients and everyday life seems to be different from any other shop I have been to so far here in Japan. The Japanese tattoo shop/studio mentality is in general pretty laid back with professional people on most levels, in general a great place to be if you are into getting tattooed or to tattoo. But after spending time with the team from ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO you can easily see that there are other sides of this culture that is pretty interesting and puts the meaning of the word tattoo in a different light, if you ask me, a brighter light. I don’t like to compare artists and shops with one and another since we all have different backgrounds and values of life. But after an interview with the ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOOs founder and his followers you definitely want to get more ink!
Sabado opens up the shop early and starts working at 10am. He is then busy tattooing until 8, 9 or sometimes 10 pm. Tuesdays are holidays. The original shop was located on the street level but a couple of years ago the local Mahjong parlor in the basement below the shop became vacant and he moved the shop to the present studio. The shop is brightly lit and looks “clean”. In two senses clean, clean as in not dirty and also clean as in clean from unnecessary furniture, posters on the walls and other memorabilia. You get the feeling of efficiency and practicality. The rather big studio is divided into 4 work stations with sliding glass screens dividing them and with clean cut hand made (by DIY master Sabado himself) wooden leather covered benches and mobile work benches with all the materials you need for tattooing. Easy to use, easy to reach and easy to clean.
I asked him why this “clean” style of his studio and he said –“Well, this is all from Mr.Takeuchi. The carpenter from the custom construction company we hired to do the job with the new place. Someday I will put some stuff on the walls.” He ads “but it’s so easy to clean everything as it is now!”
We start talking of the past and how come he ended up here after all. The story starts in South America where Sabado spent 6 years traveling as a self-taught jewelry maker. A vagabond and hippie spending time traveling on the roads of countryside South America. It was around 18 years ago he got his first contact with the world of tattooing. Sabado says “I was in Brazil at that time just traveling and selling handmade jewellry on the street when a guy, his name was Willie, gave me a tattoo. It was a small sun and the place was near the Iguaçu Falls on the border to Paraguay. He tattooed me on the street with a small hand made tattoo machine. Willie was a hippie and he taught me how to make a handmade tattoo machine” Sabado continues “In Brazil it’s common to see hippies doing road side tattooing, I don’t know why hippies?” 2 years after Sabado (which is his given nick name in South America and means Saturday in Portuguese and Spanish) was doing his trade in another state of Brazil when he one day was trying to tattoo himself with a simple needle and some Chinese Ink that a neighbor saw him and asked if he could tattoo him as well. He tells me “The guy said to me one day,
“-Hey, Sabado, what are you doing? Tattoo me also”
“-Sure, what do you want?
“-A tiger on my back!”
“-Ok, but we need a machine for that kind of work!”
“-Ok, just tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you”
“-We need a small electric motor from a tape-recorded, needles, more ink…!”
Sabado says, “The next day the guy came back with all the things I told him to bring the day before, so we built the machine and got it to work not too bad. But I had absolutely no experience to do a big back piece like he wanted. All I had done so far with a machine was a small rose on myself!” He continues, “I tried to make a tiger on my neighbours back but it was just too difficult, too big! I did the lines of the tiger, but the guy was just not sitting still because of the pain so we never finished the tattoo”.
After that he learned to tattoo better and tattooed his hippy friends all over South America like Peru, Chile and Argentina to name a few countries, he told me that he used to travel only in the countryside and that there were no tattoo shops anywhere he came to. But after coming to the huge industrial city of Sao Paolo he came in contact with real tattoo studios and more “professional” tattoo artists. He mentions artists like Russo, Polacko, and Maritius Theodore.
He says,” Mauritius tattooed me a lot!” he ads “I decided to sell all my jewellry and the tools to make them to buy myself a tattoo machine, the first one was a magnetic one” he ads “This was in 1989, I was 27 years old when I did my first stuff as a “professional”, I worked with a guy named Russo. He was kind of a hippy but he had his own house and car so we used to tattoo at his house or in the back of his VW van near the beach. You know, smoking, drinking and maybe tattoo once a week, if we felt like it!”
Sabado says “I moved back to Japan soon after that and opened up my shop here in Nagoya, at the exact place as today. I worked with a couple of people here in my shop before the present lineup, guys like Han and Washo to name a few”
I asked Sabado where he got his particular style from, the one we can see today in his work.
He answers “-From Elementary school, ha, ha, ha. Also, much of the style I do today is something I got from the clients, they ask me to do a certain design and that’s what I will do. When I opened up ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO I used to have lots of books forthe clients to check but no one used them, they always came up to me and said, “Do one specially for me”, so they gave me the basic ideas of what they wanted” he continues “I also get lots of ideas from Huck Spaulding and the flash catalogues he sells, I could say that this is my main reference book. I like small one-point designs to start with, it’s a good way to get ideas from” he ads “To make a big back piece I use a small one-point flash as a reference, to draw first a big one on a stencil is hard for me, hard to see what you are doing in terms of right scale and also it takes a lot of time. I used to do this but stopped when I realized that smaller is easier to work with. Now I do the design straight freehand on the body and then I can see if I need to change something afterwards as I do the tattoo. Some days I feel like doing like this, someday I feel like doing like that. It always changes so what’s the use of a stencil?”
Sabado shows me a box full of small stencils and sheets of paper with small one-point designs on them, some of them rather roughly drawn, others extremely detailed. He shows me a small drawing of a tiger, maybe 5cm big. He says, “This is a backpeice design I did sometime ago”. This box is full of these kinds of designs and there are many I have seen in magazines covering people’s backs or whole bodies. Genko showed me his technique of how to get that design properly matching a client’s back and body. He takes a Polaroid photo of the clients back and then draws the design with a red marker on the Polaroid and will then be able to make the overall design in a small flash size kind of design. Working in this style, mainly freehand gives the clients the satisfactory feeling of being able to say, this piece is unique, it’s made on only my body and nobody else can say the same of just this design!
I noticed during my stay at the ECCENTRIC SUPER TATTOO that the level of commitment to the profession never failed but also that the atmosphere was really laid back even though some of the worlds without doubt best applied tattoos come from here, Sabado, Genko, Kunii and Yukino didn’t take themselves too serious or had any kind of better-than-you stuff going on, all very easygoing and fun but also super professional at the same time. Sabado showed me their new ECCENTRIC T-shirt with himself as a big sea monster popping up between the waves sinking a hopeless sailing boat with “SABADO” written in old school heavy metal lettering over the whole scene. Or the new sticker soon to be ready with a picture of Sabado as a newborn baby with the text “BORN TO BE MILD” written under it.
I asked Sabado about the future, future for his shop and future travels as one of the leading tattooists from Japan.
“Well, I like to go to places I haven’t been before, but right now at this moment I would like to go to California, I like California and I haven’t been there in a long time” he ads “As in case of tattoo conventions I would say that I will go anywhere. If I have the time, the money and if the invitation appeals to me I’ll go! But I almost never get invited because we don’t have E-mail here. We used to have E-mail but it just filled up our days to read and answer these E-mails everyday so I decided not to have it anymore. I am a primitive guy and I like personal contacts with people. I was invited to an event here in Japan just a couple of weeks ago and the organizer invited me by sending me a video clip with him on it talking to us and inviting us to his event, it was very funny so I went there with everyone from the shop. I was on my way to the convention in Green Bay in the United States last February but got stopped at customs. I didn’t have a work permit so they wouldn’t let us in the country. Next time I will get the proper visa, no problems!”
How about the future for the shop and so on?
“Well, I don’t really think about the future that much. Today we will have fun and tomorrow is another day. You can say it’s like driving a car, I’m in neutral gear now. I can shift the gear any moment and go either forward or backwards if I like, I have been in neutral for a long time now!” he continues “I am looking for some more staff at the moment though. 2 guys and 1 girl, someone that can take care of my shop so I don’t have to be here all the time, I would like to go out more you know! Lets see what happens.”
How is the tattoo scene here in Nagoya?
Sabado answers without hesitation “It’s very natural, no one hides their tattoos under long-sleeved shirts or anything like that” he continues “people in Nagoya are very relaxed about their tattoos and the tattoo scene. It’s a good place to be” he ads “I’m just a simple small shop owner, just as the guy selling sneakers next door or the small café down the street. Lots of neighbours come over here everyday to hang out, and these are not tattoo related people. I’m the oldest shop around here doing tattoos, but my neighbour and good friends family down the street has been here for over 300 years. He is a Shamisen builder and his family has a very long history in this area, he is one of my best friends and we are very close.”
The interview starts slowly to fade out into nothingness, we are all pretty tired and hungry after a long day, so we decide to get something to eat at the ECCENTRICS favorite hangout, but before this Sabado says to me when I tell him that in Tokyo, I can sometimes feel a little out of place and not so welcomed if I show my tattoos. He says “I don’t think so, if you feel like that people will treat you like that, if you don’t have that feeling people will treat you in the way you act, we here at ECCENTRIC don’t hide our tattoos and people treat us good all the time, all you have to do is to smile, be good you know!”
On the way back from Nagoya to Tokyo I was thinking of these words and isn’t this pretty obvious and clear when you look at it. Why hide behind that grin and those self proclaimed observations that the general public don’t think too high of you if you’re tattooed. Maybe it’s up to you to prove to people, maybe even surprise people with a good and a polite behavior, prove them wrong by saying, I have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear!