8 Ball is one of Japan's top shops, located in Nagoya, which, like Osaka and Tokyo, is famed for having top tattooing talent. Nagoya is known for its laidback atmosphere, its multicultural demographic, and as the strongest place in Japan for Kustom Kulture - the locals have a love of cars and strong tattoo work.
Located in a rather obscure location (in fact, locating them is pretty tricky), 8 Ball have strength of name and talent that has gained them a dedicated clientele who seek them out. Their work is powerful and creative, and their artists are all-rounders, operating in all styles very well with three artists, Horitake, Horigyn and Yashin, who have solid books of consistent, outstanding work with a lot of Japanese and New Skool back pieces/ larger scale works that amalgamate styles.
They are known all over Japan for their tattoos and doing stories in other areas of Japan - the artists tell me to go check out Nagoya, where the work is hot. It is lauded as one of Japan's top cities for talent, and going to conventions such as Tattoo Summit in the neighbouring Toyohashi during summer was a good opportunity to check out 8 Ball's fantastic work.
Compared to other cities, I'm told that Nagoya is less judgmental about people with tattoos, when compared to, for example, Tokyo and Kyoto, where people with ink are still heavily discriminated against. Says Horigyn, "Nagoya is pretty good in terms of how people with tattoos are seen", and accordingly it seems that the tattoos are pretty loud and characteristic.
Owner Masa tells us, "The thing that makes Nagoya tattoos unique is that we have our own style. Tokyo tattoo artists are often developed from Irezumi, so whilst they are not strictly of that style, they are Japanese in taste. Nagoya, however, is autonomous and original.”
"In Tokyo, literally anyone can open a shop by operating out of a apartment, there are so many artists. This means the gap between good and bad is really prolific. In Nagoya, the average is quite high, with the standard is set by Eccentric and 8 Ball. Moreover, our clientele really know their stuff and have pride in being our customers."
When we went down to shoot, a couple of phone calls were made, and then literally half an hour later, a bunch of Impalas came hopping up the street with carloads of beautifully tattooed locals.
Talking to Horigyn he says, "Our customers are really great. The difference between 8 Ball and other shops is that we do get friendly with the clients straight away. Car culture is really strong; the level is high due to the strength of Kustom and lowrider culture. So the types of jobs I want to do are plentiful in Nagoya - it's really good.”
This is due to the Toyota factory being nearby, which inevitably supports the local economy (car enthusiasts check out the Toyota car museum with its Chevys and Fords from the 20s and 30s whilst you are there), and somewhere, ingrained in the local psyche is a love of cars, and hence inevitably also a Kustom Kulture, hotrodding, and a heaving lowrider scene.
There are numerous lowrider conventions in Nagoya as well as bands, and musicians associated with this scene coming from here, with menacing titles such as ‘Phobia of Thug’( I kid you not). Going to their gigs is an experience in brown pride adopted by the Japanese and done to absolutely meticulous perfection, with praying hands necklaces, crucifix tattoos and bandanas, even sporting Mexican flags.
The street level studio of 8 Ball itself is clean and welcoming, the artists are really friendly, and the atmosphere is very relaxed. There’s no attitude and things are incredibly laid back, but due to the fact that it isn't the easiest location to unearth, they pride themselves on the fact that their clientele are knowledgeable tattoo enthusiasts and come to them for top tier work, as opposed to just walking by.
Horitake has twelve years experience and he has a fantastic talent for Japanese, although, like all the artists there, is able to do all styles very well. He says, “Originally I wasn't in Nagoya, but on my own in the Yamanashi region, and I used to come here for fun. The owner then invited me to 8 Ball and I've been here for three years. When I first came to Nagoya I really noticed that a lot of young people put tattoos in for fashion; Nagoya culture is strong for cars.”
Horitake studied under Irezumi master Horitoku, first becoming his client, and then after becoming enamoured by his work, became his student. Horitoku is one of the top horishi in the Japanese tattoo world and his influence on tattooing is phenomenal. He has taught and mentored many top tier artists, such as Ikebukuro Horitoshi, Magical's Uchiyama, 56's Kishi, Horisei and Horishige, amongst many, many more, with countless numbers of the top tier tattooers saying that they have been influenced by him and are indebted to him in some way, shape or form.
He says, "Horitoku had an aura…but to be honest, he was also quite scary. I had it a bit different to regular apprenticeships because I was not doing a live in. Everyone usually thinks of a live-in situation when they think of apprenticeships where you do lots of cleaning. But I would go over, do the cleaning, and things to do with the studio, and when there was time, look at the work.
Asides from taking his name, Horitake also carries with him an exceptional ability for wabori, and the work that flows with the lines of the body, and says of learning under Horitoku, “The best thing about being his student was that I could really learn Japanese tattooing. According to the illustrations, there is a sense of depth, the scenery of that time, so even if there is a subject, say a dragon, that is cool, but the surroundings and background make it expressive - for example, what was the dragon trying to do?”
He seems happy with the trend towards Japanese again, being a fan of classic imagery such as dragons, carps and old school Japanese straight from the world of Hokusai, Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi. Horitake tells me he wants to take wabori to various places: “Japanese tattoos are beautiful - if you have a desire to learn Japanese, please come over and visit!”
Horigyn is a self-taught artist that started eleven years ago with stellar skills. Originally from Nagano, then going to Tokyo, then to 8 Ball five years ago, his clean tattoos are simply stunning - he is one of Japan’s top modern artists. When I ask him what the overriding appeal of tattooing is, he is pretty blasé about it. “I mean, tattoos are cool, nothing more, and nothing less! If I wasn't tattooing, I guess I would just be some loser doing temp work!”
Doing both New Skool and Japanese very well (it’s incredibly clean work), Horigyn says, “Lately, Japanese is in. When we first started, Japanese was only for Yakuza, but lately there are so many guys going overseas and pushing their own culture abroad whom are seen as cool, and I think it's the influence of those people.”
His interest having started from getting tattooed himself back in the day when it was still a statement of rebellion. He says of the popularity of tattooing, “It's a bit hard to say how I feel about it, ‘cause it’s business and I get loads of friends, so I like that, but there are times when I get people, and I'm like, ‘Geez, you are getting a tattoo?’ Times like that I'm in two minds about it.”
Yashin has seven years experience, and has been at 8 Ball for five years, with work that he says is “in between Old and New Skool, with lots of influences - not one or another.” Like all of the 8 Ball artists, he has a really positive vibe and says of the Japanese tattoo scene, “For an artist I think it’s going in a good direction; if you compare it to the days of tribal, the clients knowledge level is getting higher. Especially in this shop, our clients are really good.”
“I like it that something I made for someone remains on them eternally, I guess that's the reason I started too. I like that it has longevity, something you created lasts forever, although with that comes great responsibility.”
He says of his main goals as a tattooer; "Don't be satisfied, keep going forward, take in all the good things. Exchange information and look at all kinds of work. To be able to do anything, with wabori and also learn tebori as well – it’s tebori that produces those Japanese colours.”
All three artists are incredibly skilled tattoo artists, and it was a fantastic afternoon spent at this laid back street shop, being inspired by their creative prowess, and their humble demeanour, with seemingly a strong focus on a community vibe between themselves as artists as well as their clients, whom they cherish as people and friends, not just customers.