Published: 02 October, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 172, May, 2009

Tokyo. A few square meters upstairs in a common building near the railway tracks, his studio carefully sealed, windows blinded, Horitada keeps up his anonymity.


In Japan, to live peacefully, many tattoo artists prefer to stay hidden. Surprisingly, when wearing kimono, Horitada also wears a solid, rockabilly style haircut. Although passionate toward American culture, Horitada entertains in true Japanese style; nothing official, but at least a slice of solemnity, with family welcomed. On his left side, his girlfriend in seiza position, hands on the knees, a polite smile on her face. In front of him, his stepmother, a great success, firmly on his side with tattooing. At first she got really frightened by his work. Then she realised that Horitada did it with passion and care. She finally accepted, and with kindness did this translation for me.

What was your first contact with tattoos?

I was very young when I saw my first tattoo in a sento (public bath.) But it’s later that I really got into tattoos. I was like 18 or 19 years old when I discovered that rockabilly band, the Stray Cats. I got really impressed by the band and the music, their shows too. Their tattoos were really cool. It was the first time that I witnessed American style, really different from what I knew. Until this day, Irezumi and huge Japanese tattoos on yakuzas never really touched me, but when I saw those old-school designs I really felt something.

When did you start tattooing?

I got inked for the first time when I was 23-years-old. I wasn’t satisfied about it and I thought that I could do better. It was the first time that I thought about working as a tattoo artist.

Were you used to drawing before tattooing?

I have always drawn in the past. From the age of 4, I had been taking lessons. Later, I went to art school.

When did you choose to become a professional?

It took me 2 years to decide to become a professional tattoo artist. At that time, I was a musician, playing guitar in a band. I wanted to become professional. But if becoming a tattoo artist was quite complicated, working as a musician was much tougher. So I tried to find another way in which I could find myself. At the age of 26, I decided that tattooing would be my lifetime work.

What difficulties did you face?

Learning the technique. Naturally, I told myself that I should work with other tattoo artists, but I quickly understood that it wouldn’t be possible. I wanted to become an apprentice, but I had been refused. Nevertheless, I had a few friends more or less into this close world. On the whole, it took me one year to collect all the information and the material to start as an autodidact.

What else?

Toward Japanese people, Irezumi doesn’t have any value. But outside the country, it’s recognised for its outcome. Few even consider it as an art form. So, I asked myself why such a difference? All the more, western tattoo is, to speak frankly, much more complicated and technologically much more difficult. Portraiture, for example, is a really harsh exercise. Western tattooing is based on quantity, on adding elements. Japanese style is easier to get onto, very simple.


Where does it take its strength?

In its simplicity. Its essence is a reference to the Japanese concept of the wabisabi.    

It’s a cultural notion of the Japanese aesthetic focused on minimalism. Irezumi works on the same level, and all the beauty comes from it. All the interest and the difficulty are bonded together in this paradox: this apparent simplicity is a true technique outcome.

For how long have you been working under you name “Horitada”?

It’s been 7 years now that I work on common people, salary men, building workers, professional craftsmen… Some of my customers are yakuzas but they are far from a majority. I also have few women. The ideogram “Tada” in my name means “loyalty.”

You were a fan of American design; why did you choose to work with Japanese tattoo?

It’s true that my friends were quite disappointed, but the choice was quite natural in fact. Concretely, I put in parallel American culture and mine. In the States, the ‘50s are like a golden age that is still alive today. Music, fashion, cars…the culture was rich; I love it. Then, I asked myself when were the golden ages of Japanese culture. At first, I thought about the Showa era, Japan in the ‘60s. After the world war, when defeat was healed, culture became really bubbling. Then, little by little I traced back the source to the Edo period. From a cultural point of view, this period is the most powerful. It’s also the golden age of Irezumi.

Are there any records about this period?

There are few books written by tattoo artists in the Meiji period (1868-1912). They talk about their life in this rigid context, when the government had decided to ban tattoo. But there’s nothing about the technique, it was only transmitted from master to apprentice.


You’re part of the new generation, how do you look at the old one?

I have a deep respect for these people. Thanks to them, Irezumi has survived the past ages, despite that pressure from the authorities. Young people have a better technique, but talking about power and dynamic, their tattoos are not so effective.

For a long time, I asked myself what was a perfect tattoo. In October 2003, I had…like a vision, an inspiration that showed me the path to follow. My work has completely changed from that time. Nowadays, I seek a balance between power, strength, beauty and delicacy in designs…really hard to find.

Why are the proportions so big in your designs?

The main character in my work is the principal design. It’s much bigger than the background. This construction puts in the front the power and the dynamic inherited from the traditional Japanese tattoo. One of the main points to care about is the distance. By far, you have to be able to read the design. In comparison, western tattoo is really precise, detailed, but difficult to know what it is about from afar.



Text: Pascal Bagot Photography: Pascal and Horitada Translation: Setsuko


Skin Deep 172 1 May 2009 172