Creative Discipline: Tattoo Artist
Geographic Location: 34° 58’N, 138° 24’E – Shizuoka, Japan
” It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars. “
Arthur C. Clarke; The Exploration of Space (1951), p. 187
Futoshi has been to the US on business several times. He never travels alone; he brings with him his wife, daughter, a couple of backpacks and a small metal briefcase. The contents of this briefcase reveal his passion; embedding images onto the human body.
Tattoos have the capacity to convey great meaning; whether it be cultural, social or political. Interestingly enough, they simultaneously have the power to be a mere mark on human flesh; nothing more and nothing less. A tattoo artist must understand the body and it’s muscle structure greatly in order to achieve a balanced piece-to-skin relationship not to mention the social-political climate that surrounds this act.
I met up with Futoshi earlier this Fall to discuss how he approaches tattooing from the standpoint of relationships; relationships of tradition and modernity as well as the image of the human body on society.
DI: You are a full-time tattoo artist with your own studio, yes?
F: Yes, I have my studio, Ink-High-Tattoo in Shizuoka where I’ve been tattooing for eight years.
DI: Was tattooing your original medium? That is to say, did you begin painting or drawing first?
F: Yes, of course. These came first, but this is within the process of tattooing. You must draw things out first, then you are able to make a tattoo. For two years I practiced tattooing only on paper. After this I went right to tattooing on the skin.
DI: You seem to focus on Traditional Japanese style-
F: Yes, but I appreciate other styles as well
DI: I am interested to know how this might translate in the United States? After all, it can be said that there are ideas specific to Japanese culture embedded in the artwork, no?
F: [Americans] already know the traditional Japanese style. I have a client for instance, that wants a traditional Japanese style tattoo of a fish on his arm. But instead of the traditional koi that would be used, he has asked for a tuna. He is a tuna fisherman; it’s a new kind of take on a Japanese idea of traditional symbolism in tattooing.
DI: Tell me about when you put a drawing onto a three-dimentional surface?
F: I keep this in mind when I am drawing on paper and I can approximate the areas that need to fit to the curvature of the body; I know that the skin will move. When I create the initial drawing I am already thinking about this.
DI: Interesting, so when tattooing different parts of the body you must be very aware of the underlaying structure of muscle and muscle networks, relative to each area-
F: Yes, I must.
DI: I understand that in traditional Japanese style of tattooing, the chest happens to be treated in a very particular way..
F: This circular area of the chest is the best way to show the piece. It is based entirely on the size of the client and matching the piece to their size. The size is figured out by using a piece of trace paper. I then fit it to the client’s body.
DI: What do you enjoy about Traditional Japanese tattooing?
F: The story.
DI: A timeless story?
F: Some characters and pieces have their own, but I have begun to make my own too. For instance, the Dragon; if you put a ball in the dragon’s mouth, the dragon is now a female. This is the inverse of Traditional Japanese society which is driven more by men, and male dragons…
DI: These traditional stories, have they been around for thousand of years? Or have they changed greatly over time, becoming more additive?
F: [The stories] originate in China. For instance one story from China is about the dragon and it’s number of fingers. If a dragon has five fingers it is only to be used (traditionally) for royalty and royal images on screens and scrolls. The three fingered dragon is traditionally used more for everyday depictions.
DI: Do westerners appreciate these stories as much as Japanese clients of yours?
F: It depends entirely on the person. I would say 80% of my NY clients are simply looking for a pretty picture or have made a story of their own and did not tell me. Sometimes Japanese tattoo artists from Japan even have no idea about the traditional stories; there are too many stories to remember for so many objects. It is hard to say you can know the ‘original’ story.
DI: Overtime the ideas behind the objects have changed meaning.
DI: What is your idea on the future of traditional Japanese tattooing? Will these original stories become antiquated in say 20 years?
F: Yes, they will- 50% of people care about the stories and 50 years ago, even more did. It is more about a pretty picture, and the internet is a way to get pretty pictures out there.
DI: The act of tattooing is a permanent one-
F: Yes, it is. I feel very responsible for my work. Right now I am completely enjoying tattooing. But when I first started it was very stressful. A lot of responsibility is taken on.
DI: How would you say that Japanese culture treats the culture of tattooing?
F: Yakuza (Japanese Mob) has put a bad image on the tattooing culture. If someone has a tattoo and are in a good company they are looked down upon. At public baths it is illegal to even have a single tattoo. If you have tattoos you are forbidden from going to the beach or to be a policeman or firefighter. In Osaka, the mayor is trying to reinforce restrictions on having tattoos. The restrictions include reductions in pay and facing various penalties.
DI: Do you think this is from a fear of loosing Japanese tradition?
F: According to [Toru Hashimoto], the mayor of Osaka, tattoos equal Yakuza. “The protruding nail gets hammered down.” This is a traditional Japanese saying that refers to anyone in society who sticks out will be put in their place. It is better to play by the rules. The mayor wants to be a hero. He makes it more about the Yakuza because he feels that if he eliminates tattoos, then he eliminates the Mob.
DI: So it is about him being a protruding nail.
All translation kindly provided by: Masashi Kobayashi, Matt Maland & Makoto Chiba
All images are copyright Futoshi Ink-High Tattoo; Shizuoka, Japan unless otherwise noted.