Manami "Maki" Okazaki (writer),
Geoff Johnson (photographer)
What did you think of the tattoo work in Italy?
Well, up until then, I only had the image of Mickey Mouse in my head, but when I saw the work, I was astounded. It was the first time I had seen machines at work as well.
When I returned to Japan, I thought I would like to learn to use a machine too, and after two years I came to use machines. I also saw that Japan’s way of doing things was no good, and we had to think more about sterilization. So I made a tebori kit 20 years ago where the needles could be removed and sterilized.
I only thought of Western tattoos as childish scrawling before, but then I saw it was a really artistic world. At the time there were no huge pieces, but piece by piece it was something we couldn’t do in Japan. And I thought it was amazing, and had the perspective to think if we are lax, Japan will be taken over. But now that is really becoming reality!
So when you came back and you started using the machine, how did you find it?
They were not like today’s machines—they were totally crap. I didn’t know how to use one, so I did trial and error on my feet and my wife’s arms.
In Japan there is a problem with tattooed people being discriminated against. We aren’t allowed into hot springs, gyms, or pools. When did these policies become so strict?
Seventeen or 18 years ago, I can’t remember exactly—
Yet tattoos are more popular than ever. Why do you think people get them?
Mainly for improving themselves aesthetically, and the notion of belonging. People also have a tendency to cause pain, and to receive pain; they might not like tattoos, but they have these inner tendencies, which will manifest themselves somewhere. In this world humans always have sadistic or masochistic tendencies, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not. If tattoos didn’t hurt no one would do it. Also there is this feeling of bravado, that you want to brag because you endured it. And there’s a self-satisfaction as well.
At the end of the day, what is the best thing about being a horishi?
That what you are doing for work is fun. It is the job I sought out. I think most people, like businessmen, don’t want to work; they work in order to live and to make money. They have no choice. People who make things, such as sculptors and illustrators, they like it, so they can do it. If they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t do it, even though they wouldn’t be able to eat. To be able to make a living doing what you like is the ultimate joy.