Takahiro "Horitaka" Kitamura (writer),
That makes sense—not everything should be tattooed.
Yes. And like I said before, about responsibility: If you don’t like your painting, you don’t have to look at it. But with our work, it is on the client. When you pick up that needle, you have to do your best because it’s on someone else. We are not businessmen, and this isn’t about a salary. I don’t think it’s just the tattoo world that has problems like this. Like schoolteachers, in the past, that was a very proud profession. Everything now is like, “Well, it’s okay.” The quality standard has changed. There are a lot of problems with that; teachers are not paid enough, and parents and teachers don’t discipline the children enough. Teaching was a sacred job, now it is like business. And I’m not saying it’s the teacher’s fault—the system has changed. If the teacher strays from the curriculum of the standard government defined protocol, he or she will be fired.
That’s very interesting.
I think it’s a valid comparison since both of our professions ultimately should be about helping and providing for the well-being of others. Life goes in cycles. The last 10 years have seen amazing work, and tattooing has changed immensely. People like Filip Leu, Guy Aitchison, Paul Booth, the Tattoo the Earth generation—they wanted to create amazing, high-quality work. However, in the last 10 years, I feel like business has overcome the tattoo world. It got really big, it expanded, and I feel like maybe we need to go back to the days before business was king. I’m not telling people to do this; I am saying this is what I strive to do. At the end of the day, you can only control what you do yourself. But I think it is important that you care about the larger community around you, and you must know that you are well-known and people will at least hear what you have to say.
Tell us more about your philosophy.
I guess what makes it different for me is that I don’t necessarily think of tattooing as art. As a Japanese [artist], I am doing a different kind of work. With my personal history, a lot of foreign work came into Japan and I was influenced by it. I saw a lot of the world and it made me see Japanese tattooing differently. Looking in from the outside I learned much about Japan and I have changed my focus accordingly. If you study history, things change with cultural influences. This happens everywhere all the time. I learned much from Leu and many others; I’ve had lots of outside influences and this has been positive.
Is that a personal note to Leu?
Well, 90 percent of my body was tattooed by Filip. People with tattoos would understand how I feel. Obviously Filip was a huge influence and I would not be doing what I do without him. However, it’s not just him. He didn’t invent the tattoo machine, for example. Let’s say Sailor Jerry or Ed Hardy—maybe I wouldn’t be here without them and what they gave us all. What if there was no Paul Rogers? There are many people who have come before us that have made tattooing what it is. That is what allows me to do what I do. And of course, I am grateful to traditional Japanese tattoo culture. We need all of it. I feel grateful to be part of such a rich cultural history and maybe that’s part of why I feel it needs to be protected.
Your humbleness aside, many people would consider you to be a very influential tattooer of our generation.
I get asked a lot about how I feel about my influence in the tattooing world, but I don’t know anything about that. I guess it makes me happy since I feel that I get inspiration from others all over the world. Back to the talk about art: I do like that tattoo art can be and is being seen as fine art. But they are not the same, nor do they need to be. With artists, they are the stars. Tattooers should not be stars; they should just be ordinary people. Sure, I want to put food on my table and take care of my family, but my life is about tattooing. I’m just living it out. So I don’t want tattooing to be tarnished.