Takahiro "Horitaka" Kitamura (writer),
Funny you say that, you have tons of fans!
Well, of course I appreciate that people like my work, but I am just an ordinary tattooer. I prefer to align myself with teachers and doctors, not artists. I’m speaking about Japanese traditional tattooers, I commend the tattooers moving toward the fine art world—but for me, it is not what I am about. For example, we went to a temple today, and there were many people who went there to sightsee. But I am there because it is part of my life and my spirituality. There is nothing wrong with people appreciating how a statue or temple looks, but for me, being Japanese, this is part of my culture and practice. And it is important to make these things look aesthetically pleasing, to keep the culture and temples going. But the priority for me is the spirituality.
You seem extremely grounded. Is this because of your spirituality?
I think I would be lying if I said I never felt jealous of other tattooers—and now there are many extremely talented individuals. So you should put your energy toward beautifying your work. If you can do that, you appreciate people that are working hard and creating good work.
Everyone feels envy to some degree—it’s only natural.
As I said, with the expansion of tattooing there is good and bad, this is true. But I really don’t want to see it go in a bad direction. There is some form of karma—you get what you put in—and I guess one can take satisfaction in that. But our field certainly has a lot of drama and politics. But what I try to always keep in mind is that this is my life and my life is devoted to irezumi. I can think this way but it is difficult.
When I feel spiritually weak, I go in front of Fudo Myoo [one of the Thirteen Buddhas, a grouping of Japanese Buddhist deities]. I humble myself. I am constantly battling with myself. It is not about other people, it is about myself.
Your conviction and respect translate when you tattoo.
There is a saying from the Sengoku era, describing the beauty of flowers. It is a good phrase in Japanese about a hundred flowers: Hyakka Ryo-ran. It means one hundred flowers blooming at the same time, all types growing freely. And if people could appreciate the different flowers all at once—different beauty. You could use the flowers as a metaphor for tattoo styles. I like this saying and I want to enjoy other flowers and talents. This motivates me. Up until now, our world was underground—not any more! There are a hundred flowers in bloom, and in this era, there are very different talents being shown. If you see something beautiful it should inspire you to create something even more beautiful.
Talking like this, I’m not really one to say something profound. There are different types of flowers. For example, a peony and a cherry blossom—very different flowers and different kinds of beauty. I want to be able to see these other “flowers” as a positive thing. Different beautiful flowers in the same season. If you use this as a metaphor of life, the flower blooms like a life span. In Buddhism you see gods sitting on lotus leaves. The lotus blooms in still water, muddy water. Humans live in the ukiyo, floating world. We bloom and head toward our death. Irezumi is only in that window. People have different ways of life—whatever you are doing, we are all flowers and all will grow and die. You only can enjoy tattooing while you are alive. Our job is to help. And I think that our job is to add a little color to people’s lives.
The thing with art is that it remains. Things happen after an artist’s life, money exchanges hands. I think tattooing is very pure, existing between the client and the tattoo artist. We are all going to eventually die, and it is to be enjoyed while we are alive. More than leaving a name, I want my clients to love their work. An artist often doesn’t even know the name of the person who buys their paintings. I am very happy to tattoo people who really love and want my work. I’ve done a lot of interviews and some of your views change over time, but I really don’t want to lose my motivation or lower my standards, ever. I hope I can maintain this.