Manekistefy interviews the japanese tattoo artist Kanae

Some years ago I had the chance to meet Kanae at London Tattoo Convention, we spoke a lot about woman condition in Japan and how tattooing is developing in Japanese culture. I was very happy to share common feelings about being a woman tattooer doing japanese style, that’s not so usual! Kanae loves tattooing, her tattoos are solid and reflect her strong determination. She’s developing her own style, that’s one more thing that I like about her!

Kanae, Nine Tails Tattoo, London
Kanae, Nine Tails Tattoo, London

Let’s talk about the origins… How did your interesting in tattoo start?
Mostly it’s from music influence. I was in a band from when I was 17 years old and I had lots of friends who’s into Japanese hard core, Punk. Some of my friends had tattoos and I naturally started interested in tattoos. I liked tattoos, because it was underground, different, and strong. I started getting tattoos a little bit later, 21 years old. it took some time to decide to actually get tattoos and set my mind to live with it rest of my life.

When did you decide to become a tattooer?
I was 27 years old. I was introduced my teacher (Makoto/Hocus Pocus Tattoo) by my best friend who also was getting tattoos by him. I started getting tattoo by him. One day he was looking for an assistant for his studio, and asked me if i wanted to get the position. He said he could see that I love tattoos and that I was different from the others. It was great enough for me to do job with something I like. iId never got a job like that before, so I did my 100% naturally. I really enjoying working at the environment. Every day was so exciting and happy. Right after I started working for him, I decided I wanna be a tattooer. It took few month to decide… Being a tattooer in Japan wasn’t easy, and I knew this was gonna be life time serious craft work. I really needed to think well, and resolve myself. But at the end, I was like “Fuck it! I will just do it!”. Since then, everyday I’m happy and I feel so lucky to be a tattooer.

I’ve never get bored. I know how lucky I am to have a job like this. I appreciate everything I have now.

Which kind of difficulties did you find in Japan about learning tattooing?
Even today, Unfortunately Tattoo is still not popular and acceptable in Japanese society. Back in the day was still same. I don’t know if I can say especially difficult from learning tattoos ‘in Japan’. Learning tattoo is difficult in anywhere. Maybe there were some difficult things regarding the society, the culture and the generation. It took some years to build my own customers. Especially because I come from a small city. Mostly I couldn’t make enough money to live, so I had to find second job to pay rent and bills. That made me difficult to find time to sleep, because I didn’t want to cut the time for drawing and tattooing. It was physically hard and some people looked down on me because I am a female tattooer. But it gave me energy to push myself harder to get better. One of my customer told me after i tattoed him: “I didn’t think women can tattoo, but actually you can”. I took it as complement. I want to be a good tattooer and I would like people to do not judge me because of sex, age, race. And I am still trying.

You have a shop in London called “Nine Tails Tattoo” since 6 years. How did London welcome you? Was it difficult to open a shop in the city?
London is a big city, and very cosmopolitan. Everyone got opportunity pretty much equally. Having a tattoo shop in London was not so difficult, if I think about the situation in Japan. At least the landlord wouldn’t refuse you because it’s a tattoo shop! Just getting license took long time and that was stressed! And everything cost a lot. But luckily I had my own customers who follow me from the previous shops where I used work. I was nervous about it at the beginning, but it all worked out! Neighbors are so welcoming, so it was totally fine. I never advertised my shop, I wanted to take my time to build up REAL customers. I’m happy that I’m on a right track so far..!

You do Japanese style tattoo, which is very complicated and has a long history. In your opinion, which are the components that create a beautiful bodysuit?
I think the background is the most important part to creat a bodysuit. Background gives it energy, flow, depth, and strength. If the background is alive, the other motives are also alive. Personally I love strong looking tattoos. Having enough amount of black, and powerful movement give the bodysuit looks badass tattoo! It is difficult… I am still trying!

In your opinion, are there differences between creating a male bodysuit and a female bodysuit?
I haven’t done any full bodysuit to someone yet. But if I get chance to do it in the future, I would do strong powerful one with some warriors or dragons or something mannish images. For women, I would do beautiful flowers, phoenix or something with nice curve flow. Personally for female, I like sleeves but no background or back piece. It’ll look more feminine and suits to natural body shape women have.

Which are your favorite subjects in Japanese tattoo?
It’s definitely Dragons! Dragon is my biggest passion. It’s so strong but not scary way, Such a common subject for tattoo, difficult to draw, so much challenge for me to do it right. I want to do simple subject really cool. Dragon is definitely the one!

Tattoo by Kanae, Nine Tails Tattoo, London
Tattoo by Kanae, Nine Tails Tattoo, London

Which are the artists that influenced you the most?
My teacher Makoto, Kishi (56 tattoo), Hideo Uchiyama, Horiyoshi 2nd, Horitoku 1st, Filip Lue, Mick, Luke Atkinson, Horitoshi 1st, Asakusa Horiyasu, Yokosuka Horihide, Ed Hardy.
There are so many great tattooers… But my teacher always told me: “see what your master learn from”: like nature, old Ukiyoe. Of course learning from tattooers is very important, but what did they learn from? Learn from their roots. What those legends learnt from? I believe that’s gonna make big different for your possibility in the future.

How do you feel to be a woman doing Japanese Style?
I love it! I used to be a tomboy, so it all make sense to be interested in such a strong powerful tattoos. it’s a difficult challenge and it never end. It gives me the reason to live my life!

Nowadays, do you see differences between Japan and England in being a tattooed woman?
Oh yes, Big time! in England, people love tattooed woman! (at least as far as I know). In Japanese culture, most of the people don’t like stand out from the others. Comfortable to be average… Most Japanese men don’t like tattooed women, so naturally women try to be ordinal looking girl. Kawaii stuff. Also lots of people worry about how the parents will think about tattooed women when they get married. It could be a big problem. Japan looks like very advanced country, but some things are very conservative.

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