It was love at first sight when he caught a glimpse of an Irezumi on the back of a bar customer and since then Horifuji has dedicated himself to tattoo, particularly traditional Japanese.
After an apprenticeship and lots of practice, he flew to America where he works at the State of Grace in San José (California). Let’s get to know him a little better…
Let’s start with your background, where are you from?
I almost settled in Sapporo Japan. I sometimes worked while going back and forth between Sapporo and Tokyo. Before coming to San Jose, I lived in Nakano – Tokyo.
What did your parents do? Did this influence you?
My dad worked as an air traffic controller in a government agency. My mom does oil paintings as a hobby while doing home care. However, she has won awards 12 times at Zendo Exhibition in Japan.
Did your mother teach you about art and/or painting?
I feel like I heard her theory when I was young, but I don’t remember it well. Rather, when I was painting, she would first explain it to me, but in the end she would often just grab a brush.
What is your first memory of seeing Irezumi? How did it make you feel?
I saw an actual Irezumi, a customer at the bar had a dragon tattoo (kora-bori) on his back.
I just thought it was cool, the contrast between the skin and the tattoo, also the strength that it emanates.
How did you start getting tattooed?
I apprenticed to a local Japanese traditional tattoo artist in Nov 1999. I had already beens tattooed with my back piece by him 2-3 years before that point. But I’m not in that family now.
How did you learn to tattoo?
I looked with my eyes and felt with my skin when I actually tattooed on my body Also I kept drawing sketches.
How is tattooing different in America?
When I’m in a shop like State of Grace, I always get the latest tattoo information. It is also wonderful that I can get tattoo supplies that are difficult to buy in Japan. San Jose has a very good climate and is reasonably dry, so I can always live comfortably.
And since I’ve come to the United States, I rarely go out at night, so I can devote my time to drawing.
Why did you move to America?
Vast nature, nice people, San Jose is sunny every day, no reason not to come to America. And above all, people have an open mind for tattoos and it’s a good profession.
I can focus more on tattoo than when I lived in Japan.
Tell us about the discrimination against tattooing in Japan…
There is a strong image that tattoo is evil in Japan. For example some areas on the beach do not allow tattoos. I sometimes get refused because of my tattoo when I rent a room.
At one restaurant, I was told, “Please go home because other customers won’t come if you are here. Please don’t come again”. But not everyone is prejudiced against tattoos.
What are your goals as an artist?
There is no end to it, but it is to convey the splendour of Japanese tattoos to many people around the world.
What do you hope to accomplish in America?
Actually I have never completed a full body suit by all of my work. It may be a small accomplishment, but that is one of the things I want to achieve.
How did you learn Tebori?
I just watched the master’s work. He did not lecture me in words. I practiced Tebori using fruits to get as close as possible to the tempo that moved his hands and sound.
How did you study Irezumi?
I learned a lot from old Japanese story books and Ukiyo-e books. Many stories are included in one picture. The only way to understand it was to read a book.