Hideo Kakimoto, aka Horihide, died 21st of April 2017 at the age of 88. He was one of the most prolific and talented traditional tattoo artists in Japan. His style is recognizable from miles away and have inspired tattooers from all over the world.
He was a strong person, very determinate and so professional. He had been working on his paintings and tattoos until the end and he’ll always be an inspiration for all of us. I feel so lucky I had the chance to meet him and get tattooed by him.
The following interview was done some years ago by me, Shion & Rico. The words of Sensei Horihide still inspire me as well as many fellow tattooers. He will be missed so much, but I hope that his example of dedication will keep inspiring not only this new generation of tattooers but also the future ones.
Ciao Sensei, you are my hero.
Where and when were you born?
I was born on January 1st in 1929, in Tsurumaki (Setagaya area, Tokyo) as second son of Seitaro (my father) and Teru (my mother). My father worked in the Imperial Household forestry agency at the time. My brother was a student at Nihon University and my younger brother was a little kid.
Tell us something regarding the environment where you grew up: your city, the war, and what happened to you when you were a kid, focusing on what drove your interests in tattooing…
When I was a child I lived in Tokyo. I moved to Yokosuka when I was on primary school. I started to get interested in tattooing when I was 20 years old, after the war. I started tattooing around 1951 when I was 22.
Did you have a master or did you learn by yourself?
I was influenced by 2nd Horiuno and 2nd Horigoro, but I learned by myself.
Did you have any contacts with other tattooers at the beginning of your career?
I had contacts with 2nd Horigoro and 3rd Horigoro from Tsukishima, in Tokyo, when they came to Yokosoka for tattooing foreign people. They both already died. And also Horitoyo from Yokohama, who started to use tattoo machines at the same time I did, with whom I had a close friendship. We learned together. He also already passed away.
Who tattooed you and when? What did you get on you?
I have dragons, both arms, shichibu (7/10) of length, by Yaneguma san from Nabeya Yokocho, in Tokyo. And my backpeace is an Omandala (a Buddhism prayer surrounded by a dragon) by Yokohama Horigin.
How was being a tattooer at the end of the 40’s in Japan?
Around 1950, because of Korean war, there was United Nations Force here and there were many sailors in town. Because of that there were maybe 10 tattooists coming here. That was a difficult time: there wasn’t a lot of work to do, so that was a good chance. I’m very thankful for that.
Did you get any contacts at that time with tattooers from overseas?
I had a little contact with Pinky Yun, when he used to work in Yokosuka. I heard he’s now working in America.
You developed a style that is recognizable from everyone else. Who are the artists and the painters that influenced you the most?
The tattooists that influenced me the most are 2nd Horiuno and 2nd Horigoro. I always used Hokusai and Kuniyoshi artworks as a source for study.
How do you approach to the study of Japanese tattooing? Do you draw with reference in front of you or do you prefer to use reality as a reference?
I study the works of the previous generation of tattoists and reproduce Hokusai and Kuniyoshi artworks. I also add my own arrangements and redraw them few times until I get to the point that I feel satisfied. I think the more we draw, the more we learn.
How many bodysuits do you think you did during this 60 years?
Backpiece and sleeves with background: about 500 people, maybe 10% of that are munewary, and 6 or 7 people have full body suits.
Have you got any preference on the subjects? Is there something you like to do more than other? Is there something you don’t like to do?
I like titles that are easy to recognize even for ordinary people, for example popular titles of Kabuki plays.
Do you have any apprentices?
They all are independent now, but when they were around me they were apprentices.
Are you still tattooing and painting?
Yes, I still tattoo, and I’ve always been painting as well.
Your ideas are a reference to a lot of tattooers worldwide: these people are interested in the real roots of Japanese tattooing. Why do you think your work have such a strong impact on other tattooers and customers? What is the strenght of your works?
I think that if you keep drawing everyday, studying Kuniyoshi and Hokusai, little by little, you can develop your own style.
What do you think about modern tattooing in Japan?
I started doing just tattoos (not traditional Japanese motifs), and at that time Japanese people really didn’t look at them. In my opinion nowadays, after getting a few small tattoos, Japanese costumers are moving towards the Japanese tradition. But traditional Horimono have a very different taste from modern tattooing.