Observing and learning: this is how Horimasa was taught the Tebori tattoo technique by his teacher Horitoshi. Most importantly, as a member of the Horitoshi Family he learned human courtesy and good manners, so essential to any relationship.

Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan
Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan

Today – after many years of working in the Netherlands – Horimasa is working in Japan, and he has created his own special technique utilizing the traditional Tebori poking technique and Ukiyo-e. He’s named it “Djarimasa Style”, and he tells us all about it in this interview.

(The full interview was originally published on this issue of Tattoo Life magazine)

Hello Horimasa, and welcome to Tattoo Life. Let’s talk about your professional experience: you moved to the Netherlands from Japan and then you moved back home again. Can you tell us why you made those choices?
Sure! I’ve been tattooing since 1996 and I moved to the Netherlands with my family in 2013. At that time, there were few traditional Japanese tattooers who lived in Europe, so I wanted the people in Europe to know more about traditional Japanese Tebori tattoos. At the time, Japanese tattoos weren’t very popular in the Amsterdam tattoo scene, however many people from other countries came to get tattooed.

I’d also go to some friends’ shops in other countries to do guest spots, and I got to know some great tattooers and their works.

Those were invaluable experiences. In 2016 my wife and daughter had to move back to Japan for family reasons. I stayed in Amsterdam alone to finish the rest of my work, and then I moved back and joined them in Japan in the winter of 2018.

Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan
Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan

Your tattoos are Classic Japanese tattoos. Are there any subjects you like to tattoo the most? Perhaps animals and demons? Why is that?
A lot of customers ask for dragons and animals, but I love the designs in stories about Suikoden and the Buddhist gods. It’s especially challenging to prepare designs of Buddhist gods, because you have to be careful about facial expressions and a lot of details. But it’s also really fun to search for references from various books, for example. I always feel super happy to tattoo those designs.

Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan
Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan

The peculiarity of your style lies in the use of the colour white. Can you tell us about this?
We in the Horitoshi family all use a special white pigment. It has a very particular brightness to it. I’d been thinking about how to make more use of that white, and then three years ago I started using it in black and white tattoos only, without any other colors. However, I have to be careful with the color scheme because you can only use these two colors to account for the overall tone and contrast.

Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan
Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan

How and when did you become part of the Horitoshi Family?
I first started going to Horitoshi as a customer, and also because I wanted to become a traditional Japanese Tebori tattooer one day. And then in 1996 I began my apprenticeship.

Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan
Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan

What was your apprenticeship like?
At first I learned primarily about human courtesy and good manners. This was because when I started out, many of Horitoshi’s customers were Yakuza and elderly people, and they respect this kind of courtesy. In any case, it’s still very useful now. During my apprenticeship I also studied hygiene management, which is of course an important and fundamental aspect for any tattooer. I also copied drawings of simple designs such as cherry blossoms and maple leaves, and then little by little I started copying more difficult designs with the permission of my teacher.

My teacher didn’t explain his technique to me; I had to observe and learn it.

What are your main sources of inspiration?
I’m inspired by the images of Ukiyo-e artists, masters like Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, Kunisada, and Yoshitoshi, as well as other forms of art like Japanese paintings by Kyosai and the Kano family. Architecture, sculptures and paintings at shrines and temples inspire me as well.

Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan
Horimasa Tosui, Horitoshi Family, Ashikaga, Japan

Do you still travel a lot, or do you work in Japan for the most part, now?
I’ve been back in Japan for only a year, and the prejudice against tattoos and tattooed people has become increasingly severe here. So most of my customers are foreigners. Many of my customers and tattoo artist friends are in Europe, so I will continue to travel. Recently, customers from overseas have started coming to my private studio in Japan. I am very grateful for that, as I’m able to work in a very calm environment here, and concentrate on doing my work as well as I can.

Follow Horimasa on Instagram: @horimasa_tosui