Year End Party with Horimitsu The Tattoo Master of Yokohama… aka wabori galore!

(I want to praise myself for not using  a clickbait title here as I totally could)

July 2013, Kitasenju, humid summer night. On my way back home from work I stopped by my favourite bookstore and found Tattoo♥Girls — a magazine about tattoos targeting Japanese women. At the time I was thinking about touching up my arm tattoo, so I was quite thrilled to see a nice catalogue of studios in Tokyo. After browsing a bit, I bookmarked the page introducing studio LaRuche.

December 2013, Studio LaRuche in Shinjuku. I had my first tattoo session with Betty. She turned my poorly drawn kokeshi into a little piece of art and I came back to studio Laruche many times after that, to get new ink or just to say hi to Kazu-San and Betty.

May 2014. I started blogging and decided to share some information about having tattoos in Japan and where somebody should get tattooed in Tokyo. I was also featured in the 2014 issue of Tattoo♥Girls. I started receiving e-mails from people and a heap of them asked me for help with bookings, some information on tattoo prices, advice etc. With time, it turned into a somewhat regular thing and I currently help the studio create their website in English, manage their Facebook page, answer inquiries in English and manage bookings for foreign people looking to get tattooed at LaRuche.

December 2015, Yokohama. Kazu-San and Betty asked me if I’d like to join a very special end-of-year party organized by the famous hand-poke tattoo master Horimitsu (http://www.horimitsu.jp/). Every year he invites his clients to a private party and presents his artwork to a very closed circle of people. And on top of that, Betty was his apprentice and I just had to see the person who helped her develop her mad tattooing skills. Of course I had to be there!

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that I’d get to see things not many other people get a chance to see in their whole life.

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I guess you could say it was a regular company end-of-year party at first. Maybe a bit more casual since only a few people were wearing suits.

I sat at one table with the LaRuche crew — Betty-san and Kazu-san and for the first 30 minutes everyone was busy devouring the delicious top quality shabu-shabu beef the restaurant owners had prepared for us. Just look at it! Never in my life have I tasted meat so bursting with flavour and so amazingly tender!

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Special thanks to Betty-san and Kazu-san for inviting me to the party!♥

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Betty’s hand tattoos

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And then it began. Master Horimitsu gave the guests a sign and they started leaving the room in groups of three. When they returned to their seats they were wearing nothing but fundoshi — an article of traditional clothing worn as underwear (and barely covering the secret bits ), I just couldn’t help but stare at their intricate tattoos in awe. 

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It was simply amazing. I would never have thought that one day I would be sitting somewhere in Yokohama, feasting upon the finest beef in Japan, surrounded by Japanese people with fantastic full body tattoos. It was such a rare view, I didn’t know what to lay my eyes on. Media in Japan, and the whole country in general, likes to pretend that Japanese people don’t have tattoos and it’s the weird foreigners who come here and plant strange ideas in the minds of the poor Japanese. It is simply incorrect and…Okay, I prepared a few more fancy adjectives to put here, but to be honest I’m tired of the whole *OMG tattoos* discussion so let me stop this train of thoughts right here. If you think otherwise — cool, good for ya. Let’s agree to disagree. I happen to have attended a party for people with traditional tattoos which of course might be associated with particular groups of people (hence photos of those tattoos only), but these days young (not only! you’d be surprised) people get more Western designs, cute one-point or lettering tattoos. And they all look badass. 

Getting back on track…!

It was amazing, but also really intimidating. I kinda realized why people with traditional Japanese tattoos are banned from entering certain places (though that affects pretty much everyone with any type of tattoo). I believe I am one of the few people who got this chance to see this with their own eyes, so trust me here — it is hella intimidating. There was something different about the men, they seemed really confident, not afraid to tell you off if you stared at them too much (which didn’t happen, but I got the impression it could have happened). 

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I myself would probably be seen as a person with many tattoos if I only decided to show them off (though I don’t so you can’t really tell), so you might be surprised I claim that the whole experience made me feel like a 1st grader who accidentally entered a clasroom full of high schoolers. I cannot find the perfect words to describe it, but elegant hand-poke body suits with traditional Japanese designs do make one look powerful and yeah, I’ll say it, scary in a way. 

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One of my favourite photos. The woman was the wife of one of the men. You cannot see it here, but she covered herself with a white towel and the men couldn’t turn around when she was in the room, so no worries.

We chatted for a while and she complimented my tattoos. Many Japanese people I met did that too (if any part of my tattoo was showing which is rare), but you can never tell how honest they are really and I have my reasons to think it’s all lip service so don’t get too excited if a Japanese person comments positively on your tattoos.

I knew that she meant what she said and that was really, really nice.

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Master Horimitsu asked all of his customers to pose for him one by one and diligently took detailed photos of all the art he has created.

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(One of my favourite shots 🙂 )

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Men in the photos I took are so different from the businessmen with serious faces I see everyday going back home after hours of overtime.

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One last thing…

I feel like I need to specifically include this information as I’ve received lots of comments on Instagram regarding this matter and you were probably looking for it in this post anyway. Are those men members of the infamous group that does illegal things? I honestly DO NOT KNOW, but I know for sure that most of the attendees were just regular salarymen in love with the art of wabori — whether you believe me or choose to stereotype them is entirely your business. I DO NOT have any associations with the said group, I DO NOT have any special connections as some seem to think judging by their comments on my Instagram. I got a chance to see this hidden part of Japan and I took it. That’s all.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-coverage of the very special end-of-year party I attended. Oh, and if you’re OCD about the inconsistent logos — that’s a prevention measure I had to take to stop people from stealing my photos (so don’t steal my photos, yo).

Thanks for reading! ♥