"working on my faults and cracks..."

4.10.2007

Dudity: Not just for Caucasians

I have two jobs. One of which: the job I have on paper, involves desk work, a school, a bunch of little kids, and the constant correction of vocal missteps between proper pronunciation of 'l' and 'r' sounds. The other job, involves rappelling from burning helicopters, lightweight plastic explosives, Nerf football helmets, urinating out bullet train windows, and Asahi kung fu.

In addition to the aforementioned secret extra-cirricular activities, my bi-weekly pm schedule finds me facilitating caps-locked communications (many Japanese still believe that when writing in English, "cruise control for awesome" is the safest way to ensure the message is clearly established) between the entrepreneurial Nobu; a hardcore fixie cyclist, and local art cafe owner who secretly dabbles in graffiti and wabori, his venerable tattoo sensei Sou Shu, and a Dutch Hell's Angel named Nico from Amsterdam whose English is perpetually broken and childish at best. Our latest batch of translations involve a series of negotiating emails and applications aimed at getting Shu prime exposure and a private artist booth at the upcoming Amsterdam Tattoo Convention.

Our most recent meeting found the three of us sitting in Nobu's private tatami straw room sipping black tea and going over the logistical mess of detail regarding the official application. Diving back into unfamiliar vocabulary via my electronic translator and iBook perched on my lap, I briefly tuned out of the now hushed conversation, which had apparently shifted from the business at hand. My train of thought was interrupted:

"Mitai no?" [Do you want to see?]

"Nani wo?" [See what?]

"Sensei no irezumi" [Sensei's tattoos]
Of course I wanted to see them. I'd only recently been permitted to see Nobu's tattoo--a massive single piece covering his shoulders, and entire back; all of which was designed by Shu, and inked entirely by hand without the use of a typical Western style tattooing machine. Shu regards 'impure' American tattooing artistry with a certain amount of disdain, and insisting on exclusively using only the traditional bamboo needles. Huge-ass bamboo needles. If you weren't already aware that tattoos are frowned upon in Japan, you're probably not reading this blog anyway, so I'll spare the details.
As I closed the dictionary and computer to redirect my attention, Nobu drew the thatched curtain to give us an extra level of privacy from the customers in the softly lit bar, and Shu stood up and took his shirt off.

And then his pants.

And then his underwear.

Goddamn huge tattoo, that was. In hindsight, the curtain wasn't supposed to keep customers from discovering a tattooed one in their midst, it was just supposed to keep them from partaking in the impending ass buffet. What would you do? Take pictures? Cover your eyes? Marvel? Sprint to the door screaming "Dude!! Gaaay!" over your shoulders? I'm comfortable enough with my heterosexuality, but am I willing to compromise that confidence at the expense of a story? And how much description of a tattoo am I allowed to give, when it covered shoulders, chest, back, thighs, and buttocks? Where does one draw the line between "art appreciation" and "eye fucking"? Honestly, I really have no idea. Maybe we should ask the fellows taking "Sculpting" at the local community college.

To say the very least, it was an excruciatingly uncomfortable 60 seconds, but at the same time, it was difficult to not appreciate the tattoo itself and the awe-inspiring amount of pain and work that both Shu, and his respective sensei must have been required to endure (16 working hours for only a single sleeve--shoulder to wrist--just to give you an idea); a sacrifice that should enable him the right to proudly display at any level of Japanese society, even if it means boldly parading into Mister Donuts for a cup of coffee in the buff. But then again, maybe it's the stigmata behind the art, that makes the Japanese tattooing culture so radically different. It's not about cheap shock value, or muffled cries for recognition; it's about the rarest form of a totally misunderstood art. And honestly, I hope it stays that way.


Oh, and by the way, serious tattoo envy.
And I am not gay.

0 contributions to this piece:

 
Copyright 2010 - Powered by Blogger - Header Image: Banksy at Sundance