Although located in the center of Osaka city, the Karahori shopping street miraculously wasn’t damaged by fire during World War II, and still retains the atmosphere of the early Showa period. Nowadays, there’re more and more stylish cafes and stores that make the most of this retro mood, and the area is gaining popularity among people of all ages as a place where nostalgia and freshness mix.
Interestingly, those who enjoy strolling this area’s streets would have no way of knowing that just a short distance away, in an apartment with no signboard at the end of a narrow alleyway, there is a man who works on Japanese traditional tattooing.
His name is Horishige the 5th, the current head of Kansai’s leading tattoo family. While this may conjure up an image of a quiet and stern craftsman, Horishige is a jokester with an openhearted personality who is always laughing with his students and clients.
He usually puts the place at ease by smiling softly, but when he grabs a nomi (hand poking tool), his expression changes completely. His keen gaze makes anyone hesitate to dare speak to him during tattooing.
Horishige’s tattooing career began in his early twenties at a tattoo studio in Osaka, where he used to be a customer. When he was just starting out, he worked on all kinds of styles including Japanese, and spent all his spare time copying and sketching various designs. These experiences were not in vain, and he recalls, “It still helps me to draw a balanced composition.”
It wasn’t long before he became fascinated with ukiyo-e by artists such as Hokusai and Kuniyoshi, and began to aspire to become an irezumi artist.
He was self-taught and learned hand poking by practicing on his own legs and his friends’ bodies, and was active as an artist using the name Magoshibori. Then in his mid-thirties, he met an irezumi master, a member of Kansai Horishige the 1st’s family, Horikyo the 1st. He became charmed by his personality and skills and found it fitting to become a student of the Horikyo family.
After many years of studying under Horikyo, he was appointed by his master to revive the lineage of Horishige which had, up until then, been discontinued, and he assumed the name of Horishige the 5th in 2015.
While Horishige’s style is traditional, he adds his own interpretation to the composition and gaku (background) of his works. “There was a time when I was bound by the classics, but now I try to be more flexible in my approach,” he says. Sometimes a scene that comes to his mind while reading a book that has nothing to do with tattooing is used as a rough sketch for his work. However, he never makes arrangements that disparage the story or meaning of the subject matter.
In addition to the harmony between the subject and gaku, we should also pay attention to the exquisite balance between hon-bokashi (dark shade) and usu-bokashi (light shade) of gaku itself. While it gives a sense of massiveness, it is not all dark black, and the light shade creates a dynamic depth.
With the way it is drawn, you can see that there is not a single meaningless line adopted randomly. The lively gaku with its emphasis on strength and weakness makes the subject stand out even more.
He strives to follow the path he believes in at any given time. At one point in his career, he was a staunch defender of the classics, and in another, he took on the challenge of new expressions. It’s like going down a winding road. As he says, if he can see the goal, he can head for it in a straight line. However, the journey of repeated detours is not in vain. His works are imbued with a power that could not have been created without the strength he has cultivated through continuously moving forward.
Kansai HORISHIGE the 5th
Address: Chuo-ku, Osaka city, Osaka（5 mins walk from Tanimachi-rokuchome station）
Business hour: 10:00〜21:00（Irregular Holidays）