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We spoke with renowned tattoo artist,


Shinji Horizakura of the Horitoshi First Family.

Horizakura is a practitioner of Tebori,
the traditional Japanese technique of
stick and poke tattooing.
Through this interview we get a glimpse of his
beginnings and insight on the art of Tebori.

About Tebori

Tebori is a Japanese hand tattooing technique, using one’s own handcrafted needles and tools (established during the 17th century in Japan). How to assemble the needles differs in each tattoo family. These assembled needles are attached to the tip of a tool called Nomi (Tattooists use metal poles or bamboo). It also depends on tattooists’ preference in deciding the length of the needles and Nomi. The narrow ones are made with 4 needles and used for outlining. The bigger set uses about 40 needles. For the sumi ink, we grind solid sumi on Suzuri.

The difference between Tebori and machine tattooing

Tebori is from traditional Japanese culture and machine tattooing is from western culture. I use a machine for outlining, and use tebori for thicker outlining. I think tebori brings out the better quality of sumi than machine tattooing. Sumi is an important component of traditional Japanese tattoos.

When did you start to have interest in traditional Japanese tattoos, and when did you start your apprenticeship?

During apprenticeship

My schedule at Horitoshi’s studio was usually 3 to 4 days per week. The tasks varied from cleaning, setting up, making needles, running errands, cooking, to going out for drinks with pops(Horitoshi).
When we were out, I used to ask him so many questions, and ended up sleeping over at his studio sometimes.

What is ichimon?

I think it is a group of people, a family, who learn under a mentor with a will to develop for the better and to pass down for the next generations.

What brought you to NY?

Since the day I decided to be a tattooist, I always wanted to do it abroad. Horitoshi didn’t accept it at first. I wanted to go outside Japan because I wanted to tattoo as many people as possible. I thought there were more people abroad who were interested in traditional Japanese tattoos.

Do you have any of your own apprentices?

Yes, I have two, Monji and a new apprentice from the past year.

Do you have any goals for the future?

Just to keep on tattooing. I haven’t tattooed anything that is satisfying yet, so I will keep on doing what I do.