CENTER AND WISDOM This back tattoo is called käme, or tortoise, because it resembles the protective shell on the turtle's back. Again the belly, especially thrust out when posing for this photograph, represents wealth and absence of hardships. Horijin here is the subject and Horishiba the artist tattooer. Horijin started his professional life as a painter but turned to tattooing when he tired of drawing on paper's flat surfaces.
FLIRTATION The legs are enveloped in patterns of peonies, waves, carp, and the elusive, hard-to-catch catfish, done by both Horigoro II and Horigoro III. The model here was one of the first I photographed. He was gentle and kind, often hung about the studio idly, and was always soft-spoken. It was whispered that he had served eight years in prison for having killed someone in a knife fight. It was also said that he had cut off the last digit of his left-hand little finger in atonement for the life he had taken. However, the story was perhaps designed to disguise his membership in the Yakuza, a band who pledge loyalty in blood and frequently forfeit the joint of a finger to prove eternal fidelity.
FIRE AND WATER (overleaf) The two groups of legs were arranged casually but fell naturally into what the master called "a composition of yin and yang," opposites and resolutions, the ebb and flow that produces all change in the observable world. Flames and waves, dragon talons and carp, autumn leaves and clouds, tortoises and gods of luck with their bags stuffed full of worldly blessings.
FELICITY The tortoise is a symbol of longevity since it is reputed to live "forever." It also carries with it sexual connotations because its extending and retracting neck resembles an uncircumcised penis. The subject shown here asked Horiyoshi III, somewhat unusually to tattoo the top of his feet. The master chose the tortoise pattern and on the right foot added the kotobuki ideogram for "Congratulations" or "Felicity." The client also requested tattooed eyebrows, ostensibly to make his face more fearsome. Cosmetically he doubtless hoped his narrow eyes would appear larger.
HEIKURO AND SERPENT For this tattoo, Horikin turned for inspiration to Heikuro, one of the 108 tattooed heroes of the picaresque Chinese novel Suikoden. It was translated by Bakin in 1805 and glorified in the 1850s by ukiyo-e artists Utagawa, Kuniyoshi, Toyokuni, and Kunisada. Here Heikuro's battle to the death with a serpent is depicted so graphically that one feels the writhing serpent's power and Heikuro's valor with each movement of the tattooed body The sinuous twists and turns of the serpent become indistinguishable from the irezumi's folds of skin.
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