Today we would like you to meet Koji Ichimaru, a talented tattoo artist who is currently living in Italy but trained in Japan – where he was born – as well as all over the world. We will see how his style has evolved over the years and discover the main stages of his highly successful career…
Hi Koji! From Japan to Italy, would you like to fill us in on the most important steps in your career as a tattoo artist?
I began working where I was born – in Kokura, in Japan – seeing as I come from a family of tattoo artists, and I did it for about five years. There, I learned all about hard work and the importance of drawing all the time. I was utterly absorbed by my work and found stimulation every day, particularly in the surrounding environment which was mainly working in the Japanese tradition. I got a chance to see the work of old master tatooists and this influenced me greatly. I spent time with some members of Yakuza families and this meant I got to see some really interesting traditional work.
I had a number of experiences in these situation, good and bad, it is a pretty extreme environment, not always easy to deal with.
So I moved on and started to work together with another pupil of the same master, still in my home town, where I acquired further experience, working really hard..
Then I got married. I started to travel, as a tourist, backpacking, and got to know the world outside Japan. Travel opened up my mind and allowed me to understand that in many ways Japan is very conservative and closed, also in terms of tattoo. My interest in this art also grew and I began to learn about the tattoos of the great western masters and all sorts of new styles.
What happened when you arrived in Italy?
I got to know so many tattooists with different styles and techniques. I travelled around a lot, working in a lot of different shops – and once again, this changed the way I saw tattoo and my own work in terms of style and technique. Then I travelled in America and England, and there I just went crazy: I discovered yet another kind of tattoo, with another background, and world class artists with whom I was able to have other new experiences.
How would you now define your style?
I would describe it as traditional Japanese when I am working on big pieces like backs and arms. For smaller pieces I would say that they are Japanese subjects but the style is inspired by American Traditional.
And do you prefer to work on large compositions? How do you plan them with your customers?
I like both kinds of work, but obviously larger scale pieces allow me to experiment more. The customers give me the inspiration, the reference for the subject, then I generally have a free rein to decide on the details, the impact, and so on. This is something I find extremely gratifying.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I get my inspiration from traditional Japanese ukiyo-e painting.
What in particular are your favourite subjects?
I like all the Suikoden subjects: the legends about the warriors and brigands of Chinese tradition which were illustrated by the greatest masters of ukiyo-e (Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, to mention just a few). Transferred to the body in the form of a tattoo – on the back, for example, – I think they are really powerful and have an incredible impact.
What technique do you use?
I always work freehand.
How have things been going for you over the past year and what plans have you got for the future?
This past year has been a new experience for me and I still have plenty of plans. We have to look ahead.