After spending a week sightseeing and absorbing the rich culture that Japan has to offer, our resident columnist Kian Horisumi Forreal had an experience that left an astonishing impression on his life.

Inked: How long have you been tattooing?
Kian Horisumi Forreal: This will be my 20th year tattooing. I started in 1993 in Canada.

So, you’ve obviously travelled around a bit and worked all across the world. Yeah, I tattooed in Canada for many years and then Europe and all across Asia, then Australia, then back to Europe – enjoying endless summers for about eight or nine years – and then I decided to settle in Australia.

So, what drew you to specialising in Japanese tattooing? Well, when I first started tattooing, that’s what I was drawn to. But it was a different time. I was in a smaller town, and the library only had a limited selection of books on Japanese stuff. You know, there was no Internet, and you couldn’t just buy Japanese books online like you can now, so there was very little to see without actually going to Japan. I was quite young, so I didn’t have the money to go. So I was drawn to it initially, but then you get stuck in a street shop and you get stuck doing normal tattoo designs, and you start to drift away from your initial interests and then, as things progressed and time went on, I got better at what I did and travelled more, and naturally drifted back towards Japanese. It’s just a classic style, you know, whether you’re 20 or 40 or 60, you can have a Japanese tattoo and it doesn’t date you, it doesn’t look young or old, it doesn’t look new or old, it just is. It’s a timeless style. That’s the great thing about it. It’s classic. Whether it’s five years old or 20 years old, the tattoo still looks great if it’s been done properly. It’s a classic style built on tradition, and it stands the test of time. And that’s what I’m drawn to. It’s a magical style; there’s so much that can be encompassed in a Japanese tattoo, you can tell a million different stories with the different elements. You know, for me, there is no better style of tattooing than traditional Japanese.

You recently came back from Japan. Why did you go there this time? This time I went just for a week to sightsee, visit friends and to get tattooed by Horiyoshi 3 in Yokohama. It was a very successful trip – I got to see some temples and some nature and some of the nightlife. Then the last day of the trip was in Yokohama at Horiyoshi 3’s private studio, and getting a tattoo by him.

You’ve met Horiyoshi before, so what was it like this time? Did he ask to see your work? Yeah, the first time I met him, it was just in and out, quick. I bought a couple of prints and had a chat, got a photo taken. This time was a little different. I had arranged with my friend who happens to be Horiyoshi’s deshi (apprentice) to get tattooed and to have a chat and to have my work looked at. So I went, and he requested to see my portfolio. I showed it to him, and he went over it for quite a while. It was nice; he didn’t just flick through it, like a lot of guys do. He spent the time going back and forth and examining it. And paid me some compliments on my backgrounds and compositions and that kind of thing… and then he had already come up with a Japanese tattoo name for me. Which I kind of knew was happening, but it was nice I didn’t have to ask for it. So after 20 years of tattooing and specialising in Japanese for probably eight years, to finally get some recognition or validity from someone who is a living legend such as him was pretty cool. He had done calligraphy of my tattoo name on a piece of paper. I ended up going to get a tattoo from him, at the time I didn’t know what, but then I decided getting my tattoo name in his calligraphy done on my chest. So it was a very meaningful experience and tattoo. I also got him to sign it as well.

So, what name did Horiyoshi 3 give you? And what’s the meaning behind it? The name I received was Horisumi. ‘Hori’ is a prefix to tattoo names for traditional Japanese masters. Hori means ‘to carve’ so a tattooer is called a Horishi which means a carver, and this is a throwback to the wood block carving days of the Edo period in Ukiyo-e and so a lot of wood block carvers were also tattooers, and there’s a big link between the woodblock prints and tattooing. So a Horishi would have the prefix Hori. So Horiyoshi, his name is Nakano Yoshihito. So he became Horiyoshi 3. For me, my last name being Forreal, he took Forreal and found a kanji that means truth, and it’s the same kanji that is for Sumi. And sumi is the black ink that you traditionally use for brush painting and for tattooing. You grind the stick – it’s a Sumi stick – and you create the Sumi ink. The word Irezumi which is the Japanese word for tattooing comes from using the Sumi stick. So, Horisumi is ‘carver of black ink’ but the kanji also means ‘truth’, so it’s a little but of a pun. So it’s quite cool, and it fits me perfectly, and I’m extremely happy with the name.

What does this mean for Kian Forreal now? Well it’s an honorary name, it doesn’t mean I join the Horiyoshi 3 family or anything like that. It’s an honorary title bestowed on me based on the quality of my work, and the dedication I have had with Japanese tattooing in my career. So it’s big deal to me and I take it seriously, that it’s going to make me look inwards and push myself harder to live up to the name, honour the name and the person who gave it to me, and to just go to the next level and work harder, take my work to the next level. Be more traditional, more attention to detail and more serious about what I’m doing.

So, in the next year or so, what can we expect to see from Kian Horisumi Forreal? Well, I’m probably going to have a party at some point this year, to celebrate my 20th year of tattooing and the one year of my own private studio, and my Japanese name. So there’ll be that. And I don’t know, we’ll see what else happens from there. I’ll also be going to London at the end of the year for the London tattoo convention in September, and maybe tattooing in New York in August. It remains to be seen.

You’ve just been to Japan and obviously that has a big effect on your work. Travelling and working with other artists and seeing other work, how important is that to you? Travelling is a massive inspiration. It’s one thing to sit in your little tattoo cave and do your thing and focus on work, but getting out and working with other artists and meeting other people and being inspired by the outside world is one of the most important things you can do as a tattooer. Too often we seclude ourselves, and we hang out with the same people and don’t grow. Really, the most important thing is to grow and to evolve and to find our true selves. I haven’t really travelled much in years, so hopefully this year I’ll be able to get out more and hang out with my friends that tattoo, and work in different shops with good people and expand my horizons. I look forward to doing all of that, and hopefully tattooing some people overseas.


Words by: HG