Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cloak of Many Colours

Continued from "A Fork in The Road"

“You said you’d show me?” 

Col interrupts the old man after closing time, while he’s doing bookwork in the back room. For a month or more now the glimpse of crimson on the old man’s chest has been arousing an insatiable curiosity.  The master is discreet about his own tattoos and has never divulged their creator or exactly what they are, beyond those visible below the elbow. 

“Show what?” Another question from the Japanese man, although Colin knows he understands his enquiry.

“Whatever it was you were going to show me over a month ago. The day Melissa and that other girl came in. You were about to show me something and ….”

“Ahhh….Melissa? How is Melissa?”

Hiko lays down his pen with the gentleness of a surgeon and swivels silently in his chair to face the man who now calls him Master.

“You like young women? You like that young woman?”

Col raises his eyebrows and extends his palms in a ‘whatever’ shrug.

“Don’t start with the Karate Kid routine, we’re talking about tattoos are we not? Is that what you were going to show me?”

The relationship between the two men has become more familiar over the past 12 months. They’re more brothers than master and apprentice these days, although Col still has much to learn and Hiko much to teach.

“I tell story of how I became Tattoo artist yes? Then you tell story of Melissa.”

Hiko bids his charge to sit. This is going to take a while,

“Sit, sit and listen. Listening is very important. When I was a boy, my father would take me to the bathhouse. In Yokohama, this is very common way for men to meet and talk. “Don’t stare!” He would say to me when the tattooed men came in. “They are Yakuza, to be feared, very dangerous. Don’t stare!”

I couldn’t help myself. It was the first time I’d seen irizumi - tattoos. They were incredible. Their bodies were covered in demons and colour. They looked fierce and wonderful with Koi and Dragons, headless Emperors. Every body part telling a story. I was transfixed. I had to learn how to do that. I had to be a decorator of such bodies. I wanted to ‘have’ such a body. As I grew, and my father no longer accompanied me to the bath house, I would talk with them. Admire their ink and found one of the great artists who had decorated them. He became my master.

In old days irizumi was banned. Those who wanted tattoos had to do it in secret but after the war it was permitted but still frowned upon, and only shown in private. 

The Yakuza in the bathhouse told me of an irezumi master, Mr Oguri, there I learned how to tattoo or perfect‘horimono’. I lived with Master Oguri for five years and, as was the custom, worked another one year in which he received my earnings as oreiboko, an expression of gratitude for his teachings.

“Hiko are you asking me for money?” his student interrupts, “Or to donate my salary?” 

“Of course not, I am explaining but I may ask for something eventually. Hush and listen. Listening is very important.” He continues with his monologue, “Customers were mainly Yakuza, no appointment, just turn up. Each would have hitoppori, which is to be tattooed for 2 hours each day. I would just watch and clean the instruments. Watching is the fastest way to learn."
Hiko continued with tales of his apprenticeship. How he would wake at 5am and sweep the house, wipe the floor with a damp cloth. How in winter the chilblains on his fingers kept him awake at night. How the post war shortages meant little more than a bowl of soup and rice for sustenance. How he made his own needles before the advent of machines and carefully drew intricate designs in the Japanese style.

“Tattooists who have not been trained by masters do not know the reasons or meanings of the designs. In Japanese tattoos there are four seasons expressed on the skin. The untrained tattooists draw snakes and cherry blossoms together, this doesn’t make sense. When the cherries blossom, snakes are still hibernating so why draw them together? In Japanese tattooing there is much to think about. For example, with a dragon, even if you can draw it, you need to ascertain what kind of dragon it might be. What looks simple is complicated.”

“So how did you end up here?” Col interjects, “I mean, why did you leave Yokohama?

“After the war, there were many soldiers in Japan, sailors too. All wanted tattoos of dragons, samurai warriors and carp. Many offered accommodation in their countries; some wanted to be trained in the art. It was a natural progression for me to end up here and ply my trade. There is no one here who can do this.”

Hiko unbuttons his Hawaiian shirt. The only normally visible tattoos on his forearms and his early amateur attempts on his lower legs, cunningly disguised as his skills improved.

Why it didn’t click that his mentor would have a full body tattoo beneath his conservative garb makes Colin feel a little ignorant, as his mentor also removes his shorts and stands in full naked glory before his student. He doesn’t understand why as a tattoo master, he would keep this wonderful thing hidden.

Rarely shocked, and hard to impress, Col gasps at the vibrance and detail of the ink on his master’s torso, perfectly designed to hide beneath a shirt and shorts. A cloak of many colours decorated with carp, dragons, headless heroes…the seasons are there, as are the peonis and chrysanthemums all in vivid colour, every outline clear.  Hiko’s body is a work of art in all its shining glory.

“That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Colin exclaims, “Who did that?”
It’s a head spin, a long tale, a naked man in a unitard of tattoos. The apprentice is dumbstruck.

“Who did this? That my son is a whole new story. There is more to tell and a favour to ask.” Hiko lowers his head and begins to replace his shirt and shorts, “…but not today.”

Colin is taken aback again by Hiko’s calling him ‘son’. He knows the man has no family and it is said with such warmth and familiarity he’s almost blushing.

The Master looks up from his newly buttoned shirt, “Now, what about Melissa?”

“Michi, it’s late …I’ll tell you about her tomorrow.”

 Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge: Cloaked in a Blinding Flash of the Obvious.

1 comment:

  1. An aside... your "captcha" makes it really annoying to leave comments.


    My pacing complaint stands. There is room for soooo much detail. Rewrite!