Boldly and gracefully blending ancient Japanese icons with modern images of pop culture, Koji Ichimaru is known for a style that is absolutely unique. From monsters to men, Koji Ichimaru creates pieces of artwork that express an authentic sensitivity to what is traditional and what is contemporary. His willingness to experiment and break boundaries supports an aesthetic that is immediately recognizable and coveted. His bodysuits, in particular, are globally known as symbols of dedication to the art form of tattooing.
How did you get into tattooing and was it always your career of choice?
I have always been curious about tattooing. It fascinated me a lot so I started tattooing myself when I was 16 and using my brother ‘s ID to get tattooed, because in Japan it is illegal to get a tattoo before being 20 years old. It all started from that, before I had never thought about being a tattoo artist as a career.
Many artists these days are self-publishing a lot of really incredible works that highlight aspects of the tattooing world. Why do you think creating books goes so well with tattooing?
Because a book is also a nice object, something that lasts, that you can look through again and again to stimulate imagination.
Your work is consistently praised for being so distinctive, and bold. The blend of traditional Japanese with Western styles is masterful. What artists, books, films, etc. directly inspire your work? What advice do you have for other artists trying to find their personal style?
What inspired me the most has been my training. In Kyushu, where I was born, in the south of Japan, there are a lot of traditional tattoo masters. I have seen wonderful masterpieces which are now impressed in my mind. I took inspiration from what was around me, even some yakuza. I think it’s not possible to decide a personal style, it is something that come with time, work and experience. I found that style is not something that the artist puts in his work, but that probably it is what others recognize after seeing his art. Personally I like to experiment, even learn. Being too much bound to a certain way to express, can, in my opinion tie up freedom and creativity. I think that for an artist, it is not very important to find a style, but the process in finding it.
Beyond tattooing, what are you most passionate about? If you weren’t a tattooer what would you be doing?
I have different things that interest me, but now tattooing is what interests me the most. If I find something else, I'll do it.