Rico Daruma is a world-renowned tattoo artist specializing in traditional Japanese art. Originally from Brazil, he moved to Japan in 2005 where he partnered with Japanese native tattoo artist Shion and opened a studio together called Daruma-Goya. In an interview with Rico, he spoke about his take on Japanese traditional themes in his artistry as well as tattooing in a society that misunderstands this form of art due to its vilified association with the Yakuza mafia.
You were born in Brazil, how did you end up in Japan?
I was living in NY at the time and my interest for Japanese tattoos just kept on growing over the years. I had been in Japan a few times already and in 2005, when I got married to Shion, we decided to move here and I was challenged to do Japanese tattoos in Japan.
How do you experience life and work in Japan?
It's been eleven years now, time flies! I'm not sure how I ended up being here this long! Everything has always been a challenge for me. Starting with the language, their costumes and so many things I still can't quite understand well. I guess that's part of being a gaijin here. As far as work, that's another story. That's my main interest here. I love it too much! It's actually great to be able to work on Japanese customers and get their insight on tattoos. I've learned a lot from that.
I feel at times a collapse between tradition and modernity in today's Japan. Does this have any effect on your profession?
I don't think so. Everything will always adapt to its time and place. Traditional tattooing is very present in their modern society as well.
Tattoos were long associated with the underworld of Yakuza and criminals. I imagine that nowadays this perception has changed and has been widely accepted. What are your thoughts?
I wouldn't say it is widely accepted as tattooing still faces discrimination in Japanese society. Sometimes it surprises me too, as more people are coming to us to get traditional Japanese tattoos.
Are you practicing more traditional techniques like Tebori? What are the more interesting aspects of Japanese tattooing in your opinion?
Yes, I've been practicing Tebori on some of my friends. The picture with the guy wearing a mask is my first suit done by hand. It is very interesting and it opened my eyes to better understand the basic aspects of putting ink on human skin.
Besides that, after I start designing full body suits I could clearly see that my job now is not to only do "my art" on skin, but to use my tattooing to best decorate people's bodies, if that makes sense! It doesn't matter if they want to get heavily covered or just have a few tattoos. I can always use this concept to plan their tattoos to look harmonic on their bodies.
I always found interesting the relationship between tattoo and religion, like in some Buddhist traditions. Tattoos represent devotion or spiritual protection. Does your practice have any connections with these?
I'm not sure if religious people get tattooed in Japan like in Thailand. In my experience, people in Japan get religious designs tattooed as a protection or to homage a lost family member. Personally I'm very interested in tattooing that type of imagery.
I heard some stories about Japanese tattoo artists that are already booked for a lifetime. Is this true or is this a myth?
I heard about this, but that’s not me! When I start a project, I like to always book the next session, just to keep some kind of rhythm between sessions. But I don't prefer to book too many appointments in advance. Unless someone is coming from abroad or if they have a tight schedule and can only get tattooed on certain days. Other than that, I like to keep it flexible.
What references in nature give you inspiration?
My actual hobby is gardening. I find references observing nature through this pastime.