The last time I spoke to a Japanese tattooist working outside Tokyo he said inking was still connected – not for the customers but for some of the neighbouring shops – with the yakuza. For otaku (geeks) to ink their geekhood on the skin is Yo, but YO.
But for a culture where Hiroshige was drawing manga (man-ga or to randomly wander around, drawing-wise) at the same time as The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, it’s worth bearing in mind that the best-known japanese saying in the West:
Deru kui wa utareru.
“The nail that sticks up will be hammered down,” may mean more to us than to the average Japanese nowadays. After all, the best-known western saying in Japan is probably:
Mind the gap.
The cultural relevance of that one runs out pretty quick.
Where do you get your ideas?
And I was embarrassed, because I didn’t want to say they just turn up when I start writing, to someone who has spent years perfecting the ability to turn my own hair into something that is art. The ideas just grow, like my hair. Or, to use another, if unco-ordinated, image, I have a fifth stomach which takes the life going on around me and turns it into fiction.
My hairdresser knows a bestselling author who couldn’t sleep for the ideas flowing through her head, day and night. And I said for me writing is about pinning the ideas down at the right time in the right way. Otherwise it’s like indigestion, everything is feeding through the writer’s fifth stomach, something meant to take the ideas out of life and make something similar to, but nothing like day-to-day life. No wonder she didn’t sleep well.
Then he put me in touch with someone who might have exactly the bathroom tiles I’ve been looking for since I took action against the frosted dolphins on the shower cubicle and their bland, rubbery smiles. Someone who has an MBE for services to the tiling industry. The last couple of sentences are completely true. Frosted dolphins are designed to annoy people. I have a strong fifth writer’s stomach, but I couldn’t do anything with them.