Gakkin is one of Japan’s most internationally recognised tattoo artists. A native of Wakayama, Gakkin mostly draws his inspiration from nature and also from several ancient Japanese painters. His tattoo work is so mesmerising and precise, which makes it all the more a wonder that he wasn’t raised in an artistic family and didn’t even start drawing until his late teens: “Honestly, when I was 15 to 18 years old I didn’t have a dream,” Gakkin explains to Japan Times. “I was just a bad boy who liked drinking, smoking, motorcycles, skateboarding.”

Today, Gakkin is a blackwork/traditional-Japanese freehand maestro with 281k followers on Instagram. He has also permanently moved to Amsterdam with his family since 2016, escaping the confinements of life in Japan, one of which is not having to hide is own body suit of ink, and another is a recent court rule that a tattoo artist cannot work with needles without a medical license. “That’s so stupid,” says Gakkin. “The news was a big surprise. In other countries, tattooers have worked with local governments and doctors to establish guidelines and regulations. Of course, I got a license to tattoo in the Netherlands. But if I worked in Japan, I would be a criminal because I don’t have a doctor’s license. Who’s gonna become a tattoo artist after graduating medical school?!”

Life is more relaxed now for Gakkin and he gets to spend more time with his family. He opens his studio at 10am and closes shop at 5pm, taking just one booking a day, four or five days a week. Culture Cartel is honoured to have Gakkin headline our inaugural event. Here, we continue our chat with him.

When and why did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing when I was 18 at my home, on my friend. I just thought it was cool.

What is your favourite part of being a tattoo artist?
To have friends everywhere in the world.

If you didn’t become a tattoo artist, what would you have done?
Doctor.

Who is your favourite tattoo artist of all time?
Noko (his daughter).

Have you ever tattooed yourself? Who does your tattoos for you?
Yes, I tattooed myself last week — it’s very fun. Most of my tattoos are by my friends and family.

What has been your favourite moment in your career, so far?
My daughter became my apprentice!

What advice can you give to artists who are just starting out?
Work hard! That’s the best shortcut to be better.

To understand better the tattoo world of Gakkin, watch his video here. Or buy your tickets to Culture Cartel here and watch him in action up close!