Tokyo-based Israeli tattoo artist Bubble Caat (@bubble_caat) tattoos bloodthirsty creatures, evil two-headed stuffed animals, and beautiful, devilish women in colorful inks. The artist draws suffering and anger through adorable characters to face her own demons.
Giving tender and beautiful forms to negative emotions can be a way to overcome them or, at least, to acknowledge and face them. There is probably no art that represents the transformation of pain into beauty as well as tattooing.
Tattooing in Japan used to be illegal unless the artist held a medical license. But in September 2020, the Supreme Court acknowledged tattooing as an art rather than a medical procedure for the first time, when an appeal was turned down against public prosecutors versus a tattoo artist.
Bubble Caat arrived in Japan before that moment. Practicing as a tattoo artist was tough for her at some moments. For this reason, the artist has decided not to reveal her real name or face in this interview.
Although tattoos are still highly stigmatized in Japan today, Japanese and Japanese-based tattoo artists like Bubble Caat are fighting to change this perception by spreading their art and leaving it on the skin of the younger generations.
ChorareiI: First, please introduce yourself!
Bubble Caat: You can call me Bubble Caat (@bubble_caat). I am a 21 years old girl from Israel who lives in Tokyo. I started tattooing as a hobby when I was 17. These days I’m working at Calico Circus Tattoo (@calicocircus) in Tokyo.
I love animals, I love Sanrio and cute characters, I love to explore new music, go to parties, walk around neighborhoods and nature in Japan, and sleep.
The first thing that comes to mind to describe your characters and your style is “cute but psycho.” Do you see it that way?
I can understand why people may call my art “creepy-cute,” but I feel it’s more than that. Pink bows cover bloody open cuts. A cute girl is holding her fluffy cat while he is destroying her body with his sharp nails.
Covering the painful parts of life with glitter and pastel colors, is it a way of handling feelings and seeing things in a positive way? Or is it a way to avoid dealing with problems by hiding them? Inside myself, I still can’t decide.
There’s beauty in sadness and pain. We should try to accept our true feelings and don’t ignore them or hide from them.
How did you find your black-pink style and your universe of stuffed animals and girls eating hearts?
When I was 18 I decided to draw every day until I found my own drawing style. I just drew what I liked and what was surrounding me. Only things I liked, only colors I liked.
I love the sketchy style, with ruff lines that have personality. That’s why I like to keep my coloring style simple and to show more of the linework.
I have always loved the kawaii culture and Harajuku fashion, which give me a lot of aesthetic inspiration. I collect cute dolls, drawings, and clothes because it makes me happy to look at cute colorful things in life.
What traits of your personality are reflected in your creations?
This is the most difficult question so far, my emotional feelings change very intensely, from super happiness to extreme sadness. I would like to say I’m an optimistic person, but I do have deep dark sides, and I think they reflect in my art as well.
When I start drawing, it comes from a pure place of emotional expression. When I finish drawing, looking at the result helps me understand my actual feelings. Sometimes even when I think a lot, I can’t fully understand my emotions. It is only after drawing when I can understand them the best.
You are an illustrator and you also create clothes with your designs. Some illustrators focus on that. Why did you decide to tattoo? How does tattooing give to you that is different from illustration?
At school, I was always drawing on myself and I loved to draw on my friends, too. I have had the tattoo dream since then. I started tattooing at 17 as a hobby that became my job after a while.
Tattooing is not just about the illustrations, it is very important that the shape of the design will fit the tattoo placement on the body, and that it will look good on the person and with the other tattoos they may have.
The technique is also very important to make a good tattoo, you can have a really good design but if you can’t make clean lines or good coloring, the tattoo will lose its quality.
You have been tattooing in Japan before and after tattooing without a medical license became legal, have you seen any changes?
When I arrived in Japan, tattooing wasn’t legal and that got me in a lot of trouble. I had a very hard time dealing with it and trying to grow as a tattoo artist in Tokyo while studying at the same time in a Japanese school. When tattooing became legal, I was so happy I cried!
I can see that slowly more and more young artists start tattooing thanks to these changes in the law. I also know for a fact that the tattoo artists in Tokyo are trying to change their image in Japanese society, showing that tattoos are just another art form, not a sign for gangs that mean we are bad people!
I believe that in a few years from now, the tattoo industry in Japan will grow and there will be more styles and more artists from the younger generations.
I remember you told me that your tattoo studio in Israel was located in a bomb shelter. How is the tattoo scene in your country?
When I worked in my house, the tattoo studio was in our shelter room — almost every house in Israel has this kind of room. Also, when I worked at the tattoo shop in Israel we were tattooing in the shelter room sometimes. We made a sign outside the shop and wrote “make tattoos, not war.”
The tattoo scene in Israel is very different from the Japanese tattoo scene. You can see tattoo shops anywhere and so many people have tattoos, both old and young. There are many young artists with beautiful and unique styles. We have some tattoo artists that have become celebrities, they are on the news and sponsored by brands! I feel like many people in Israel want to become tattoo artists.
Although you encountered some obstacles working as a tattoo artist in Japan at the beginning, you have been doing it for a while now. Tell me about your journey.
It wasn’t easy to find a tattoo studio to work at, I contacted many but most of them were too small for another tattoo artist to join. It seems to me that the tattoo studios in Japan are not like I was used to seeing in other countries, most of them are kind of “hidden” inside living buildings, or not on the street level.
Also, It was hard to reach new clients, I felt like I was starting from 0 again. I had to work a lot in social media so more and more people come to know about my art in Tokyo.
Besides that, in very happy tattooing in Japan, it has been my fantasy for so long. Every client is fun to talk to and I get to meet many people and see their personal styles. I even made really good friends through tattooing!
Most of my clients come for their very first tattoo, which is amazing! I can really feel how people are getting more open-minded about tattoos in Japan.
Finally, is there anyone, in particular, you would like to tattoo?
The Japanese rapper Miyachi has a song about FamilyMart. I sent him a DM to make him a FamilyMart tattoo for free! I’m still waiting for his reply, though [laughs]!