Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda is a photographer and journalist who’s been obsessively documenting the underground rise in popularity of Japanese extreme body modification for the last twenty years. He also happens to be the man responsible for bringing the bubbly saline injection-based forehead look to Japan. Obviously, it’s now huge there. Saying that, even though it’s exactly what you’d expect from the country of loo-roll dispenser hats, apparently body modification is still somewhat of a taboo out there, with journalists who choose to cover it usually doing so at the risk of their own careers. I had a chat with Ryoichi to try to help me understand why people are choosing to inject themselves with fluids in order to temporarily change their appearance.
Vice: Hey, Ryoichi. When did you get in to the whole Japanese body mod scene?
Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda: I started reporting on it in 1992 while I was working for Nyan 2 Club, which was a small Japanese magazine that focused more on the extreme side of body modification. Then I moved to Burst magazine in 1995, which was the first magazine to really inform Japanese readers on a larger scale about tattooing, piercing, and body modification.
Cool. What sort of stuff were people doing to their bodies back then?
Well, it definitely wasn’t nearly as extreme as what people are doing now. The more extreme stuff started to trickle in once the internet came around in like, 96 or 97.
So it was just the usual, tame piercing and tattooing that people get nowadays all around the world?
Yes, but in Japan it was still more of a taboo. I got my nipple pierced in 1992 and wrote the first article for the Japanese market about piercing, then I got a tattoo in LA in 1995 and wrote the first article about tattooing. So everything came a bit later in Japan compared to the West.
How come it was a taboo still? I thought tattooing was quite a traditional Japanese thing?
It is, but there’s a big difference between traditional Japanese tattoos and Western-style tattoos. In the early 90s it was mostly just Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, getting traditional tattoos and at that point there wasn’t enough information coming in about modern tattooing and piercing. As I said, it was when the internet came that young people started to accept the Western style more and more and that’s when the more extreme side of body modification started to get popular in Japan.
Wow, so people just jumped right in as soon as they found out about it?
When did saline infusions start to get popular?
Well, actually, I happened to meet Jerome, who was the person who pioneered saline infusions, at Modcon in 1999. Modcon is an extreme body modification convention and it just happened to come to Japan that year so I went to cover it for Burst. I got talking to Jerome and we stayed in contact, then eventually I experienced saline with him in 2003 and he gave me permission to bring it to Japan, so I set up a team in Tokyo to administer infusions for other people. That’s been going since 2007.
So you’re the man responsible for bringing it to the masses. How does the whole process work?
It’s quite easy - we use medical saline solution and using infusion we pump it into the forehead for about two hours, or until it’s ready.
Two hours! Fucking hell. How long does it last?
Just one night. The body absorbs it over time so by the next morning it just goes back to normal. We enjoy being freaks for the night, ha ha.
Does the skin ever start to sag?
No. Everyone I know who has done it, no matter how many times, their skin has gone back to exactly how it was before.
That’s good to know, I guess. Do people ever infuse saline anywhere else in their bodies?
Yeah, sure, you can inject it anywhere you want, really. It’s usually just the forehead, but sometimes we do scrotal infusions as well.
Oh my god. Have you ever done that?
No, not me. I’ve only done my forehead, but people at my parties have tried the scrotal infusions before.
When you say parties do you mean, like, mainstream clubs, or venues that you hire out?
Normally, it’s at parties that we put on ourselves, yes. We have suspension parties every couple of months and saline parties probably about twice a year, but people do have infusions done and then go out to clubs and fetish parties and things like that.
What’s the deal with the ‘bagel-head’ look? How do you get that effect?
Oh, you just press your thumb in to the middle of the forehead while the saline is being pumped in, and that creates the donut, bagel effect. I’ve read reports of people colouring the infusions as well but I don’t think there’s any truth to those claims, it must be the way the light is shining on someone in the photo, or something.
In your opinion, are saline infusions the most extreme thing happening in the Japanese body modification scene at the moment?
Oh, no, not at all. There are practices that are far more extreme, for example, ear pointing, navel removal, amputation, Japanese traditional body suit tattoos...
What’s ear pointing?
It’s where you have your ears turned pointy so that they look kind of like a cat’s ears. Navel removal is taking the navel off the body, and amputation is where people cut off their fingers, or something like that.
Jesus, it all sounds so casual. Why do people do these things?
Well, you know, people who like extreme body modification want to find their own way of doing things, and they’re always looking for new ways to do that. The more progressive the scene gets, the more these people have to experiment and go their own way.