Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda is a photographer and journalist. He has been obsessively documenting the rise in extreme body modification for the last ten years. In Japan, where doing so can still end careers.
Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda is a photographer and journalist. For the last twenty years, he has obsessively documented the underground rise in popularity of Japanese extreme body modification. He also happens to be the man who brought the bubbly saline injection-based forehead look to Japan. Obviously, it’s now huge there. You’d expect body modification to be taboo in a country known for loo-roll dispenser hats, but it is.
Journalists who cover it usually risk their own careers. I chatted with Ryoichi to understand why people inject fluids. They do this to temporarily change their appearance.
Vice: Hey, Ryoichi. When did you get into the whole Japanese body mod scene?
Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda: I started reporting on it in 1992 while I was working for Nyan 2 Club. It was a small Japanese magazine that focused more on extreme body modification. In 1995, I moved to Burst magazine. It was the first magazine to widely educate Japanese readers 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 still taboo? 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, mostly the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, got traditional tattoos. At that point, there wasn’t enough information 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. 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?
Actually, I happened to meet Jerome at Modcon in 1999. He was the person who pioneered saline infusions. Modcon is an extreme body modification convention. 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. Eventually, in 2003, I experienced saline with him. He gave me permission to bring it to Japan, so I set up a team in Tokyo to administer infusions to other people. That’s been going on 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 a medical saline solution and pump it into the forehead using infusion. We do this 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 about twice a year. People do have infusions done. Then they go out to clubs, fetish parties, and things like that.
What’s the deal with the ‘bagel-head’ look? How do you get that effect?
While the saline is being pumped in, press your thumb into the middle of the forehead. This creates the donut bagel effect. I’ve read reports of people coloring the infusions. 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. Amputation is when people cut off their fingers or something similar.
Jesus, it all sounds so casual. Why do people do these things?
People who like extreme body modification want to find their own way of doing things. 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.
Written by Jamie Clifton