Guest Blog: My First Tattoo Session with Horiyoshi III
12:39 AM
Last week, we introduced you to John Mack, an American who has been getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III for nine years and is sharing some of those tattoo experiences in a series of guest blogs here. That first post caused some controversy in the comments section, and we continue to welcome your thoughts on this series (and all N+S posts). The photos in each post show a progression of the tattoo work as the stories go on. Here's Part 2.

johnmack02_earlyback.jpgBy John Mack

Having decided on Horiyoshi III to tattoo my back, I made plans to return to Japan in 2001 for my first sessions.

I vividly remember walking up the slope from the train station to the Isecho studio. These would be my last moments without an enormous tattoo in my skin. I waited in front of the bank as instructed, where Horiyoshi's son Kazu, then a teenager, came on a bicycle to meet me. He guided me to the famously obscure studio.

Once we arrived, I restated my specifications:  a dragon with black scales, red belly and yellow dorsal fins, full size with background. This was all the direction Horiyoshi needed. He rummaged around in a drawer labeled "Dragons" and pulled out a sketch of a dragon's head.

I lay down on the floor and he sketched something on me with a brush. He then prepared to tattoo whatever it was into my skin. I asked to first have a look. Horiyoshi seemed slightly taken aback, but motioned toward the sticker-encrusted mirror. I saw a dragon's face with a disturbingly huge claw next to it. I commented on the psychedelic proportions. 

"It looks cooler that way," he calmly assured me.

I assented.

You don't engage someone like Horiyoshi III and then second guess his artistic judgment. Especially if you are as artistically impaired as me.

When he started to outline my backpiece, I crossed that line, a line that over subsequent years would inexorably progress toward my extremities.

In my next guest post, I'll tell you about my encounter with a Yakuza boss there.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.


Hi John,

that's an amazing piece. I am in the process of finishing my backpiece with Horiyoshi at the moment. And just like you, i chose his dragon, but with peonies. Will go back to Japan at the end of March.

Can i ask you if your back is your first tattoo? And did you get anything else other than your back from him?

Looking forward for your reply



I like the "Horiyoshi seemed slightly taken aback" bit. I only had 5 sessions with him but remember asking him in the last if he would do a session by hand sometime and he looked at me like "hand? who me?". This made me chuckle... There's nothing like that old Ise-cho studio. Great post mate!

There's a softness to the work that is remarkable. Looking forward to post III.

Mine at Sujibori stage http://img211.imageshack.us/img211/7307/backsmallj.jpg

It's interesting to see how his style changes through time.

"it's cooler that way" is totally my new de facto reply...

Horiyoshi III did a lot of tebori on me, but lately he uses only a machine. When I asked about this, he said that as he ages, he can no longer see fast-moving objects. During tebori, your skin moves around quite a bit, but with a machine, it stays relatively stationary. So, no more tebori.

"その方が格好いいから" (sono hou ga kakkou ii kara) is Horiyoshi's de facto reply to questions about design decisions. You're in good company.

Hi John
Yeh I knew it was the dying days for tebori and I knew I was pushing it! But I did see him do tebori on a few guys the same time as when I was there, ie before my sessions. So I thought why not check and see. He was v.v. tired most days though, so I completely understand and consider myself lucky with the sessions I had with him.

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