Guest Blog: My Tattoo Experience With Horiyoshi III, Part 1
Editor's Note: In our survey, many of you wanted to read more personal experiences from other tattooed readers: not the reality show "every tattoo has a meaning" thing but stories on creating the design, choosing the tattooist, the vibe of the shop, the artist's bedside manner, plus any fun anecdotes. Well, I've got something gooood for you. In a weekly series, guest blogger John Mack shares his stories on getting tattooed by Japanese master, Horiyoshi III. Here is Part 1.
By John Mack
I've been getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III for nine years now. Originally attracted by his first class tattooing, I also had the pleasure of getting to know a fascinating and intelligent individual. I've experienced a side of Japanese society that I otherwise would not have encountered. This has been by far the most interesting application of my Japanese language skills.
Getting tattoos all over your body is never boring, but an unexpected bonus has been the amusing anecdotes I've accumulated. I'd like to share some of them with you. I'll start with how I met Horiyoshi III and how I chose him to transform my skin.
I had admired tattoos since I was a boy and had dabbled in hidden tattoos. In 2000, I decided that at last it was time to go big with a backpiece. I began my search for a local San Francisco artist skilled in Japanese style tattooing, but Japanese style was not enough. For me, Japan itself was an essential component of this adventure. I decided to go directly to the source of the art form.
On my next trip to Japan, I interviewed two artists. My first consultation was with Horitoshi, whose art I had long admired. I arrived punctually for my appointment. An apprentice greeted me at the door. I was cordially invited to sit down to discuss to the tattoo. The apprentice brought us tea. I held forth in my most formal Japanese. Horitoshi responded in kind. Now this was first class. They made the people at Brooks Brothers look like fishmongers.
I explained that on my back I wanted a traditional dragon with black scales, red belly and yellow dorsal fins. He examined my back, took careful notes and agreed to tattoo a dragon on me. Horitoshi was not just Japanese style, this man was the real thing--a first class craftsman with impeccable etiquette.
The other consultation was with Horiyoshi III. He told me to just show up any time. Such informality is so uncharacteristic in Japan that I called a few minutes before my arrival to make sure it really was okay. When I arrived at the Noge studio, he was tattooing a client. The client did not seem to mind my intrusion; I myself would later come to welcome the diversion provided by such visitors. Horiyoshi listened to my plans as he worked. During his next break, Horiyoshi took a brief yet thoughtful look at my back and agreed to tattoo me. Horiyoshi had that rare balance of familiarity and formality, confidence and humility possessed only by those few who are accomplished and intelligent, while also managing to be pleasant people.
Success. My top two choices in the world of tattooing had agreed to accept me as a client. Both men were professionals I could trust. I liked both Horitoshi's more muted and traditional work, and also Horiyoshi's louder, evolved yet traditional style. Either way, I was in for a sublime tattoo experience.
In the end, the tiebreaker was not skill or style, but location. Getting tattooed requires a huge time commitment, and Horiyoshi's Yokohama studios were more convenient. The three-hour round trip to Horitoshi's studio from my usual base of operations was too much. Ironically, I once lived just down the street from Horitoshi's studio. Too bad I missed him then.
Having made my decision, it was time for action. I'll tell you about the first tattoo session with Horiyoshi III in my next guest post.
Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos. People are no longer welcome to just show up at his studio without an invitation. As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.