Guest Blog: The Changing Scene at Horiyoshi III's Studios
08:05 AM
horiyoshi III backpiece.jpgJohn Mack is back with another story about getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part I Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI.

During the first years of my visits to Horiyoshi III, all manner of tattoo devotees were constantly present: foreign and domestic apprentices, Horiyoshi's clients, Horitomo and his clients, journalists, even graduate students researching their masters thesis or doctoral dissertation.

Quite a few of the apprentices and clients I recognized from photographs in the various books about Horiyoshi's work. This photo of was taken by Mr. Handa, who appeared in Takahiro Kitamura's book Bushido: Legacies of Japanese Tattoo. This book influenced my tattoo choices, and here was one of the characters from the book taking pictures of my tattoos! What a role reversal. [See a larger image of the above on Flickr.]

Everyone took advantage of the opportunity to brandish their tattoos. Japanese of many occupations change clothes for work, which allowed the apprentices to show more skin, and of course we clients had to expose our tattoos. Outside the studio, tattoos could be displayed only at public baths and once a year at festivals, so this was a welcome respite from the disapproval lurking out there in the real Japan.

Everyone was polite, yet quite interested to see each others tattoos in progress. When I undressed, those present would take the opportunity to scrutinize me. Privacy was not a part of this experience. Nonetheless, I became accustomed to it, and I too was able to observe many superb tattoos.

johnmack07_tattoomaster.jpgAround 2007, the scene changed. The hangers-on were gone, and Horiyoshi and I were regularly alone during my appointments. Journalists, sensing the the opportunity to record the end of an era, descended on the studios, where Horiyoshi welcomed them. I found it interesting to listen in on the interviews and even got the opportunity to comment myself.

Once in 2008, I arrived at the tiny Isecho studio to find it jammed with photographic equipment, a columnist for Tattoo Master magazine, an interpreter and a photographer. They took this fine cover photo for the Spring 2009 issue right there in that tiny room.

The mix of clients has changed over the years as well. In the early years of my experience, most appeared to be construction tradesmen, followed by non-Japanese, then Yakuza.

In 2009, I mentioned these changes in clientele to Horiyoshi and asked about the current mix. He gave the following estimate by profession:

  • * 60% Craftsmen and tradesmen. I found that many of these clients were themselves tattooists.

  • * 10% Yakuza.; Horiyoshi added that there are other tattoo artists whose clientele is almost entirely Yakuza.

  • * 30% Other.  "You're in this category, John-san," he told me with a grin.

As for nationality, 30-50% are non-Japanese. "In fact, today all appointments are with foreigners," Horiyoshi commented one Saturday in 2009.

Rather than the mark of the Yakuza, these days a traditional Japanese bodysuit just might be the mark of a "foreigner."

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

i wonder if you can camp outside in an alley nearby?

John, can you comment on the difference between receiving the hand-poke method and machine?

See the upcoming post, Machine vs. Tebori".

Hi John,

I've been following these instalments with great interest, and I was thrilled to read that you were present when Maki interviewed the master for my magazine! He gave a wonderful account, as one might expect.

I look forward greatly to reading more of this fascinating series.

Best regards,

As an amateur journalist, it is an honor to be read by a professional magazine publisher, Alex. Thank you for your kind words.

The interviewer took a break during my appointment, during which Martin photographed my session. I will be using one of these photos (which did not appear in your magazine) later in this series.

I only know the cover photo was taken at the studio because I recognized the background. It barely fit in the room; if it were any bigger, I would have had to crawl under it to access the interior of the studio.

Amazing. I'm always looking forward for your post. I think Horiyoshi III is one of the few artists whose work transcends the tattoo world.

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