Results tagged “horimono”

02:32 PM
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The wonderfully intriguing wooden sculptures by Takeshi Haguri, with their fine tattoo details, were shared by Melina Bee in our Needles & Sins Facebook group, but in case you didn't catch it, here's just a taste of the artwork.

You can see more sculptures and close-ups of the work on the gallery page. As noted on that page, Haguri, born in 1957 in Nagoya, Japan, has been sculpting in wood mainly, using aluminium for outdoor works. The tattoos are largely acrylic paint, inspired by tattooed bodies found at Matsuri (Japanese festivals). I particularly love the movement of those tattoos on sculptures. A great marriage of body art and fine art.

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02:34 PM
irezumi.jpgKuniyoshi  print.jpgHoritoshi III drawing.jpgA fantastic exhibition exploring Japanese tattooing, in various mediums through different periods, is now on view at The Ronin Gallery in NYC. Entitled "TABOO: UKIYO-E AND THE JAPANESE TATTOO," the exhibit encompasses the work of ukiyo-e masters Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, Kunisada and Kunichika "celebrating the world of tattoo duing the Edo and Meiji periods. Also exciting are the original paintings and drawings of master tattoo artist Horiyoshi III, along with the contemporary art photography of Masato Sudo and mixed-media work of American artist Daniel Kelly.

The best part: the 76-page catalog packed with beautiful imagery and tattoo history is available as free ebook [embedded below]. The hardcopy catalog and prints can be purchased here.

I highly recommend taking the time to read through it. You may also find inspiration for your next tattoo!

10:22 AM
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An interesting slideshow and videos on tattoos of the Yakuza, Japan's criminal underground, can be found on National Geographic's "Crime Lords of Tokyo" investigation. The short stories behind the tattoos discuss the transformation, pain and symbolism of the motifs; for example, this backpiece on the daughter of a Yakuza boss, shown above, is described as "Prostitute in Hell." The presentation also makes mention of Shoko Tendo's Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter, which is an excellent read.

Thanks, Niall, for the link!

05:38 PM
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For my fellow toy collectors, gadget geeks & nerdists, behold Mimobot's tattooed flash drive, "Yakuza" designed by Scott Lee. While the new Star Wars series has everyone's light sabers in a bunch, this Horimono homeboy remains my fave functional toy and has accompanied me to many a convention to help collect and store tattoo photos from artists.

A capacity of 4GB will cost about $35. You can also get 8GB for $55 & 16GB for $80.

For more wonderful and weird flash drives, check Hongkiat's (oldie but goodie) Top 50 list. [I also own the Humping Dog thanks to Brian Grosz.]
10:24 AM
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Our go-to source for historic photos, including but not limited to tattoos, is The Selvedge Yard. What's particularly cool about the site is that editor JP also puts the images in context with interesting background info.

Our most recent fave, which Pat dug up, is this post on Japanese tattooing in the 40s called:
Ancient Art of the Japanese Tebori Tattoo Masters: Ink in Harmony.

Images include the one above of "A group of traditionally tattooed gamblers," hand-tattooing (tebori) on women, and preserved tattooed skins, among other beautiful photos. They illustrate the words of legendary Japanese master Horihide, which were taken (in their entirety) from his personal story told on Here's a taste of that story:

When I was an apprentice, feudal customs still existed in Japan. The apprenticeship was one of the feudal customs called uchideshi in Japanese. Normally, pupils lived with their masters, and were trained for 5 years. After 5-year training, the pupils worked independently, and gave the masters money that he earned for one year. The one-year service was called oreiboko in Japanese, the service to express the gratitude towards the masters. The masters usually told new pupils about this system, 5-year-training and 1-year service, when they began the apprenticeship.
Today's young people never understand how tough the training was. Sometimes the master yelled at me and even hit me. To endure such treatment needs patience. Because of such unreasonable treatment, most pupils gave up and ran away from the master. Of course, I often wondered why he hit us. Although I had anger towards the master, I could not talk back. All I could do in the feudal period was to obey what the master said. I was so frustrated that I cried in bed so many times. The master sometimes slapped me without any reason. However, I found the master purposely hit me and forced me to do overwork for my mental training after I became a tattooist later on. I hated him so much during the apprenticeship. Looking back now, I am ashamed of having had such feelings towards my master.

[I chose this particular quote to shut up whiny tattoo apprentices today who think they have it so rough.]

For much more of Horihide's stories on Japanese tattooing--from apprenticeships to traditional designs to the tebori technique to tattoo thieves--go to the original article on


Our past posts on The Selvedge Yard:

02:34 PM
John Mack continues his weekly guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII and Part IX.

horiyoshi iii female backpiece.jpgIn all my time at Horiyoshi III's studios, I have seen a female client just three times.

The studios have no private room.  My appointments were always in the afternoon, so initially I guessed that perhaps women's appointments were in the morning when somehow greater privacy was afforded them. 

As I've already told you, there was often a squad of male apprentices and tattoo enthusiasts present.  Undressing and getting tattooed in front of them would surely give pause to most women.  It certainly intimidated me at first.

I avoid talking about other clients, so I did not ask about it for many years, but in 2009, I finally inquired with Horiyoshi about his female clientele.

"John-san," he said in a slightly incredulous tone.  "Now, how often have you seen women in my studios?" 

I admitted that most of the women I had seen were journalists.  I asked why he had so few female clients.

"They just don't come here.  It's hard for them to undress; it's uncomfortable.  Personally, that's better for me.  Frankly, I would rather not tattoo women."

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos, and we all keep him really busy.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
08:16 AM
John Mack is back with another guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII and Part VIII.

johnmack09_munewarisuji.jpgIn 2005, Horiyoshi III finished my backpiece, yet I was in the grip of tattoo addiction and still had more time reserved with the master. The very next day we continued with munewari, the front of my torso.

I had only a backpiece for just one day. [See an image of that backpiece here.]

I commented to Horiyoshi III that tattoos are addictive, and he corrected me:

"Tattoos are not an addiction; they are a collection.  A tattoo collector is just like a conventional art collector who buys a painting, hangs it on the wall, and then moves on to acquire the next, unique piece.

Tattoo collecting is a spiritual pursuit, while addiction is a physiological need.  Addicts repeatedly take the same drug over and over without limit.  A tattoo collection has variety, and it has an end.  Once you collect the whole set, you're done.

As you complete your tattoo collection, you yourself become art."


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

08:00 AM

John Mack offers another guest blog post on his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.

In a comment to my last post, a reader inquired about the difference between machine and the tebori (hand poke) tattooing. I was just going to tell you about that.

As for how it feels, the location matters much, much more than the method. The main sensory difference is the sound and cadence of tebori. After this video above of Horiyoshi III doing tebori winds up to full speed, I can almost feel it myself.

Horiyoshi explained that it is the result attained after about four years that makes the biggest difference. He said that a machine works best for outlining because its precise, thin line does not spread over the years while tebori does spread into soft, smooth gradients ideal for shading. He had an almost poetic way of stating it in Japanese that went something like, "The disadvantage of one method is an advantage in one application, and the disadvantage of the other method is an advantage in the other application."

Horiyoshi then commented, "You like tebori better, don't you, John-san." This man can see right through me. I guess I do like tebori, not because it feels any better, but because it's a rarer and more authentic experience that yields a superior result. Both methods use needles, and getting stuck with needles hurts.

For the past few years, Horiyoshi has used a machine exclusively. When I asked about this, he said that as one ages, it becomes difficult to perceive fast-moving objects. He dramatized by waving his hand past his face, then making a mystified expression as if he had missed something.

As you can see in the video, your skin moves around quite a bit during tebori, but with a machine, it stays relatively stationary. So, no more hand tattooing for this master.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos, and we all keep him really busy.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
08:07 AM
Here's John Mack with another story about getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

The client before me inspected his freshly colored skin in the mirror while gingerly dabbing it with a tissue. He and Horiyoshi III were discussing the motivation for getting tattooed as I listened with interest. I understood the main idea, but I knew there was more. So the next chance I got, I asked him for clarification. Here is what he said:

We get tattooed for our own self satisfaction, but just like any social animal, people crave having an impact on others.  When your tattoos are recognized by other people, you see their reaction, which in turn makes you feel good.  If you lived alone on a deserted island where nobody else could see your tattoos, then they would be much less interesting.

It's just like anything else in life.  We do things like work primarily to support ourselves, but we also live in a society, where we like to see our career success recognized by others.

This opportunity to ask a master at the top of his craft anything I want has been one of the supreme pleasures of my life.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
08:21 AM
horiyoshi backpiece.jpgJohn Mack is back with another story about his experience getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III over the course of nine years. The image above was taken after one of his earlier sessions. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II, Part III, and Part IV.

As I mention at the end of every post, Horiyoshi III's practice is now limited to finishing existing tattoos. Once it became apparent that the master will be retiring, his clients have come out of the woodwork.

Every time I go to Japan, one or two people show up and display an incomplete tattoo, asking to get on the schedule to have it finished. Most stopped at completion of sujibori, the outline.  I have never seen any of them refused, as long as they make their appointments three to four months in advance.

"They just keep on coming," said Horiyoshi when I asked about it.  "I've tattooed about 7000 people, and there would have not been time to start so many had everyone completed their tattoos." There are lots of unfinished Horiyoshi III tattoos out there.

I nervously asked whether I would be able to finish. "You're fine, John-san,"  he reassured me.  He and I both know what finished means, and I'm going for it.

Horiyoshi's practice is now limited to finishing existing clients' tattoos.  As I have repeatedly witnessed, all new clients are politely referred elsewhere.
12:08 PM
Here's another great tattoo anecdote by guest blogger John Mack, an American who has been getting tattooed by Horiyoshi III for nine years. Check out his previous posts:  Part IPart II,
and Part III.

Before sharing these stories here, I first related them to Horiyoshi III to make sure he felt they were accurate and appropriate for blogging. I also suggested topics that would be off limits, but he waived these restrictions and encouraged me to share all my experiences.

Horiyoshi had forgotten, or simply didn't notice, many of the events I found memorable. Telling my Horiyoshi stories to Horiyoshi himself was fun for both of us. Today's anecdote is the one that seemed to amuse him the most.

Around 2006, a foreigner was getting tattooed by Horiyoshi. In the West, it's customary for the client to receive detailed aftercare instructions, and so after his session, the foreigner looked puzzled when Horiyoshi finished without saying anything. Realizing it wasn't going to be offered, the client specifically requested instructions on how to take care of his new tattoo.

Horiyoshi replied in English, "Don't touch." 

It seems the Master (like our Editrix) subscribes to the LITFA school of tattoo aftercare.

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

12:20 AM
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

horiyoshi-top.jpgI'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.
12:37 PM
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Japanese tattoo master Horiyoshi III is legendary for his exquisite full body suits, inspiring legions of tattooists worldwide. Naturally, getting an appointment with him is no easy feat, but now you can wear the artwork of Horiyoshi III without the trip to Yokohama.

His new clothing line, Horiyoshi the Third, has released their Men's Fall/Winter 2009 Collection and it's a sexy set of tigers, demons, and other traditional wood block print imagery -- without the bedazzlement of, say, an Audigier monstrosity. The line is produced in Japan on a limited run basis -- a lesson learned perhaps, after seeing how Ed Hardy's licensed designs were bastardized.

I particularly love the subtle extras like the Hanya pendants on the zipper pulls or the fine sleeve detailing. The accessories are also beautifully designed, but with the catalog link broken, I can't tell ya how much they'll hurt your wallet.

Read more about the collection on The Freshness Mag online.

You can purchase the clothing at Alan Bilzerian in Massachusetts and Brown's in London but I also found a number available on like the Dragon Head hoodie, the "Wall Street Ogre" hoodie and the White Snake tee.

Will have more on the Horiyoshi the Third brand, especially when the women's line comes out.
12:17 PM
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When I returned from Greece two weeks ago, I was greeted with a stunning coffee table book in the mail that instantly took me on another trip: SHIGE, the 328-page full color hardcover that is at once a personal journal and breathtaking exhibition of one of today's great Japanese tattoo artists.

Take a look at Shige's online portfolio and now imagine that properly showcased in 10x13" along with his stencils, paintings, photos from conventions and guest spots, and personal family photos.

Indeed, Shige's devotion to his wife and partner Chisato and baby girl Ayaka, is not only ever present in the book but in person at tattoo events; it's important to note because it offers a glimpse into the man behind the art -- art so masterful, it can be intimidating. But his warm smile and watching him play with Ayaka, whom I've watched go from stroller to toddling around conventions, puts clients at ease, allowing them to enjoy the full tattoo experience.

Beyond his character, Shige is known for a particular style of Japanese tattooing that pays homage to traditional artistic elements of Horimono but not a strict interpretation, bringing to his work many other influences.

In his foreword to the book, Master Horiyoshi III best describes Shige's work:

"Around 1994 Shige's work clearly shows that he was strongly influenced by Filip Leu of Switzerland. However, he read art books and studied about aesthetics from various art worlds. As a result, nowadays, Shige has created his own original world that merges elements of Japanese tradition and Western art elements. His tattooing has begun surpassing not only traditional tattooing but also art."

Horiyoshi III's  mention of Filip Leu is significant because Shige himself says in the book that meeting the third-generation tattooist changed his life. Shige never had an apprentcehsip and is a self-taught tattooer, but by getting tattooed by Filip and developing a friendship, he saw Japanese tattoo art in a different way -- that one "didn't have to conform to any particular style but could create freely and with his own imagination."

Many personal photos of Shige, Chisato and the Leu family illustrate the book -- my favorites are watching the process of Shige's own body suit by Filip.

yoko.jpgThese snapshots bring the reader in at the beginning of the book, engaging -- and endearing us -- to Shige but also prepares us for the stunning body suits and the personal stories of their wearers, like that of Yoko Uki, shown here (see more here).

A must read is Yoko's account of how she came to Shige for her full body suit, the difficult reactions she received in her native Japan, and how she found acceptance at international tattoo conventions, like the first one she went to in London in 2005. I remember running up to Yoko in the bathroom at that convention and completely devouring her artwork; she was so gracious turning around, lifting her arms, posing for pics, both of us giggling. Meeting her was the highlight of that show for me and she talks about how our appreciative response to her changed the way she lives with her Horimono.

That sense of community and belonging that, yes, still remains with us, is a thread that binds the Shige book, presented through the personal journey of one artist.

It was my own vacation, however, that led to this later posting on the book and so the hardcover is now sold out (and it sold out fast) BUT the paperback will be released in the Fall and I promise to give you heads up as soon as I get word from Horitaka of State of Grace who puts out the best books on tattoo.

Meanwhile, enjoy Shige's portfolio online or take a trip yourself to his Yellowblaze studio in Yokohama.
01:24 PM

tattoo in japan.jpgThis weekend, I was asked about one of my fave Japanese tattooing tomes, aptly called Tattoo in Japan by Edition Reuss.

While I wrote about it for, I wanted to post here as well because I feel this photo book is must for any serious tattoo collector.

Unlike many other Japanese tattoo books, it shows the full spectrum of tattoo art in Japan today from the traditional bodysuits adorning Yakuza to interpretations of Americana and tribal tattoo work by the new school of Japanese tattooists.

The 320-page hardcover can be ordered from here for 89 Euros or for $165 US from Last Gasp Books or 61 British Pounds from Amazon UK.

Check our Flickr photoset for a taste.

You'll be hearing more about Edition Reuss as they're publishing my upcoming book. More on that soon.

09:35 AM
I'm lovin watching the progression of my friend Sarah's horimono up close and beautiful, but you can check out it out yaself through her blog Evolution of a Backpiece.

The wonderful Stephanie Tamez of NY Adorned is creating the serpentine-centered work that evokes The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Nothing could better embody temptation more than beautiful tattoos on a beautiful woman.

The blog also reminds me of one of the first online tattoo chronicles by the great Keith Alexander (a dear friend who was taken too soon in 2005). He too documented the progress of his backpiece -- also tattooed at NY Adorned -- by Chris O'Donnell.

What I love about all these personal blogs is, not only watching the works evolve, but reading about healing techniques, the relationship with the artist, and the stories behind the design.

Tattoo geeks rejoice in all the bloggy goodness!
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