Based in the suburbs of Yokohama, Horiyoshi works from a secluded, quiet atelier, crammed with skulls, Japanese Noh theater masks and even a dragon-print umbrella from Vivienne Westwood. His status as the most respected tattoo artist in Japan is confirmed by his adoption of his master’s honorific title, which he aims to pass down to his son, Kazuyoshi Nakano.
Horiyoshi considers each symbolic figure, dragon or floral motif as a component of one great masterpiece—for which clients will pay tens of thousands of dollars, making weekly, hour-long visits over the course of several years to obtain an indelible, corporeal artwork.
Horiyoshi for the most part draws the tattoos freehand on the body, using an electric needle for the outlines and traditional bamboo tools for filling in color.
“It’s important to remember that ‘Hori’ means ‘to carve,’” says photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd, who made the film below about the living legend for NOWNESS. “They are called skin carvers because the process involves] sharpened bamboo being pushed again and again into the skin, creating gradations like you would in a brush stroke on a painting.”
The designs stop sharply at the wrist and ankle and often a gap is left down the middle of the torso so that clients are able to entirely cover their bodywork, even when wearing a traditional kimono.
You can view a higher resolution version of the film on NOWNESS Skin Deep: Horiyoshi III