Rarely do we ever meet tattoo artists that are globally recognized and respected as true artisans. In this day and age of smoke and mirrors, hype and fan-based assumptions often makes for overnight celebrities but not for Horiyoshi the Third. His loyal fan base was adopted from underground roots and the cult following of his work is something that bas been bestowed upon new recruits through respected resources and years of illusive mystery. He's not in it for the fame, the hype or the publicity, rather, he's in this business to do what he was born to do and that's tattoo. In this very exclusive interview, Lowrider Arte sits down with one of Japan's most legendary tattoo artists.
Yet the respect he's earned is something, which is more than just word of mouth, as he's also been granted use of the Japanese title of "Hori" (meaning "to engrave"). This illustrious honor has only been bestowed three times throughout the course of history, and only twice among tattooists. Horiyoshi III, born Yoshihito Nakano in 1946, proudly carries this honor on his heavily-tattooed shoulders, and is widely regarded by tattoo enthusiasts as the world's best full-body tattoo artist, or "horishi," as it is known in Japan. The 63-year-old Horiyoshi received this honor in 1971 after serving as an apprentice under Yoshitsugu Muramatsu, who was the Horiyoshi of Yokohama, a man Horiyoshi III met when he was only 21. Upon his retirement, Muramatsu bestowed this title of "Horiyoshi" upon his only son, as well as his best student, Horiyoshi III, whom he chose to uphold and carry on his tattoo legacy.
Like the outlines of his drawings and sketches, Horiyoshi III's existence has been a series of long and winding strokes, seeking to ultimately define who he is and what he represents. A man born into poverty, Horiyoshi III was attracted to the secrecy and the power of the Yakuza at an early age, a lifestyle he was only able to escape through the power of his own artistic merit. Principle, tradition, and beauty act as guiding lights in his life now, a life that could have just as easily been filled with darkness, had he chosen to stay on the wayward path he walked as a youth. Instead he chose discipline, balance, and righteousness as the inspirations and motivations behind his study of "Horimono" tattoos, ultimately becoming somewhat of a mythical figure himself upon the completion of his apprenticeship. To receive a tattoo from Horiyoshi III is as spiritual of an experience as it is a painful one, and to walk inside the doors of his Yokohama studio is akin to walking through the doors of some ancient temple, you can almost feel the history and power all around you, it is surreal. In his own words, Horiyoshi III speaks on the past, the present, and the future, as well as the importance of kindness, generosity, and honesty in relation to everyday living.
What do you attribute your success to and where do you feel you are in terms of accomplishment?
I believe I have not realized my full potential yet, but I owe my past success to my friends and family who have supported me along the way.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in life?
There are no shortcuts. To climb the Himalayas you must start with the first step at the base. Patiently without rushing, you must take definitive steps. Nowadays it is normal to have elevators in buildings, but I believe that taking the stairs to make your way up in an old fashioned manner is what leads to a fulfilling life. It is not good to always take the quick and easy way up like on the elevator.
I believe that having an honest heart and to value the feelings of the people around you is always important, despite the possibility of being betrayed and taken advantage of by some.
To take care and value people is to love them. An honest heart can tell apart the good and the bad. I think the starting point for both friendship and relationship is love.