- Horiyoshi III, given name Yoshihito Nakano, is one of the world’s most legendary full-body-tattoo artists.
- The art of tattooing is still taboo in Japan, and some businesses and public baths still ban tattooed customers.
- We met him in his studio, hidden in an anonymous-looking building in the city of Yokohama, a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo.
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This is Horiyoshi III, one of the world’s most legendary full-body-tattoo artists. His given name is Yoshihito Nakano, but he inherited the title Horiyoshi, which is derived from the word hori, meaning to carve or engrave.
The controversial history of Japanese tattooing, or irezumi, can be traced back to around 10,000 BC, in the Jomon period. The Japanese government banned tattoos in 1872, as while the practice had risen as an art form, tattooed marks were still used as a punishment. The ban wasn’t lifted until 1948, but the practice has retained its image of criminality. For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the yakuza, Japan’s mafia, and some businesses in Japan and public baths still ban tattooed customers.
Yoshihito’s most devoted clientele are covered in full-body designs. These stop sharply at the wrist and ankle, where skin would show when wearing a traditional kimono. There is also the hikae, a chest panel to sleeve; nagasode, a full sleeve to the wrist; and shorter sleeves, shichibu and gobu. Donburi soshinbori is a full-body tattoo without the line down the center of the chest, and hanzubon are tattooed thighs resembling shorts.
Until 30 years ago, Yoshihito did his tattoos entirely by hand using the tebori technique, where a needle-tipped wooden or metal stick inserts ink into the skin. Nowdays, due to health and time constraints he completes them freehand using an electric needle. His clientelle is now mostly westerners, attracted by his popular Instagram.
We met Yoshihito to talk about his career, and meet some of his client base.
Produced by Ju Shardlow and Charlie Floyd.
Special thanks to Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau.