As the tattoo world has entered the new millennium, Takahiro Kitamura's efforts to document and share information have become evident just about everywhere I turn. Known by the tattoo name Horitaka, his many books and candid interviews with myriad tattoo legends have influenced me tremendously. So, when I first saw Taki in Milan in 2004, I rushed over to meet him. It was certainly no surprise that he turned out to be a super-cool dude, and a friendship quickly ensued. As the host for this year's National Tattoo Convention, I invited Taki to Seattle. Not only did he accept, but he brought two highly esteemed young Japanese tattooers, Horitomo (who apprenticed with Horiyoshi III) and Horizakura (who apprenticed with Horitoshi). As it was quite a momentous and important occasion for two highly respected young artists from different masters to share a booth, Horitaka suggested a group interview for Skin & Ink. Both Horitomo and Horizakura carry on the traditional Japanese tattoo method of tebori, the Japanese style of hand tattooing. They are also devoted students of the culture and folklore surrounding Japanese tattooing. As a big fan of their work, I could not resist the opportunity to conduct the interview. So, after a weekend of adorning lucky Seattleites with beautiful traditional tattoos, Juan Puente (armed with his camera) joined us and we all headed down to Pike Place Market for coffe and conversation. Aaron: Would this type of interview be possible in Japan? Horizakura: I don't do a lot of interviews, so that in and of itself is a new thing Horitomo: Normally, to do an interiew outside your actual work is a new thing, and in Japan it's actually kind of strange and different How long have you guys been friends? Horizakura: Actually, this year is the first time Horitomo and I have hung out together. Horitaka: I've known Horitomo for about seven years. Shinji and I first met at the Tattoo The Earth show in Oakland in 2002, although we didn't really talk much until recently. We answered your call to attend the National Tattoo Convention. It's the longest running tattoo convention, and has done a lot to uplift tattooing. Therefore, we wanted to showcase the best Japan has to offer, regardless of what family the artists are from. What did you think of the convention? Horitomo: I was very excited about it, because of its rich history. I remember looking in magazines and seeing all those elders in one place. Unlike many other shows, it actually has historical significance. What was it like serving a traditional apprenticeship, and more so, how do you think it contrasts a typical, Western-style apprenticeship? Horizakura: I can only speak from my own experience through my tattoo family. Once my master agreed to apprentice me, lots of time was dedicated towards getting to know on another, then drawing, needle making and learning tattoo etiquette. Horitomo: I'm not entirely sure, but I think my first apprenticeship with Sabado was comparable to a Western-style apprenticeship. He was kind of like and older brother, although we weren't that far apart in age. Eccentric Tattoo in Nagoy was a street shop, and I started out as a shop helper. How did you go about re-apprenticing under sensei Horiyoshi III? Horitomo: I had already been tattooing for some time, and, once I started having my back done by him, a relationship developed. So now that you've served your formal apprenticeships and have come to America on work visas, how does it feel to be working so far away from your masters? Horizakura: I am here representing my master, and we are still very close on the phone. Horitomo: Although we are separated, everything my master has taught me, stays with me. Why did you come to America? Horizakura: A situation arose where some people were going to open a shop in America, 55 Tattoo in NYC. I was eager to work, and I felt there was good potential to build a strong client base here, so I asked my master if I could go. Horitomo: When I was younger, Sabado and I came and worked in San Francisco at Everlasting with Aaron Cain, Mike Davis, Troy Denning and Patrick Conlon. This made a huge impression on me. You went by the name of Washo and were at the top of your game doing the Americana/New School style. Do you miss doing those types of tattoos? Horitomo: I've enjoyed working in both styles, I feel I've approached them both with respect and, to me, they don't seem very different. Do you think that one particular sytle is more challenging than the other? Horitomo: Although they're both very difficult, with the Japanese there's a lot of history to learn and memorize. As prolific as you guys are, you must eat, drink and sleep tattoos. I can't imagine that there is much time for anything else, right? Horizakura: It's true that tattooing is very demanding. However, I still manage to exercise and spend time with my lovely wife, Miki. Horitomo: I have been working a lot right now because I am in a transitional period. I just arrived in America in March, and am working on getting an apartment, my motorcycle license and my wife over here. So eventually, I will once again have some other hobbies. How do you feel about all the American tattooists working in the Japanese style? Horitomo: I think it's really good, because if there are all these Westerners working really hard, then the Japanese must give it their all and put forth their very best. This is a very healthy thing. Horizakura: Yes, I agree. Since coming to America, I've noticed there are many skilled tattooists who are very serious, and study very hard. This just makes me want to study even harder. Horitaka: I feel a great sense of pride that there is all this interest in our culture. Horizakura: Me too, definitely. It's flattering. What inspires you guys? Tattooers, wood-block artists? Horizakura: Obviously, my master is a huge inspiration. I love Hokusai, and basically all the woodblock artists. Depending on what you're looking for, different artists have different things to offer. Horitomo: Horiyoshi III, of course, and many woodblock artists provide inspiration for me as well. I'm particularly fond of Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, and Kyosai, but, if I were to pick a favorite, it would probably be Yoshitoshi. He lived during very turbulent times known as the Meiji Era. This was the closing of the woodblock period of Edo, and there were a lot of Western influences coming in. This period in Japan was very unique. Horitaka: It seems like Japanese tattoo artists are in a similar period of history. Horitomo: Most definitely, because, in the last few years, things have changed so much. It's a whole different world. Horizakura: Japanese tattooing has evolved from an underworld thing to a level where it is now seen all over the world. There are Japanese tattooers at many conventions. It is all happening so fast that it is hard to say just how much it compares to the Meiji period. Who knows? Horitaka: Even at this National Convention, I think many of the older generation of American tattooers were feeling the same way about tattooing in the West. With Miami Ink and all these otheer new things going on, it's a whole new world out there. With all this change going on, do you feel like many of the young tattooers, particularly in the West, are lacking the same kind of respect they used to have for their elders? Horitaka: That sounds like a loaded question. No offense, but I think it's a little steering. I think what you're saying is relevant, however, it's also a grass-is-always-greener kind of thing, like maybe the American tattooers are feeling like, "Oh, those Japanese guys know how to put it down" or "They keep people in line," and that there's a tradition of this. You think that's a little romanticized? Horitaka: Yes, a lot actually. Juan Puente (Unable to resist the temptation, sets his camera down and joins the conversation): These two wanted to pay their dues, and they have given up everything to do it. It's a two-way street. They didn't have to do it all, but they chose to and they ran with it -- all the way to the United States. They're still paying their dues, and they still carry respect for their master. There's nothing romanticized about it. This is living, and his is right now. So yeah, romanticize could be a word for it, but not when you actually see people who are still successfully doing it. That's the trick, keeping it from becoming a thing of the past. Of all the people I know, these are two people who have actually served their apprenticeships and are working for people that are happy. Everybody else quits because of some bullshit, or they didn't get along with everybody they work with, et cetera. These guys sitting right here are the example. They are the real deal and you're going to see them for a lot of years to come. Last night at the roast of Don Ed Hardy, Ed made a comment about always having respect for someone who gives you a leg up, or something to that affect. There were over three hundred people in that crowd, and judging from the applause, it seemed like every one of them has been screwed over in one way or another. Juan: Yeah, but a lot of people in that crowd have done the screwing. If you look at these guys here right now, they're successful because they have that respect, they stuck to their apprenticeships and have honored their commitments. Anyone else , from Japan or the West, can achieve success by doing the same thing. Horitaka: Juan has known both Horitomo and Horizakura longer than I have. In fact, Juan knew Horitomo back when he was Washo. Juan's also been in this industry for a long time and is definitely in a position to talk about their work ethic and what they are doing. I think you're right, that it isn't a romanticized thing, because these two have done it. I know that I'm guilty of thinking or hoping that things in Japan are a little better, stricter, and follow more tradition, but really it's pretty much the same, just with different cultural mores. Speaking of different cultural mores, how do you guys like living in the United States? Horizakura: I feel good (says in English and laugs). I like it. I need to practice English more. Sometimes it's difficult, but a little hardship is good for the soul. Also, looking from a distance, I seen to understand Japan more now. Ah, seeing it from outside the box gives you a better perspective? How about you, Horitomo? How do you like living in the US, even though you just got here? Horitomo: Everyone is very nice and helpful. They biggest difference for me is the diversity. There are so many different cultures and people here, and, in Japan, there are only Japanese. Horitaka: Yes, that's what makes it America. Aaron: Amen. On that note I'd like to say on behalf of the tattoo world, that we are honored to have you in here in America. We look forward to seeing the fantastic work produced during your stay. Hopefully, some will be on me. Thanks again for coming to the National Tattoo Convention this year in Seattle, and thanks for doing this interview. Also, huge thanks to you, Horitaka, for your guidance and support.