Mar 172001
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Takahiro and Katie Kitamura have created a must-have work work on Japanese tattooing. With over 200 new photos of work by Horiyoshi III and text covering every aspect of Japanese tattoo history, this book is a must have for anyone interested in tattoo culture.

The Illustrations

The heart of any work on tattooing is the illustrations and the reader will not be disappointed here. Bushido is filled with more than 200 photographs masterfully taken by Jai Tanju. The photographs not only give an excellent look at the work of Horiyoshi III, but an amazing overview of Japanese tattoo art in general and the ukiyo-e that much of it is derived from.

Since Japanese tattoos are traditionally full-body art, the bulk of the photographs are closeups of various portions of the entire work. My favorites are the full-back piece on Syuichi Kawagoe and the S-curve of butterflies on Rie Shimizu. The demonic face on Mr. Kawagoe’s back, extending from the tops of the shoulders to the buttocks, shows just how much can be done with black shading by a true master. While Ms. Shimizu’s sprinkling of colorful butterflies drift from her left buttock to her right shoulder blade defining the concept of less is more.

In addition to the photographs there are five original, previously unpublished, sketched by Horyoshi III in the style of those in from his acclaimed work 100 Demons Of Horiyoshi III. These five illustrations alone are worth the $29.95 the book costs.

The Text

Takahiro Kitamura was born in Japan and raised in the United States. Although he first ‘discovered’ tattoos while attending American high school, his passion bloomed as he researched both his own heritage and that of tattooing. His discovery is our reward as this work successfully compares the culture of Japanese tattooing to the Samurai culture of ancient Japan as depicted in Eiji Yoshikawa’s Mushashi.

The first chapter details the history of the Japanese tattoo. Beginning with ukiyo-e, the Japanese art of wood block printing, Mr. Kitamura follows the evolution of the Samurai in art from the mid-15th century to today. He explores the reasons that tattooing has survived severe oppression by the Japanese government and what it meant, and means, to the people dedicated enough to tattoo nearly their entire body.

In the remaining four chapters, Mr. Kitamura takes us along on his journey first to meet Horiyoshi III and then to become his student. The relationship between the tattoo master and client, which often becomes a lifelong bond, is explored as is that of the master and apprentice. The final chapter explores the differences between traditional Japanese tattoo culture, American tattoo culture, and the hybrids that are being developed on both sides of the Pacific. The first person insights here cannot be found elsewhere.

My only problem with the book is that it could use a better editor. While not rife with typos, there are to many for my tastes as well as a few structural issues that an editor could have dealt with better.

Personal Experiences

Since reading Bushido I have had the opportunity to meet with Horitaka (the name Mr. Kitamura tattoos under) as it turns out he is from my own hometown. I am honored to be having him do a piece covering my left arm. In person he is both friendly and professional. His love of and respect for Japanese tattoo culture is evident, as is his knowledge of the subject.


The book’s available at

ISBN: 0764312014



This review can also be seen at

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  13 Responses to “Bushido: Legacies of the Japanese Tattoo”

  1. I think it’s always important for people to learn about cultural foundations, our own and others’. The use of the body for expression (whether in tattooes, jewelry, dress, etc.) is fascinating. What little I’ve seen about this on television has been educational and helps me “chill” regarding variations in body adornment.

    Good luck on your own project!

  2. I’m curious to see the final piece, if possible send me some shots of it. Great review!

    ^V^ Freak ^V^

  3. It’ll probably be a couple month’s until the work is complete. We’re just going to finalize the design this week, then it’ll take a few four or five sessions to get the work done. A full sleeve is not a quick or painless process. When you factor in Horitaka’s busy schedule (he’s very well known in the field) and my low pain tolerance, this may take a while. But I’ll try to get some pics up somewhere when it’s done.



  4. Wow, it’s great that you could get a tattoo done by such a great artist. I love japan culture and the way they have to take extremely seriously anything they do. That’s why I think their tattoo art is one of the best. Because they believe in what they do. They consider tattoos as what they really are: an Art.

  5. Japanese style tattoo is quite different with western, but I think it’s more oriental and I really love it. The one I tattooed to my shoulder is the one I saw in this Bushido book. It’s a great book too.

  6. This book is a “must-have” for all tattoo lovers…simply awesome!

  7. i think kanji is the best japanese tattoos symbol.

  8. Great article I love the japanese tattoos to the meaning of them are so profound.

  9. Japanese tattoos have some misticism…the body art is related to history of country…i love them

  10. Japanese tattoos are pretty cool…They have tons of cool designs.

  11. Your answer lifts the ientlligence of the debate.

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