Kazuaki Kitamura (a.k.a."Horitomo") has been at the forefront of a new breed of pioneering Japanese tattooists for more than a decade. As an elementary school student, his interest was peaked by people with traditional style bodysuits that he recalled seeing in his neighborhood on a daily basis. However, single needle Western style tattoos were the popular choice among his surfing buddies. Then, in 1992, he took the plunge. His first tattoo, by Sabado of Eccentric Tattoo in Nagoya, set the wheels in motion. Their relationship grew and he became his apprentice. Along with a solid foundation of the fundamentals of tattooing, Sabado gave Kazuaki Kitamura the nickname "Washo".
More than three years had passed and Washo needed to scratch an itch: he had to experience the global tattoo community firsthand. The convention trail led him to San Francisco and a guest spot for a few months at Everlasting, where he rubbed elbows with Aaron Cain, Mike Davis, Patrick Conlon and Troy Denning. Then it was back across the pond to Tokyo,s buzzing Harajuku district. The newly opened shop Scratch Addiction, where he worked with Yushi, was a hot spot for the young ones who had to have the latest style of one point tattoos.
Two years and escalating rents forced another move, this time to Osaka. Washo, along with Sakamoto-san and Kawajiri-san, began Three Tides Tattoo. Their high quality standards gained them a solid reputation and attracted more than just a local clientele. Three Tides had become a choice spot for guest artists from around the world. The prestige and appreciation for his skills was great, yet a certain something was missing. Those early childhood images of bodysuits sparked his interest in traditional Japanese tattooing. Through books and magazines, Washo had become familiar with the work of Horiyoshi III and consulted with him to do his back piece. He chose a depiction of Fudo Myoo, a far cry from all the pop culture images of western tattoos for which he had become known. The strength of this Japanese God is often seen in traditional body suits.
During the monthly sessions, he was feeling a sense of loss due to his ignorance of the traditions of the past. This renewed sense of cultural pride would lead to a major change in his life. His new appreciation of Japanese tattooing as a truly beautiful art form fueled his desire to learn all he could about it. The traditional Japanese tattoo is a complex puzzle with strict rules mixing history, culture and spirit. Washo felt that all these lessons could be learned best from Horiyoshi III. His apprenticeship was discussed and Horiyoshi III was impressed by the fact that someone so renowned for his American style now showed a marked interest and devotion to the tattoo art of his own country.
And so, in Yokohama, a new chapter began in May 2001 for Horiyoshi III's apprentice, renamed Horitomo. A key figure once again in a new breed of Japanese Tattoo pioneers, this time focused on preserving the traditions of the past.