Ten years ago, when tattooer Horitaka traveled to Japan and sought out tattoo master Horiyoshi II with hopes of starting a back piece, he had no idea what he was truly beginning. “I wanted him to do my back piece, which is now finally completed, and we just hit it off,” Horitaka explains. “If you had told me at that time that I would become an apprentice of his, I would have never believed you. The last 10 years have been magical.”
Horitaka, 34, was born in Japan and raised in the United States. Thankfully, his parents taught him Japanese, which helped later in his study of Japanese tattoo culture and traditions. Enamored with tattoos, he started collecting in high school and eventually began tattooing in 1998 before landing his coveted apprenticeship. Now an iconic tattoo artist of his own right, Horitaka is a pioneer in the tattoo industry with eight published books and his own shop, State of Grace, in San Jose, CA . The shop’s small, select staff specializes in traditional Japanese tattoo artistry as defined by their master, Horiyoshi II , who designated State of Grace as the only shop in America associated with his name. Horitaka embraces the mentality that tattooing is more than a mark on the body and he likes to think of the art as a philosophy. “We try to express a culture,” he says.
The extensive collection of Horitaka’s own tattoos almost completes a full bodysuit. “It’s hard to say which one means the most to me. I think they all meant something at one time or another, most certainly when I got them. For better or for worse, it is a record of my life.” A prominent part of his bodywork that stands out is the back piece inked by Horiyoshi II ; it’s an image of the Japanese warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi on horseback, tattooed by both machine and hand.
“I’ve been fortunate to study with some really amazing people,” says Horitaka. He shares that knowledge with his numerous books and involvement with conventions. “I just aim to do my part, things I can be proud of, in trying to protect the industry. For example, I can’t stop all the lame-ass, corporate conventions out there, but I can be part of a good one in San Jose.” Just don’t expect him to have all the answers: “I am still an apprentice of Horiyoshi II and have been for the last 10 years. He’s much more than a tattoo teacher to me. He teaches me about life.”