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The Tattooed Royalty

We retrieve an article about one of the first documented guest spots in New York published more than 100 years ago

Tattoofilter in History
Yoshisuke Horitoyo in New York

The Japanese Tattooer Who Has Been Pushing His Art in London and Paris Has Now Come Here.

In a queer little tattooers' den at No. 5 Chatham square there is an interesting young Japanese artist, who is pretty well known the world over. He is Yoshisuke Horitoyo. He arrived in New York from Europe about a week ago and immediately look up his profession with O'Reilly the Chinatown tattooer.

I found the celebrated “Jap” drawing an elaborate color design of a fiery dragon on the shoulder of a swarthy “Jackie” from the flagship Brooklyn. There were several waiting their turns for treatment by the artist, among them two Calumet Club men, who had just alighted from a motor cab.

Yoshisuke Horitoyo, is a young man of thirty-four, and an artist through and through, like so many of his countrymen. In repose his features are not particularly individual or prepossessing, but in conversation his eye lights up and his countenance shows a character of shrewdest intelligence and a strong individuality.

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How He Learned It.

“My parents were Toklyano people” said the tattaugraphist “and I have followed this profession for twenty years. I was bound out at a very early age to the greatest tattooer that ever lived—Toyo, a native of Hakadidi—the originator of the most remarkable designs in the world. From him I have taken the last part of my name, you observe, Hori meaning a tattooer; Toyo, my master, who has since died. Under his expert teaching I soon became skilful with the needle. You know that In Japan and other countries of the Far East tattooing is regarded with some superstitious veneration. Sometimes the event is celebrated with considerable ceremony.”

“Under such patronage as was afforded my master, he became very proficient, and took rank with the foremost artists of his time. One of the last designs before his death was tattooed upon the arm of the present Czar of Russia, who, in company with Prince George of Greece, was making a tour of the world.”

“A few years ago I was advised by a very high officer in the British navy to undertake a professional tour of the globe, remaining in all the great capitals long enough to become known and to find a clientele among the best people. I was particularly successful in Vienna, Paris and St. Petersburg, and I liked London so much, tattooing soon becoming such a fashionable West End rage, that I remained there two years, making my home and studio at Earl's Court.”

Design by Yoshisuke Horitoyo
Design by Yoshisuke Horitoyo

Tattooed Royalty.

“It was here that some of the best people in the world came to reave unique designs -tattooed upon them, sometimes original, often crests and coats of arms and even mottoes and cyphers, but the larger part of them were such as you would see here in my notebooks. This design I tattooed upon the shoulder of the young Duke of Marlborough, the two flags upon the arm of the Duke of York.

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"Yes, I have some of the representative members of European aristocracy upon my books- such names as Prince Valdemar of Denmark, the Grand Duke Alexis, uncle of the present Czar; King Oscar of Sweden, the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, Lord High Admiral of the Muscovite fleet; the Duke of Genoa, Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the Emperor; Archduke Stephen of Austria, Earl of Craven, who married your fair countrywoman Miss Bradley Martin; Lord Beresford, the Duke of Connaught; the late Sir Chrystopher Sykes, intimate of the Prince of Wales; Henry Irving Jr., Marquis of Allesbury and scores of others.”

Design on the arm of Prince Waldemar of Denmark
Design on the arm of Henry Irving Jr.

“Nor are they all of the stronger sex. A great many of Europe's social leaders have submitted to the little ordeal, which, happily, with the aid of electric machines, has become quite painless. Queen Margherita of Italy bears a tattooed symbol, though I did not have the honor of placing it upon her royal shoulder.”

Design on the shoulder of Prince Ferdinand of Austria

“I did, however, have the pleasure of tattooing Lady Randolph Churchill, Lady Montague and other leaders of London's exclusive West End circle.”

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To Identify Soldiers

“Yes” continued the “Jap,” with somewhat of pride. “I doubt if there are a dozen artists in the world who have seen the inside of as many of Europe's drawing rooms as I have and I am sure that none of my countrymen has ever been granted such privileges, not even statesmen and ambassadors. I fear that it has spoiled me for Japanese life, always so humble and monotonous, but after I have seen something of your great country I shall doubtless return to my native shores.”

“I was sent some papers by my friend O'Reilly,” continued Mr. Horitoyo, after a pause, “in which I saw that there was great agitation in Washington with regard to compulsory tattooing in the army and navy. The plan was presented to Congress by General Fitzgerald and Colonel Garrett Mallory, I believe, both men of high rank, who held that the fate of missing men might be more accurately known by means of tattooed symbols upon their persons. This was a splendid measure, I am convinced, and the men who filled 'unknown' graves in Cuba in your late war with Spain would at least have been accurately identified.”

“I believe the measure was killed by some absurd sentimentalist, who argued that a tattooed sign would be a sort of brand for the identification of deserters, and a badge of servitude. The bill fell dead in consequence, excellent as was its intent.”

“Emperor William often planned such a measure in his own army and navy and once in Berlin a member of the German military staff came to officially investigate, with a view to making a report to the Kaiser on tattooing, the rapidity with which I could accomplish the work of marking every member of a regiment for life and the attendant dangers, if there were any.”

“I told him that I could tattoo a thousand men in a day, and that as far as dangers were concerned there was far less than in a simple pin prick, as my inks were of the finest quality and throughly antiseptic. I have tattooed more than fifty thousand people in my career, never one case of blood poisoning or other evil resulting. The German officer was highly interested, but whether the report to the Emperor led the latter to make it a compulsory naval and military measure I have no means of knowing. I am sure that if the matter is presented again to your Congress the sentimental view will vanish and the practical will maintain, as the number of 'missing' in your late war, considering the number of killed and wounded, was appalling.”

“You observe these inks are very brilliant. These are secret Japanese concoctions, absolutely harmless and retain their brilliancy for twenty years. The yellow and green here have been the result of years of study to make permanent colors, and I have only now perfected them. I use red, black, blue, green, orange, brown and numberless combinations. These, used with skill, make very effective designs.”

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Obliterated a Maiden.

“I shall remain in New York for some time. I have letters to some of your best people, but being a modest man I prefer to wait for people to come to me. I have never made efforts to attract the interest of society people, but sooner or later when I have been discovered I shall have all I can do. Two gentlemen from the Union Club last night promised to send others and to spread the interest among their fellows; but people like to take their time about deciding to be marked for life, and I never hurry them. I have had men and women come to me four or five times, weakening at the point, but returning eventually to submit to the operation, which, after all, is very trifling and practically painless.”

“Remove designs? Oh, yes, I can do that, too, but it is an unpleasant process. Only yesterday a young man came here with a maiden's name enscrolled on his arm. Their love affair had evidently been called off, and there was a new girl to deal with. He wanted the old name eradicated, but when he was told that it would require five days and that the skin would come off with the design he hesitated.”

“I then resorted to an old method. With skill I tattooed a moving ship above the girl's name and completely obliterated the maiden in the blue, rolling waves. It did not take twenty minutes, and when done the girl who had jilted him was already five fathoms under the ocean, never to come to the surface again.”

“He was delighted, gave me a twenty dollar gold piece, though my fee was much less, and went away happy. It was certainly a better plan than the process of eradicating the design with tannin and nitrate of silver, as I often do, the operation being tedious and painful.”

Acquaintance with European manners and methods has given Horitoyo a certain distinction of bearing and facility of speech that marks the man of the world. He speaks French fluently and English with grace and choice of diction.

Originally published in the New York Herald on Sunday, January 1, 1899.

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